Saturday, January 20, 2007

John Seely Brown on Web 2.0 and the Culture of Learning (School 2.0, Part 6)

"I think that the amazing moment we have right now in time is to kind-of go back and rethink what Dewey really was about. I think we have to reinvent Dewey for the 21st century--finding a way to bring productive inquiry, bring the social basis of learning, bring the cognitive basis of learning all together. And I think now we can actually start to do that in a much more authentic way for kids at almost any age in a way that there's truly authentic things that these kids are doing that are being picked up by other kids and shared and built on and so on and so forth."

John Seely Brown and I started to have this interview a few weeks back after I had read the short article "To Fix Education, Think Web 2.0." A bad wind storm knocked down a tree and his power just after we started, so we rescheduled for this week. I caught up with him while he was on vacation in Hawaii, where he was concerned that the sound of the surf would come through onto the recording. Luckily, it didn't, but you can tell that he is speaking over a cell phone...

The second half of this interview is so powerful that I have listened to it myself three or four times.

Interview Notes:

  • JSB was formerly the director of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). They were always engaged in pushing technology to extremes. He was hard-core high-tech toward education, then moved toward thinking of learning; thinking not so much about structuring content, but the context for learning. People are inveterate learners when put in social groups. Almost all of the real learning we do today is with and from each other. Not building up stocks of knowledge, but how do you participate in social "flows" of action from which you can pick up new ideas.
  • The social basis of learning is not understood at all. Collaborative learning: with and from each other. The whole notion of passively sitting and receiving information has almost nothing to do with how you internalize information into something that makes sense to you. Learning starts as you leave the classroom, when you start discussing with people around you what was just said. It is in conversation that you start to internalize what some piece of information meant to you. One of the best indicators of success in college is if you know how to form and join study groups, where you socially engage with others and collaborate. Huge shift from Cartesian "I think therefore I am" (knowledge as a substance getting poured into your head) to "we participate therefore we are." It is in participation with others that we come into "being" and internalize our own understandings of the world.
  • Web 2.0 -- the beginning of a participatory architecture. Learning come about through participation. Dewey's "productive inquiry." He doesn't think we understand just how profoundly Google has changed the context of how we work--in our willingness to engage in things we don't know how to do completely because we have this tool to fall back on. Moving from passive to active to "productive inquiry."
  • Is there such a thing as "School 2.0?" His belief: develop the edge, and let the edge transform the core. Allow other programs to turn kids on, let them be totally engaged in learning outside of the school, so that seeing this sends messages through parents or teachers to ask how come they are so engaged except in the classroom. Basically, when we grew up there were three pillars to the platform of education: school, community (library--Andrew Carnegie--transformed how leaning happed 100 years ago), and family. The whole world of community has been diminished, and now role of family also becoming less prominent. Two out of three pillars which educated us have disappeared, and we are expecting the school system to do everything. Now we are starting to build new types of pillars. Community: things you see with web, forming groups of learners, amateur associations, and a rethinking of what the community library could be. Reference librarian can be mentor for helping. The home, with Internet connections, becoming a different site for informal learning. Some two- and three-generational families getting together in World of Warcraft (WOW).
  • We confuse looking at the center of games (like WOW) and the edge, or periphery, of the games. What can be learned, for instance, in the social life around the edge of WOW--like in creating a "guild." Some of these things which happen outside of school don't necessarily need to be brought into the classroom. Dispositions which are critical for the 21st century. You don't teach a "disposition," you enable it to be formed. This is different than the learning of "hard-core" content. Is the learning of content as important as it used to be? Being able to find content and engage in productive inquiry and critical thinking. Rethinking schools built around projects and the inquiry method, with the teacher as "coach."
