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Tuesday
Jan032012

Humanizing education with technology or ... ?

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed.

The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe. Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities

This lovely long New Year's weekend has allowed me to catch up a little on my RSS feeds and I am again struck by the schizophrenic nature of school change.

Both Miguel Guhlin and Will Richardson have written recent cautions about the rise of corporate-led, for-profit "school reform" efforts that de-professionalize education with the testing steamroller Pearson at the head of the parade.

But I also finally watched Salman Khan's "Let’s Use Video To Reinvent Education" TEDTalk (with guest appearance by Bill Gates) from last March. I did not expect Khan to say:

But the more interesting thing is -- and this is the unintuitive thing when you talk about technology in the classroom -- by removing the one-size-fits-all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home, and then when you go to the classroom, letting them do work, having the teacher walk around, having the peers actually be able to interact with each other, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom. They took a fundamentally dehumanizing experience -- 30 kids with their fingers on their lips, not allowed to interact with each other. A teacher, no matter how good, has to give this one-size-fits-all lecture to 30 students -- blank faces, slightly antagonistic -- and now it's a human experience. Interactive transcript.

Khan Academy resources may be the last breeze needed to create a perfect storm of educational change. Add these kinds of free, high quality resources to GoogleApps for collaborative work and Moodle for online assignments and activities - all accessible with inexpensive tablets, netbook or smartphones (many student-owned) - and there will be change.

At least in the schools that Kozol describes as "for the governors" in the quote above. Those in schools "for the governed" will get textbooks and lectures and drill and practice and more Pearson tests.


2012 promises to be the latest in what i think have been a series of the most exciting years in both the education and technology worlds that I can remember. Unfortunately part of that excitement will not just be watching the best schools get more humane using more technology in better ways, but watching the slow train-wreck of poor, impoverished schools use technology to assign ever more numbers to define children.

And for those of us who work in schools somewhere in the middle, we will need to renew our personal commitment to making sure our kids are using technology to increase their "imaginative range" not just for labeling. Good luck to us. We'll need it. 

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Reader Comments (4)

I'm sure you've hit on the key point. Some people and organizations will always want to look at the numbers. It's what they do. But just like using the technology in a way that inspires kids to imagine and grow, we should use the numbers not to label, but to define challenges and find imaginative solutions - and grow.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermelissa rohwedder

Interesting. While I don't necessarily think Khan's Academy is THE solution to the future of education, he is clearly rattling the established order and threatening to the status quo. And I'm all for that.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Hi Doug,

I'd like your permission to take this post to our district technology meeting next week. I fear that while we are pretty forward-thinking when it comes to tech (we will be getting gmail and Google Apps this summer - YAY!), all of the toys and access in the world will not change unless we become schools for "the governors".
I am setting my goals for this semester this week, and one of them is to convince at least one of the excellent, progressive teachers in my building to try a "flipped classroom" for at least one unit. We have Moodle, access to Khan Academy, and all of the knowledge and tools are in place. I hope to adjust some attitudes next - wish me luck!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLen

Hi Melissa,

Nicely said. Numbers are simply a form of shorthand that helps save time - unfortunately necessary when there are too many kids per teacher. We need the longhand as well.

Doug

HI J,

I'd agree that Khan is not THE solution. I think it may be part of it, however. I was impressed by the talk - but then I am sort of gullible. (Actually, somebody told me I was gullible - and I believed them!)

Doug

Hi Len,

You are always welcome to share anything I've written you find online.

(I wonder how long before all the tech directors get together and just hire a hit on me?)

Doug

January 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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