Tuesday, February 27, 2007

David Warlick: Ed Tech Is Exciting Again (School 2.0, Part 8)

"It's an intensely exciting world that we live in, and I think that teaching children about that world should be just as exciting."

"For the first time in history we're preparing kids for a future that we cannot clearly describe. We have no idea what their work experience is going to be like, what their life experience is going to be like, what their social experience is going to be like. We just don't have any firm target to aim our curriculum at..."

I caught David Warlick as he was leaving for a visit to China, and so this interview is a bit shorter than usual (about 45 minutes). The conversation took place over a wireless cellular connection, using Skype. (I'm really surprised that it worked as well as it did!)

Interview Notes:
  • David starts the story of his interest in educational technology 31 years ago. Started teaching in 1976. No desktop computers as a part of what they were doing at that time. Started with Radio Shack model one. He became "seduced" by the possibilities of using computers to create learning opportunities for students.
  • History of "Fredmail." In 1987, this was amazing. Helped pilot it in North Carolina.
  • Says that technology has changed "culture" and "learning," but largely is has not changed "education." 1997 - 2000: it was much more exciting then than it is now. There was a lot of freedom to experiment and take risks. The computer has changed how we learn, but not how teaching is done.
  • Web 2.0 is facilitating a lot more dialog than even just a few years ago. Teachers daring to suggest alternatives to how we should be teaching. More importantly, the kids are engaged in a different style of learning--much more engaged with information. They are having intense learning experiences with this new technology, and if we are in danger of becoming irrelevant to them if we can't get on board.
  • Agrees with the concern that what the kids are learning is largely not as valuable as it could be--they still need "us" to be engaged in substantive learning. Our job is to take advantage of the new learning skills and opportunities to help them learn about the world (and not just be entertained [my words]).
  • So what needs to change in formal education? He is seeing some real excitement at educational technology conferences that he hasn't seen in a while. Same feelings that he had in early 90's.
  • On School 2.0: We are going to have to empower teachers to do whatever it takes to retool their classrooms. We have to free teachers with time and resources to learn, take risks, even to fail. We need a structure for education that allows for change to take place. Unless we free and empower teachers, give them time, tools, and flexiblity--we are "not going to make it."
  • Can this take place in the current school system? Yes, if we realize how important it is. Other countries are reinventing education from scratch. Brazil, China, Hong Kong. We are realizing the importance of getting past "just the basics," and can happen if we realize that we just don't have a choice.
  • "Education is entirely about conversation." For the first time in history, we live in a time of rapid change. We're preparing kids for a future that we cannot clearly describe. We need an education system that is as adaptable as the world we are preparing our students for.
  • "I can't do Second Life--all I do is fall down!"
  • A project he did when he was at the State Department of Education: "Voteline." Developed spreadsheets, students developed lists of what they thought were the key issues of the election. Interviewed voters, then tracked the candidates, and then projected the outcome of the election. The value of the activity was in the "conversations" they were having--both in the interviews, and with each other to determine the weight to give to each issue.
  • He is still the most excited about blogging of all the technologies, because it is all about "conversation." Teachers keep telling him how excited students get about writing. Assignments stop being "assignments," but become engaged conversations. And it's so simple--get to the conversation to quickly without a lot of preparation.
  • Social bookmarks should be "hugely" beneficial for teachers and librarians.
  • How do you help those who hesitate to use these technologies? The benefits should be obvious. Blogging gives students voice to what they are learning. There's not a whole lot we can do but just wait for some of the negative reaction to die down. The worst thing we can do it to overreact. The best thing we can do is to engage in dialog with our students and children about the dangers and concerns. We've got to "become mature" about it and do everything we can to preserve the conversation we are having with our kids.
  • Blogging as a professional development tool for teachers before they are asked to bring it into the classroom (a la Will Richardson)? Well, he sees a lot of teachers seeing the value of bringing blogging to students even if they aren't already blogging themselves. At the same time, his learning has been on a steeper incline in the last two years than ever before--just like other edubloggers have been experiencing and talking about.
  • www.ClassBlogmeister.com plug. The first classroom blogging engine--he built it in 2004 so that teachers could oversee the content. There are others now--to be honest, he would urge people to go to the others, because ClassBlogmeister was needed at the time but he hasn't really been able to keep it as current as he might like. He has 63,000 users on his service, which is free.
  • Other tools he's built: www.hitchhikr.com, www.citationmachine.net.
David is definitely one of my heroes.

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