  • Open Source: truth is determined by the execution of the code. You don't need an arbitrator of truth--does it work or not? Learning in able to join that community of practice. Learning "about something" versus "learning to be," which happens when you engage in a community of practice. You start to inculturate into a practice, and you learn to "become" in that practice. Learning through "inculturation" is a critical notion, where kids learn to "be" much, much earlier than in the past. The apprenticeship model of learning to "be" hasn't usually occurred until graduate school. Thinks this is starting to happen now for youngsters when they engage in social networks, building stories, building games, building guilds, etc. The sense of engagement. "Becoming" through the process of building something that gets picked up and further modified by someone else. Create -> Share -> Mod. In some interesting way, my persona starts to with the things that I build and share--all the way up to amateur/citizen science. Example of amateur astronomy groups, kids working together, hooking up their telescopes together, being able to engage in pretty serious discovery of stuff, serious enough to being to interact with the professionals, creating new relationships where both are working together and learning from each other. A major step toward culture of learning. Start at 7/8 years old or younger, build a momentum that extends through life, that will be the real basis of economic capability of this country in the 21st century.
  • "Studio-based learning." In the studio, all work in progress is always rendered public. Like architectural studios, with all looking over each others work. Master comes in and does a "crit" of a particular student, which all students learn from, and which is an amazing learning experience for each student in the studio. Master's comments reflect back into all the steps of the final product, which the students have seen. A major learning event for everyone in studio, as all were kind of "co-participants" in the project being critiqued. You are not just learning about being an architect, you are learning to be an architect. Example of AP history class with students working on answers for different questions, which are placed in a class wiki. The role of social software in the classroom is a major step forward in this way--like learning to write to your peers instead of writing to your teacher. Educational blogging and being engaged with an audience.
  • Training. Before any new technology has a chance to reach its real power in terms of changing learning, it will involve teachers changing their own practice. Changes in grading as well can make a real difference. Better students helping other students helps them to learn the material even better themselves.
  • Home schooling is one more example of "the edge." We can learn a lot more from them as to what parts of this work really well, and then use that to inform the center. Homeschooling is going to turn out to be a major source of insights into how to morph the core. Child can become a significant player in multiple communities of interest.
  • Continuous productive inquiry almost as a form of entertainment now for youth, displacing "television viewing."
  • Singapore: a huge educational shift, partly because the government has taken deadly serious that knowledge work is the essence of the 21st century. Making amazing progress in the school systems bringing in the "full inquiry method." Small groups of kids that go off and explore in depth.
  • The Xerox technicians story: figuring out where learning was actually taking place, and finding that it was completely contrary to the formal learning structures that were in place. Understanding a social phenomenon that could be tapped into that brought meaning and identity to the technicians, and produced much better dissemination and learning results. It took a huge amount of trust to make this change--it went against the whole culture and the power structure to realize that the learning moment weren't where they thought they were. Parallel to education. We're so busy measuring all these "on-task" things that we don't realize that much of what we are doing "off-task" may actually be more relevant to learning.
  • A huge amount of the learning that a lot of us do, that formed the foundations of all the formal education that we got afterwards, could be called "tinkering." Because of changes in electronics and cars, a whole generation couldn't tinker. In the last ten years, these participatory architectures have introduced tinkering again. It is virtual and social tinkering, not necessarily mechanical, tinkering. And what is interesting is that it is relatively non-gender-specific. You are going to find women tinkering as much as guys do.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tapping into MySpace Minds with Chris O'Neal (School 2.0, Part 5)

