Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Report: An Imperative for Schools to Transform?

The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project, 2010 Horizon Report: K-12, represents an ongoing research effort established in 2002 that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe." The report happens to be one of the more insightful that I have read recently. The reports' parameters since 2002 have been clearly set out –they are to introduce “six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use in the educational community within three adoption horizons over the next one to five years." The report is long and thoughtful and I urge everyone to read it but I wanted to point out two trends in particular that stand out for me:

i) There is increasing interest in just-in-time, alternate, or non-formal avenues of education, such as online learning, mentoring, and independent study. Of the school as the seat of educational practice is changing as learners avail themselves of learning opportunities from other sources. There is a tremendous opportunity for schools to work hand-in-hand with alternate sources, to examine traditional approaches, and to reevaluate the content and experiences they are able to offer.

ii) The way we think of learning environments is changing. Traditionally, a learning environment has been a physical space, the “spaces” where students learn are becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary, and supported by technologies that engage virtual communication and collaboration. This changing concept of the learning environment has clear implications for schools.

The gist of both findings is that some if not all the institutional walls separating schools from the outside world are going to have to be removed. We need discussions about what good partnerships that might be offered--and how they might connect. One promising area is use of online mentoring that might be provided by non profits and others who have particular expertise where schools need help--particularly math and IT literacy. There is no reason why adults who are properly trained and cleared to work with young people online cannot be a great help in this area--providing the kind of close one on one attention that student require these days. The report helps us to re-conceive schools as part of learning communities that include the school, library, home and community centers as well as places such as museums, gardens, colleges, workplaces and play spaces...It seems to suggest that schools need to be the places where learners need to feel empowered to learn and then be given the resources and training to go out and work with and engage with the community at large. This seems to move us to an Ivan Ilyich de-schooling society idea--which during the 70s was viewed as quite a radical concept but today perhaps less so.

After all many schools arrange virtual field trips for their students and many more computers are available in the community for students to connect to-we also have virtual schools and home schooling all of which have expanded our notions of what schools are and can become . The report points out that many policy makers and educators believe that deep reform is needed, but at the same time, there is little agreement as to what a new model of education might look like.

But while schools are thinking about the problems of transforming the system the changes might overwhelm them. The report seems to offer a veiled warning to schools by asking them to acknowledge the fact that today “learners have increasing opportunities to take their education into their own hands, and options like informal education, online education, and home-based earning are attracting students away from traditional educational settings. If the system is to remain relevant it must adapt, but major change comes hard in education.” That is why some careful piloting and experimentation with new models of 21st century learning makes sense at this stage. We should all be actively involved in this process of working with the new technologies and finding new opportunities to find transformative learning commensurate for our times. This maybe somewhat vague --but understandably so since we are only at the beginning of understanding what those 'alternate sources' might be.

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