Monthly Archives: June 2005
Guess what I thought I was going to do with my life?
Be a college professor!
An intellectual snob educated in New York, I thought the best minds were on the campuses of the American universities (especially those in the Ivy League). So I got my Ph.D. and proceeded to “profess” for ten years. I quit when I realized even I didn’t look forward to my lectures (so how could a student) and that the “best minds” were engaged in minor league politics relating to department chairman elections and employee benefits committees.
But I didn’t lose my interest in and love for education, so for the past twenty years I’ve been working on the sidelines and behind the scenes for all kinds of education reform, most recently involving eLearning.
After all these years, the team of activists with whom I’m working have decided that incremental reform at the margins isn’t enough: what is necessary is complete systemic overhaul.
And that’s NOT the disintermediation of the teacher through technology. Rather, it’s the liberation of the teacher from lecturing, grading, and paperwork to enable him/her to interact on a 1:1 basis with a student to promote learning at the student’s own pace.
It’s our belief that eLearning transforms the teacher into a Socratic tutor, who can help propel students to mastery of whatever the teacher and society deems is the appropriate curriculum.
A little history:
Reading, writing, and education have always been intertwined. When writing was invented seven thousand years ago, it immediately created illiteracy. The ancient Middle Eastern desert dwellers could just as well have called it the �analog divide.�
Forty-five hundred years later, a Roman sergeant shouted instructions to his troops, and the lecture was born. Paper was invented by Ts�ai Lun in 105 BC in China; he profited handsomely. It took Europe another 1,000 years to re-invent papermaking.
In 1450, Gutenberg invented the printing press, and the cost of books dropped by a factor of 400, somewhat closing the analog divide.
During this entire period, most learning took place at the feet of some scholar. Only in the 1890s was the K-12 education system with its current components– lecture, seat work, recitation and books– penned into law.
Let�s blame Alvin Toffler3 for our current K-12 problems. The author of �Future Shock� named the global economic transformation: agricultural age begat industrial age begat information age. The waning of the agricultural age triggered compulsory education. During the recent industrial age our schools taught basic skills to most students and higher-level skills to those going into the professional ranks. With plenty of manual jobs, legacy education met the demand, and continuous marginal improvement adapted to evolving needs. Employers and the public were satisfied.
Unfortunately the information age upset the apple cart.
Since the 1950�s, blue collar jobs have plunged from 50% of the available employment to well under 25%, to be replaced with white collar jobs, while the professional ranks have remained relatively constant at 25%.
While basic literacy skills are mandatory for both manual and white collar jobs, many technicians in the trades now need a higher level of literacy and greater thinking skills than office workers. The rapid growth of this new demand has exceeded legacy education�s ability to deliver. Many leaders and public-private organizations have been working hard for decades to reform K-12 system. Faced with a large and complex system under decentralized governance they have made only limited progress.
Continuous marginal improvement seems no longer effective. So what about addressing legacy education from a systems approach?
Redesigning the K-12 curriculum to use technology correctly — as an enabling tool, not as an artifact or as a replacement for teachers–can be the linchpin of this system redesign.
By using technology correctly, I mean using it the way it is used in the workplace: for basic skills development (for students), for professional development (for teachers), and for specific workforce development skills.
The transformation we’ve been advocating here in Arizona, which is equally relevant to any state, is called eLearning for Students And Teachers (eSATS).
The eSATS design has two steps that emphasize the connection between teacher and student. The first is the transformation of the teaching process from legacy education to eLearning.
Second is the movement of the digital curriculum and the computers out of the lab and into the classroom. A technology-rich classroom is a must. The ultimate transformation is full student access to a computer all day,starting with at least 4 students per computer and within a couple of years expands to a computer for each student. Who would expect a worker to share a computer in today’s world? Why should a student? Laptops have the added advantage of extending learning into the home. There are already pilot programs where this is in effect, and they work.
Classrooms then become work spaces like those we all are familiar with. Why shouldn�t they be? If the grunt work of teaching can be done online � drill, grading, etc �the true work of teaching , which I believe is the training of young minds to solve whatever problems come up in later life, can occur.
What is Workforce Development and How Soon do we Start?
It�s summer, and ten junior high school-age kids are sitting in a room at the YMCA, while their classmates are perhaps swimming in the pool outside. Although they are mostly boys, there are two girls in one corner of the room. Each kid is here spending the day learning how to put a computer together, and learning the function of each of its parts.
The instructor is Ken Mystrom, Motorola Manager of Technology Partnerships and the Executive Director of a not-for profit called StRUT � Students Recycling Used Computers. He is training both the students and a YMCA employee, who will run the program for the remainder of the sessions during the summer. This is called training the trainer, and it�s a tried-and-true method of transferring knowledge and expanding its impact.
Motorola has been partnering in the community with StRUT for 6 years, (along with Intel, APS, Sechler CPA, IBM, and High Tech Institute.) Programs like these are important to large corporations who regularly upgrade their PCs and consign thousands of still-useful machines to the landfill.
This particular event is called �Minor League Techie Camp.� The program is getting bigger and bigger, especially since the YMCA gets to keep the computers the children rebuild. The partnership started in a single school, and has expanded all over the state. You can see how Ken himself is charged up by all this; he loves seeing how quickly the children learn. It�s hard to believe that Motorola actually pays him to do something he loves � make kids happy.
The kids, who have a Powerpoint presentation about computer components in front of them, have already heard a short talk about the pieces of a computer, and now they are busy assembling power systems and mother boards on the chassis. Ken walks around the room, making sure everybody�s machines are going together correctly, reminding them to double check their work. He�s really teaching them several things at once: teamwork, communication, computer assembly, a bit of engineering, presentation skills, and even�because the Y keeps the computers � the concept of philanthropy.
�The black screws go into the hard drive, a gold ones go in the CD-Rom,� says Ken. The drives are held in place by snap-in trays. It�s complicated, but Ken tells me that by the end of the day, working in teams, everybody will get a machine assembled, some in as little as fifteen minutes.
These machines are licensed to run Windows XP, so the computers aren�t outdated. There�s real value here.
But this is about way more than putting computers together for the YMCA. This is about preparing kids for the future, and not for a future of assembling computers.
Motorola sponsors these programs because the company believes it is preparing not only its own future employees, but everybody�s; Motorola believes this is the responsibility of a company known for a lot more than technology leadership. Despite the reorganizations and downsizings, Motorola�s commitment to its communities remains solid.
Why? Because although it�s a public company and has a responsibility to shareholders, Motorola has always taken the long view of its community relations, and after years of being one of the country�s largest employers, some of its programs are actually embedded into the community in the same way its chips are embedded in cell phones.
The Minor League Techies Camp is only one of them. Motorola also sponsors a program for teacher education, in which the teachers come to businesses to learn how the skill sets they are teaching need to be integrated in a work environment. The teachers are learning that their individual subject areas don�t exist in a vacuum, and that when students reach the work force, they will have to know much more than just math or English: they will have to know how to collaborate, how to value their colleagues, how to share resources, and how to solve problems. That�s what their students are learning in Minor League Techies Camp.
Interestingly, most kids learn these skills in pre-school, only to forget them (or fail to practice them) once they being to concentrate on �subject matter areas� in school. So if we are ever to straighten out our public education system, we will have to think about more than just math, science, and reading. You know that area we used to call �social studies�? Well, maybe we just have to re-name it �workforce development.