"As much notoriety that MySpace has gotten, it's really made a lot of us think about: why is that so unbelievably popular? And I really don't think it's because it is a place for kids to go and do bad stuff. I think it's simply because it is an opportunity for kids to interact with music and sound and audio and video and communication--and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I think that's a brilliant thing. I think the only thing that is wrong with that is if we don't tap into that mentality in our classrooms... to tap into these great little MySpace minds, and that is the power of Web 2.0 and School 2.0, period."

Chris O'Neal has been an elementary and middle school teacher, a Title 1 technology professional development coordinator, and then was the State Director of Technology in Louisiana. Now at the University of Virginia, he works to provide outreach to school district staff.

Interview Notes:

  • Is there such a thing as School 2.0? Chris says yes. He feels that big changes are happening. People have a lot higher expectation now for what technology provides. It has brought things to us that we couldn't get access to before. When used appropriately, it can level the playing field.
  • The audience is now difference. Kids expect technology to be a part of the classroom. Kids in school now grew up with pay at the pump, scan your own groceries, and high speed internet. They are coming into classrooms wanting the real world to be reflected. They come out “clicking.” It's a natural part of their lives--so natural that it extends into the classroom.
  • Technology is also much easier. A lot of the barriers have gone, and the tools are much easier to integrate. There is an ability to customize the tools and pick and choose which ones to use.
  • Any dangers that the increased use of computers in classrooms? He says the only dangers are if we don't take advantage of the potential. The real scary danger is if we don't realize how capable these kids are.
  • Are Web 2.0 tools just glitzy and don't challenge enough? He says we can distinguish between flashy cool stuff and what really holds potential.
  • Is school reform needed? Is School 2.0 a complete restructuring of schooling as we know it? He believes that the structures of School 1.0 don't necessarily hold the capability of changing. The ultimate definition of School 2.0 would be a complete restructuring. He doesn't know how we do that, but in the meantime we take a step toward tearing down the walls by modifying the good.
  • Does he see any schools really going to School 2.0? Not really. Some “rogue” teachers and principals, but mostly the schools structures are “shackling” what they can do.
  • Are there ways in which the best versions of home schooling help to inform the discussion of School 2.0? Yes, he didn't used to think so. His own views of home-schooling had been “oh my gosh, why would anyone do that?” The idea of learning not ending at a certain period of time is compelling. Mentoring and in-depth studies. Web 2.0 allows an ability to customize the educational experience. Kids can be little mathematicians and little scientists. Most exciting is that people are not talking about these just as “technologies,” but as new ways of working together.
  • What Web 2.0 technologies really excite him the most? Google Docs. Has taken collaboration to a new level. Not just in the classroom, but for himself as a learner. Getting things out right away, and collaborating right away. It was a dream for years and years. To publish your things and to get feedback. The unbelievable power of tools like MySpace—kids are dying to collaborate. Shame on us if we are not tapping into that in the K12 classroom all day long.
  • It's incumbent upon us now to work to educate students how to use these tools. We can't just send them off to “learn” without guiding them. We've got to build in this new layer to their tech-savvy. They can be “tech-savvy,” but they are not naturally “interaction-savvy” to understand dangers.
  • The metaphor of teaching as being a tour guide now. How do you train teachers in this changing environment. Training on the technology is easy—this is workshop kind of stuff. The really hard thing is the School 2.0 thing, beyond the tools themselves—turning the classroom on its ear. Has to be school-, district-, and community-wide endeavor. What we have in the classroom is wonderful, but it hasn't changed much in the last 10, 20, or 50 years. But the world outside has changed dramatically in the same time.
  • Is this a difficult time for school administrators? Yes. I've never come across one that didn't want to change things for the better. Even with all the awareness and standards that NCLB has brought, it's also brought stress and made it hard to take the time for them to talk about the vision of School 2.0. They have to juggle so many things it's hard for them to bring School 2.0 to the forefront.
  • Is the skillset changing for administrators? In the past they were good building managers; while being a building manager is still critical, but even more important are instruction visionaries. Leaders who are willing to collaborate themselves and are willing to admit their own strengths and weaknesses. We have no hesitation to analyze a student to death as to what their capabilities are—but we haven't traditionally been as willing to do that, as teachers and administrators, by being honest about our own capabilities and then collaborating. Just because we are standing in front of the classroom (or running a school or district) doesn't mean that we know it all. Those who are willing to admit they need help are more likely to bring School 2.0 to pass.
  • Greater participation is needed. Maybe it's a good idea to have students and parents at the table as well. And Web 2.0 seems to be taking us in that direction. It's gotten a lot of people even more excited. A fun thing to watch, as a lot of technology-savvvy educators, who are already naturally excited, have gotten re-excited.
  • Chris's concern that some students may not get all the benefits of these technologies—not the digital divide, but a "classroom divide." Technology sometimes seen as an add-on: when the teacher gets done all the other things they need to do, they tack it onto the end. Then the use of the computer is used as a reward, so that those students who are struggling will get less access to technologies that will, in many ways, really determine their future. Can be a double-whammy for kids who don't have technology at home and aren't getting it in the classroom. His question: are students having equal access to technology within schools?
  • He posts on Edutopia blog. He uses wikis for professional development and agendas. He, too, thinks Skype is a huge benefit to educators by having unlimited access to other educators around the world.
  • A School 2.0 conference? It would be an unbelievable opportunity.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Interview with Jim Hirsch at Plano ISD (School 2.0, Part 4)

"The students, when they leave our classrooms, self-manage their own learning, their own collaboration. As we bring those kinds of environments within a classroom setting, how do we have that blend, if you will, of teacher-management and student-management? That is perhaps our greatest challenge right now: to what degree can we place the responsibility of learning, and the management of that learning, on the individual student? And to make that work, our parents have to be partners, they have to have input into how that will work, and they have to believe that that's also the environment that their children are functioning [in] outside of school... so let's see how we can make that work inside of school."

"These students today are very adept at working together, to find information, and to create knowledge. What they're not adept at yet is knowing what questions are the best ones to ask before they go looking for that information. And yes, I firmly believe, that in my thinking of reform, that our new collaborative tools, our web 2.0 tools, will make the difference in making that happen in classrooms."

