I’ve been in a discussion over at Infinite Thinking Machine with various people including Arthus who is “… a 14-year-old student in Vermont who has recently become actively involved in the online dialog about educational technology.”

Part of the discussion I’ve been having with Arthus and Steve Hargadon, of Ning Classroom2.0 fame, revolves around the need for schools to change. You can catch up on that conversation here. Part of the discussion has centered around the need for schools to change and for teachers to use more technology. Now, as many of you know, I agree on both accounts. One suggestion is that we need to increase the number and type of people involved in the discussion about schools and have more people who use and understand technology in decision-making positions. This is a good idea but I do not believe that, by having technologically savvy people in higher decision-making positions, it will somehow increase changes in schools regarding technology access, use or integration.

Societal Barriers

As much as many of us discuss within the small technological circle the need for schools to reform and the need for change, the reality is that the circle is small. Adding voices from someone like Arthus is a great thing to do. As I pointed out in the comments

we can have input from whomever we want but ultimately someone has to be responsible.Unless people fully understand this and are willing to give input realizing that their input is just that and may not be used, then we run the risk of people expecting things to happen when, in reality, they cannot….. Talk all you want, discuss all you want but until it’s your butt on the firing line about the decision that was made, don’t insinuate that those making decisions don’t know about technology or technology use.

I am someone who is in a position to make some decisions about what happens in schools. As much as I might like to see things change, there are other pressures that are also pushing and pulling for time and, depending on which one the media grabs or which one becomes a focus for the community, that is where many of the resources go. Is this always good? No. Is this what I want? Not always but it is the reality of what happens. You cannot point to any one level of decision-makers as most of them are reacting to societal forces that are pushing at them.

For changes, significant changes to take place in schools, society has to rethink the idea of school. Instead of people seeing students who are listening to ipods, texting and using laptops as youth playing with expensive toys, they need to realize that these tools could be powerful learning tools.For those students using the tools, they are but somehow we’ve made the internet something that has as many, if not more, evils than it has virtues. Media continues to portray and report the nasty and bad, which society is demanding they do, instead of the good. Now, those of us who see the potential of the tools and many of the students know this isn’t the case but for many parents this isn’t so. It is something new, different and, ultimately, something scary. For the adults, who can protect themselves, the internet is a wide-open playground yet with the youth this changes and becomes something else.

As Steve points out

I think part of the difficulty here is that the rise of the read-write web is probably going to have comparable historical and cultural significance to the advent of the printing press. I believe we are going to see some dramatic changes in many of our existing institutions.

Change is never easy and, I agree with Steve here, the changes are going to be widespread and far reaching. As adults, our natural reaction when we see something that we really don’t understand is to try to protect the youth. Is it any wonder that changes in schools are slow? This is a place where many of the adults can still walk into and recognize and, for the most part, feel safe. Despite all that is going on in the world around, schools and what takes place within them are still safe and recognizable.

Bring on the Change

For Arthus, and many other youth, they don’t see schools the same way. Their world has been dominated with change and with a global view of events and actions. Communication and socializing are all part of learning and understanding. Active integration of the tools is common. Using tools to create their own interpretation is not unique. Sharing with one another over vast distances is not a scary thing, it’s what they do. Instead of fearing the changes going on around them, they accept them as part of their way of life. Again, Steve comments

It may be that if traditional schools have difficulty responding to this massive change because of how they are currently structured–as you have pointed out well–we may find that some parents and students look for alternatives.

And indeed some parents and youth will make that move. However, as I point out,

“Society is basically happy with how schools run – they don’t want something radically different – “Hey, if it worked for me…” when, in fact, we do need something radically different. Something that would allow learners to access information, discuss topics – sometimes across boarders and oceans – create their own reactions that were “graded” differently than we do now. This would require that universities move away from how they accept students and, really, completely turn over the entire idea of education from top to bottom.

Such a monumental change requires more than just technology savvy people in decision-making positions. It requires a societal shift in the idea of what “educated” means. For that to happen, people have to become uncomfortable with the way things are being done and that will take time no matter who is making the decisions.

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