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BFTP: Cultural change

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past.  Original post May 28, 2008.

Five years ago, I wrote: "We seem poised in our technology efforts to make some of these school culture changes." We still seem "poised" - closer, maybe, but not really there. Some teachers and classrooms have changed dramatically, but the majority have not. Check back in 2018.

I've been thinking about Michael Wesch's talk I heard at last week's e-learning conference. He called his keynote "Human Futures for Technology and Education" and made some interesting points. We are seeing, he observes, a movement toward:

  • User generated content (YouTube)
  • User generated filtering (digg)
  • User generated organization (
  • User generated distribution (RSS)
  • User generated commentary (blogs)
  • User generated ratings (Technorati)

and concludes we are experiencing not a technology or information revolution, but a cultural revolution.  He also remarked that while we might easily say "Some students are just not cut out for school," we would not say "Some students are just not cut out for learning."

Wesch obviously looks at technology through the lens of both a cultural anthropologist and an educator - the combination that makes him very interesting indeed. And I would agree that we are experiencing cultural changes brought about by technology.

What I am wondering about is just how fast and universal these changes are - and if any changes brought about by technology in education can be considered truly cultural to date.

The variety of rates at which the tools above are being adopted by the general population was brought home to me vividly by a phone call I received last Monday from Don, a retired teacher who serves on our local lakes association board. He wanted to know how many visitors the association website was getting. Logging on as webmaster, I found out the site had been averaging about 25 hits a month so far this year. I was mortified; Don was delighted. "Wow, that's almost one a day!" (Take a look a the site - if we get up to 2 visitors a day average, it'll really make Don a happy camper.)

On that same day, I read a blog post by Amy that recommended  Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income and the writer strategized how she could increase her blog readership. I suspect one would need more than "almost" a visitor a day to hit that six figure income. Don and Amy may both be part of the same cultural revolution - but for Don it's revolving att 33 1/3 rpm - while Amy is mp3. (A recent study identified only 6% of American consumers as "digital savvy.")

Last week, when Scott McLeod asked his blog readers about "long term, substantive, sustainable change that occurred in your organization," I was sincerely hard pressed to identify such a change - let alone think about who or what caused it - especially a change abetted by technology. If I survive two more weeks in my current position, I will have completed 31 school years as a teacher, librarian, or technology director. And things are more the same in 2008 than they are are different from my first year teaching in 1976. Some changes, yes; cultural changes, substantive changes, no. For the most part adults are still putting 20-30 kids in hard desks in square rooms, talking at them, and requiring them to regurgitate what we told them. 

To use Zuboff's terms, we have "automated" some aspects of education with technology: attendance, grading, lectures, and communication. But what we have yet to do is "infomate it" - do things we could not do before there was technology.

What would real cultural change look like in education?

  • All students would have meaningful Individual Education Plans specifically written to their learning styles and needs.
  • Classrooms would be truly differentiated with all students learning in their own way, at their own pace. Chronological segregation would not happen.
  • Personal motivation and relevance for learning would be a prime ingredient in education.
  • Constructivism would be the main pedagogy, not a once-a-year term paper or project.
  • Data mining would genuinely determine the most effective teaching methods, teachers, and conditions for learning.
  • Distance learning would be the norm, opening huge opportunities for students to learn according to interest from the very best instructors.
  • Gaming would be the norm and teachers would be game coaches.
  • Schools would be genuinely pleasant places where student want to be.
  • Assessments would measure individual growth over time, not compare students to artificial norms at snapshots in time.

We seem poised in our technology efforts to make some of these school culture changes. I am not holding my breath for any of these things to happen, but you never know.

Has technology changed school culture? Will it? What will it look like? 

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Reader Comments (2)

I agree that personal motivation needs to be a primary driving force for one's own education. How do we unpackage that? A student in one of my classes indicated that her concern with her students was not that the students couldn't get the answers to questions but many weren't interested enough to ask the questions in the first place -- in other words, they were already disengaged from the process.

June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

Hi Floyd,

Great question. I wish I knew the answer to that. In some ways, this though, is what drove me to librarianship. Regardless of what kids chose to read out of personal need/interest, they were still practicing reading skills. Regardless of what kids chose to research out of personal need/interest, they were still learning search skills.

All educators need to do a better job of explaining the "why this is important" part of all their lessons. In fact that might be the most important part of teaching altogether.

Good to hear from you!


June 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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