Jim Hirsch is the Associate Superintendent for Technology and Academic Services at the 53,000 student Plano Independent School District. I visited Plano ISD in November when we held a 2-day workshop on Moodle, and I remember being struck by the superb training facilities that they have there. I interviewed Jim last week, using an article in eSchool News on "Education 2.0" as the starting point for the discussion on school reform and technology.

Because much of the discussion on "School 2.0" or "Education 2.0" usually comes from the grass-roots level of teacher-practioners who feel that the school administration doesn't support the use of new technologies, I thought it would be interesting to interview Jim. Jim comes across as determined, pragmatic, organized, focused, and methodical. He is articulate, and I felt that every answer he gave to my questions had been thought about and spoken by him before. Jim has been an outspoken proponent of "Open Technologies," which is not the same thing, necessarily, as "Open Source" or "Free and Open Source" software, so I was prepared to listen carefully as to how he discussed those topics.

  • In the eSchool News article, Jim is quoted as predicting that within five years "not a single desktop [at Plano] will carry the image of a proprietary school software program." They are aiming to totally move away from their dependence on proprietary client-based software, and moving into a web-based sphere of development. They want to extend learning outside of the school walls, including to devices that most used by their students and their families--including cell phones. Much of this, he believes, will be possible through Open Source or Open Technologies.
  • Usually I hear from teachers that it is hard to implement web and collaborative tools in the classroom because the districts are restricting their use. I asked Jim what was happening in Plano, since the push is coming from the district side. He replied that they are two years away from becoming a "majority minority" district, and they've been in quick transition for the last few years, meaning that they are coming to the realization that they can't do business as they have done in the past to help all of their students to receive high-quality instruction to to achieve. Their approach is very pragmatic, as they can't afford to use technology that doesn't accomplish that. They don't want to wait for the teacher ground-swell--they want to figure it out now.
  • How is this different than the technology promises of the last 20 years? He agrees that often technology has been placed in classrooms with "hope" but without "planning." He thinks more and more schools are thinking about how to truly leverage their resources to actually make a difference. Low cost technologies with high impact are starting to get adopted, like wireless keyboard in the classroom that can be passed around and be used by the students to impact what's being presented. Much less expensive than a digital chalkboard, and more effective.
  • Even their low-income families have cell phones (in fact, they more often have a cell phone than a land line, which requires more stability). So then the challenge is to figure out how to use these technologies that they have access to.
  • To implement student-centered learning takes a lot of planning and training. Training is a big part of changing from students being "given knowledge" to "participating."
  • Parental involvement--by and large the parents are interested in being more informed and more involved in the student learning. Plano have put into place a system that sends an email to parents based on "trigger points" that they get to define. They are trying to make the parents more of a partner in the learning process.
  • They involve their teachers "intimately" in the curriculum development process, and they provide teacher-leaders with the most up-to-date tools and information that they can--both to get input from their teams and to provide initial training and support. This involves hundreds of teacher-leaders.
  • How do you figure out what new technologies to focus and train on? Until the technology gets out into the hands of the teachers, they don't know how they will be used or how successful they will be. I was very impressed with this mind-set from Jim. They have to be agile enough, and open to input from the teachers, to figure out what tools and training actually work. He uses the word "trust" here--that the teachers have to trust that their input will make a difference, so that they are willing to give it.
  • The technologies getting most quickly adopted are those that allow the students to participate and collaborate, like "large group viewing" from a projector. Both teachers and students have said the same thing--the students get a chance to deliver their creation in front of the classroom.
  • They are trying not to draw a distinction between Open Source / Open Technology and proprietary software based on cost, but rather on use and the strength the application brings to learning.
  • Open Office: are using in a limited number of classrooms. It is part of the goal to move away from proprietary desktop software, but Microsoft Office-built parts of their curriculum make that hard to do immediately, particularly PowerPoint presentations that don't play well in Open Office. They don't want any unknown holes in their curriculum, so have to identify those resources and then determine what they are going to do.
  • Much easier to implement has been the Free and Open Source program GIMP, the graphical image program. They can roll out GIMP very quickly and very easily in a mass implementation, because the dependencies on previously-built training materials aren't there.
  • I asked Jim if it was appropriate to link the new web technologies and school reform. He does believe that the classroom environment and teaching strategies do need to be reformed. Our students of today, because of access to media, the internet, and instant messaging "no longer rely on a historical perspective to make decisions." The rely much more on their friends and what they can find on a search engine. They are good at getting information, but don't know what questions to ask before looking for the information (and maybe in evaluating that information). He does think the Web 2.0 tools will really help in the classroom.
  • Blogs and wikis: they are at the infancy stage in using these. When commercial-free sites became available, teachers asked to use them. Rather than have the teachers go out and use different services, they have committed to providing the resources internally. This means that they have moved more slowly than some of the early adopters might have liked, but they have actively involved those teachers who are most interested in helping to make the decisions about how to bring blogs and wikis into the curriculum. And once they are in the curriculum, they will become systemic. Producing their own resources for blogs and wikis will also give them the ability to manage them "in the way that is most appropriate" for their community and make decisions about student safety. Currently, all blogs being used are being kept internal and not available to the outside world. (They use Wordpress as their blogging platform.)
  • Moodle--all their new development on on-line courses are now being done on Moodle. They have been doing online courses since February of 2000. They want to move all their existing content to Moodle and wish they had a utility to do that (heads-up, Moodle consultants!).
  • How are their proprietary vendors responding to these initiatives? They all ask the same first question: have we done something wrong? He tells them no, but that they need to consider how their product and service might work in the new environment. Removing proprietary desktop software doesn't mean that Plano won't have products and services that are needed from vendors--it just changes the model of what is paid for.
  • It's not just about instructional technology, but also involves administrative systems: they are working on the development of their own ERP system, looking for something totally web-based.
  • The big concern about web-based applications for students is what happens if the network goes down. We also talked about data privacy and the ownership of data, as well as the local hosting of services.
  • They don't use Linux on the desktop "at this point in time." They do use it on their server farms. They have 120 units of ultra-mobile units on order that will run Linux. It is a direction that they are "definitely having as a requirement."
  • They have 31,000 desktop computers, one computer for every 2.2 students. But they are not pushing for a 1:1 environment. Every student needs teacher interaction every day, and collaboration doesn't require computing. You can overdo the technology on occasion, but the reverse is worse. He tells the touching story of one of their 8-year-old students guide a parent through the process of helping her parent fill out an online job application at a kiosk. "It's incumbent upon us in public education to provide our students with experiences that allow them to function in their natural world--and that includes technology."
  • He's noticed that many of their students are moving from MySpace to FaceBook.
  • Jim doesn't blog, but he does track them and tries to contribute.
Interviewing Jim was quite interesting. Please comment and let me know what you think. Is Jim as proactive an administrator as I think?

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Two Ideas about School 2.0, and Two More

Jeff Utech compares School 2.0 teaching to being a tour guide:

"A teacher is a guide, much like the guide we had in Vietnam. Arrange the boat for the trip, but allow us to experience the trip, answer questions when we have them, and stay out of the way when we want to experience something ourselves."

Having been a tour guide, I think the analogy is very, very good.

David Warlick, upon visiting Chris Lehmann's Science Leadership Academy, identifies "conversations" being a significant part of School 2.0:

"The word that I most often think of to describe school 2.0 is conversations. In old school, conversation usually goes in one direction. From teacher to student, from textbook to student, from worksheet to student, and the student responds through tests and essays. In School 2.0 the conversations are alive and they flow in almost any direction. I heard reference more than once yesterday to a new conversation between the school and the community, and students are becoming responsible for much of that conversation. "

Again, another great thought for me.

Now, I'd like to contribute two additional thoughts to the discussion of School 2.0 that I think come from (or are informed by) the wider dialog on Web 2.0, and which are a part of the larger societal and cultural change that Jeff discusses. I think they help me to make a connection with the "2.0" meme in a way that reflects the sense in which Web 2.0, like School 2.0, is seen not just as a technology change, but as a cultural one as well.

1. Transparency and authenticity. The business world has always had some good examples of companies that were transparent and authentic with their customers, but there would likely be agreement these were too few and far between. (It is interesting to note that small businesses, as a more immediate part of their community, have been more likely to practice these qualities... hmmm... ) There is no doubt that the technologies we call Web 2.0 have both required and produced transparency and authenticity. Blogging, especially, by its very nature, helps create transparency and authenticity--both for ourselves in our own thinking processes (see this thread on Will Richardson's blog), and for our organizations. This is why true blogging is so hard for companies that don't have an open culture.

Years ago I came across the phrase "generative parenting," which I understood to mean: in our parenting methods we recognize that we are training our children to be parents themselves some day, and so as our children get older we work at helping them understand what we are doing as parents and why. I would suggest that School 2.0 has at its core a long-term, open dialog about teaching and learning at all ages, where the process is talked about as we go along.

The examples of School 2.0 that are most compelling to me have this aspect of transparency and authenticity, and I don't think it is a coincidence that those who are on the forefront of this change are most often active participants in the blogosphere.

2. Collaborative participation. I've been wondering for some time how this incredibly powerful concept within Web 2.0 fits within education and School 2.0. The best definitions of Web 2.0 help to illuminate a new paradigm in which the value of the website, product, or service is in large part the direct result of user participation. would just be a web version of a bricks-and-mortar store if it weren't for the participation of the users (both consciously and also just by participating). Participation is not just built into the value, it is the distinguishing part of the value.

In the same way, it seems to me that School 2.0 will be about involving students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community in ways that are so significant that this participation becomes the core of learning. I see Chris Lehmann doing this when he has his students help solve the problems if IM abuse. I see Jim Hirsch doing this when teacher-leaders are at the front of looking at integrating new technologies into the classroom, or when his district provides computers to the low-income families they serve. (I've sounded this note before, but I will not be surprised if the best parts of the home-schooling movement will end up providing a fair amount of understanding in this area of broader involvement--and to the questions of how to manage self-motivated learning and "apprenticeship" models.)

One of the resounding themes that has come out of my interview series is the disconnect between the classroom teacher's opportunities to integrate technology and the administrative decision-making processes that take place with technology. So it would seem, as a first step, that the involvement of teachers in all decision-making will be very defining in School 2.0. Then we should expect to draw in the students, the parents, and the community as well.

I hope these ideas are helpful. Because I don't teach (or even work at a school), I try to give my opinions carefully, and with great appreciation for those who are in the trenches. :) I will say that I'm not sure I entirely agree with Jeff in his previously-referenced post when he says, "School 2.0 is not an upgrade to School 1.0…it’s a whole new school." I have to imagine that William Gibson's oft-quoted idea is likely true of School 2.0 as well: the future is already here, it's just not widely distributed.

Hopefully some of this dialog will make it's way to the School 2.0 wiki.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Blogosphere Tagging for School 2.0, and MyBlogLog Widgets

I've added a page to the School 2.0 wiki ("Buzz") that shows recent blog posts with the terms or tags "school20" or "school2.0" or "school 2.0" in them. The output comes from a Technorati seach which you can also access here. Please let me know if you think any other tags are needed.

I've also added a MyBlogLog widget to the School 2.0 Community page (which already has a link to a Google group, but which has really not started seeing any use yet), and at SupportBlogging as well as here on my blog. If you are a MyBlogLog user and would like to test the page for me, please send me some feedback so that I know it is working!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Interview with Science Leadership Academy's Chris Lehmann (School 2.0, Part 3)

"We need to stop thinking that the job of schools is to create the 21st century workforce, it's not. The job of our schools is nothing less than to help co-create the 21st-century citizen. We want our kids to be active, engaged citizens of the world. They'll be workers if they are that, too... that part will take care of itself. We want them to be able to engage in the world around them and to make it better. Nothing less than that is our task as educators."

Chris Lehman is the principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a proponent of "School 2.0." Here is his description of SLA:

"The Science Leadership Academy is a new high school that opened in September 2006 in partnership with The Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia. Opening with a powerful School 2.0 vision and a 1:1 laptop ratio, SLA looks to redefine the learning spaces and tools our students, parents and teachers use. The school uses open source tools such as Moodle, Elgg, Gallery and homegrown school information system software to create a robust school-web portal to support the learning that happens in classrooms. Our goal is to create 24/7/365 learning environment for all members of the community." (From his accepted proposal to speak at NECC this year.)

(We'll be holding open workshops on Moodle, Drupal, and Web 2.0 (with Will Richardson) at SLA in Philadelphia the week of January 29 - February 3. For more information, please visit EdTechLive's workshop page.)

  • Chris spent 9 years at the Beacon School in New York as a teacher, coach, technology coordinator, and administrator. The experience was amazing. Has come home to Philadelphia to start SLA--"a small progressive public high school with a focus on technology infusion across the curriculum."
  • While SLA is a public school, their first class of 110 students (the 9th grade) have had to apply for admission and each applicant had a personal interview. Future classes will have current students on their admissions committees.
  • Microsoft's School of the Future also opened in Philadelphia this year ("they have a nicer gym than we do"). If SLA is reinventing the wheel, School of the Future is "blowing up the car." Both have a focus on project-based learning and re-imagining what a school can look like, but SLA is based on more familiar pedagogies (sounds like it would be really interesting to interview someone from School of the Future!).
  • They are using Linux, Moodle, and Elgg and consider themselves an "open source" school.
  • "At the end of the day, it isn't about what computer you use, it's about the pedagogy and how the teachers implement it, and what your goals are for how your teachers and students use it." Technology doesn't change the classroom, pedagogy changes the classroom. The new tools make it affordable to integrate the technology and support the pedagogy, but the pedagogy comes first. If you put the technology first, the tail will wag the dog. "SLA was never a laptop school first, it was an inquiry-drive, project-based school with five very strong core values, and the technology we use supports those core values."
  • The five values are: inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection.
  • Blogging has helped him be a better teacher and administrator through "reflective practice." It has also helped them through the starting of SLA by allowing for "transparent" dialog by blogging during the planning process--which also produced a very involved community. He feels that this made the SLA very "School 2.o" by doing this from the start.
  • "We've got to teach kids to be powerful, careful, and critical consumers and producers of information and content." "The fundamental jobs of our schools as we move forward in this new era is to teach wisdom... unless we realize that our job is to teach kids what to make sense of this world, how to critically analyze what they see out there, and how to do something with it, then it doesn't matter what we do with the technology."
  • "We can't be complacent in education--the stakes are too high... the fear of what could go wrong can't stop me from doing what is right."
  • All of the students went nuts when they first got instant messaging on their laptops--and the parents were really worried about their children having access to instant messaging during school. Chris's response was: the kids are going to figure out how to have access to these tools even if we try to block them, and they will need them in college and in the workplace eventually... so let's help them to figure out how to use them responsibly now.
  • They did have a problem with misusing instant messaging (including bullying)... and the students started solving the problems themselves, as they wanted there to be consequences so that they could keep their laptops.
  • Chris's definition of School 2.0: School 2.0 starts with a progressive pedagogy that recognizes that the role of schools has changed, and that the role now is to help students navigate an ever-changing world, and to help them have the skills they need to adapt, to create, to judge, to synthesize, and to analyze. It has to be about teaching kids to become critical consumers and producers of the information around them... We can't assume that we have all the answers--we've got to teach the kids to take a core set of skills and find rich, powerful answers that are out there in the world for themselves... School 2.0 doesn't have walls to it--it recognizes that this happens all day every day. When we invite the world in rather than shut it out, we create communities and institutions that are real and authentic and caring, and that kids recognize as valuable in their own lives.
  • School 2.0 isn't about letting students do anything they want. It's about rigor and passion--keeping students engaged, but also helping them understand the need to work even when we don't want to.
  • "We actually do know how to fix what's wrong in education. Because the fact of the matter is that there are lots of places in this country where schools are doing just fine... they are good, healthy places where kids are doing well. We know, sadly, that most of those places are not in cities, and when we talk about the crisis in education, what we are really talking about... is urban education... It's not just schools size, it's teaching load... We want to change education?... Let's have teachers teaching fewer classes and planning more... Do that and we will change education."

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Educational Blogging with Will Richardson (School 2.0, Part 2)

This interview was intended to help someone new to educational blogging to hear candid advice from Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. However, as you will see, it turned into much more, with Will strongly expressing his feelings about the need for schools to change.

For more interviews, and for information on our educational technology workshops (including those with Will Richardson), please visit EdTechLive. Will is giving a two-day workshop in Philadelphia in early February.
To join in the discussion on School 2.0, please visit

  • You'll notice a change in the sound quality when Skype kept crashing and we switched to my calling Will on a land line.
  • Will, as a "frustrated journalist," started blogging in the spring of 2001--at which time there were only 5 or 6 other educational bloggers that he could find. In 2003/2004, something began to happen when interest in what he was writing about really started to take off. He was using blogging in almost all of the classes he was teaching at the time. In the last two years, there has been an amazing spike in the number of teachers and educators who are blogging about what is happening in the classroom.
  • The other educational bloggers he was reading and who were reading his blog became his "personal professional development community." This became "transformative" for him.
  • When I asked him if blogging was as transformative for his students as it had been for him, I expected a really positive answer. However, as he was teaching 9-week classes, he doesn't think that was long enough to see that take place on a general level, even though there were some examples of students who really "got it." So I followed up by asking if he has since seen examples of blogging in the classroom transform students. He said that he is not sure there are a lot of examples of student learning being transformed by blogging and the read/write web tools. This was a surprise, but I think indicates his belief that blogging isn't being widely used in classrooms, not that it's not transformative. In fact, I was expecting that he would mention his own classroom experience with his students and Sue Monk Kidd and her book The Secret Life of Bees.
  • Will feels that he has a pretty narrow definition of blogging: in order to be a learning tool, there has to be some "intellectual sweat"--reading, writing, commenting, and thinking. That's not something he sees a lot of yet, especially in the K-12 level, although he does see it a lot at the college level. It's much more difficult to do on the K-12 level, and whilit is is happening in some places, it's not to the extent he would like to see.
  • Will surprised me with his answer to the question of how to start classroom blogging. I was hoping he would talk about simple things teachers can do to get students to blog. Instead, however, Will kept focusing on the teacher using blogging for their own professional development, which starts by reading educational bloggers and then becoming a part of whatever conversation you are interested in. It reminded me of the maxim that has largely guided my participation in my kids education: if you want your children to love reading, then love reading yourself. Telling someone to have a passion for something carries almost no weight; letting them see you passionate about something provides them with a vision of what that actually means.
  • Because of his focus on involving educators in the blogosphere themselves, he starts by teaching about RSS readers.
  • Will has recently really "whittled" down the number of sources (blogs, news feeds) that he reads from approximately 120 to about 20, looking for people who are really good filters of the more general conversations, as he can't keep up with as many sources as he used to. At the same time that he is trying to expand the scope of what he reads to material outside of the educational community, to reach out and give him more perspective. One way that he does this is to use RSS feeds for searches--giving him the ability to track or follow ideas rather than individuals.
  • Will is not sure how many people actually read his blog, but his best guess is between 5,000 - 10,000 people.
  • New bloggers will often ask him, "What should I write about on my blog?" His answer: If you are reading what other people are writing, and if you are trying to take their ideas and see how they apply to your own life, that's great fodder for your own blog. It shouldn't be just a journal or a diary, he says--there's nothing wrong with that, but it won't really leverage what can happen with a blog by making connections with others and their ideas.
  • He likes the idea that students should be "clickable." (As you will hear, I could image alarm bells going of in every administrators head with this idea...) If someone can click on something a student has written, that person can become a potential teacher for the student. If the student can't be found, then those teachers won't find them. I asked Will how you do that without exposing the student to danger. Many of our students already are clickable, he said, but it's outside of their school experience (MySpace, etc.). However, he acknowledges that it will require helping kids know how to do this in safe ways. This may scare us, but it's the way the world is going, and it's already happening for kids. And, he says, we can do this safely--there are tens of thousands of kids doing this already in classes. He says that we don't teach youth to drive by just telling them how to drive and then giving them the keys when they are sixteen--instead, we train them and sit next to them while they actually drive.
  • Even though schools and districts are blocking and filtering a lot of the sites of the read/write web, he thinks that they know that this is a short-term answer, and that most educators realize that they will need to figure out how to use these technologies. Otherwise, he thinks they know that they will left behind and obsoleted.
  • Education is not inherently collaborative or social right now, but the rest of their life will be so. Will's vision: the classroom walls need to be mentally obliterated. We have to get beyond the building--learning does not need to take place in a physical space.
  • Our kids have to do work with real audiences and real purposes. If we're just passing paper between students and teachers, we are going to be left behind.
  • We have a huge opportunity to make education a "community" process. There is a lot of learning that we can do in our own community that can be facilitated by these technologies. The One Cleveland project, which allows everyone in the community to interact with students--for example, where local doctors could answer student questions while they are watching a surgery being performed. We don't need to go around the world to do this.
  • We have to re-envision our teacher preparation program. We can't keep producing teachers that are being prepared with old paradigms--we have to help them be continuous learners and much less content-oriented.
  • There is a lot that has to change, because there are going to be many, many alternatives that are going to be cropping up for kids that will allow them to opt-out of education as we know it. He doesn't think he's the all-knowing expert on school reform, but as someone who has had a pretty powerful experience with these tools, and who comes at this conversation knowing that his own learning environment is nothing like what he sees in classrooms. He's not sure how this is going to trickle down into systemic changes, but is convinced that schools will become irrelevant if they can't embrace them.
  • We have no idea of what the future for our kids is going to look like in even five years, so we have to teach them how to be ready for anything: how to build their own learning communities, how to find their own trusted sources of information, how to network their ideas, and how to publish, become clickable, and be creative.
  • On building "Engaged Schools" too much of what we are doing in classrooms designed to strengthen their weaknesses, instead of running with their talents. Teaching is changing, and it's going to take a much different type of teacher to be successful in the classroom than has been the case for the last eighty years.

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