This is the first in a summer series of guest posts by members of my personal/professional learning network. Mary Beth Hertz is the technology teacher and technology integrator at Alliance for Progress Charter School in North Philadelphia. She can be found on Twitter at @mbteach and blogs at Philly Teacher.[hr]
What I want to express in this blog post is not anything new or innovative. It is nothing that hasn’t been said before. However, it is something that’s been mulling about in my brain while I was drinking my morning coffee and watching the Twitter stream from the Discovery Educators Network Leadership Council Symposium.
A video kept getting re-tweeted in the stream so I figured I’d better check it out.
You can watch the 2 minute video, Microsoft Office Labs Vision 2019:
As soon as it started I felt like I was watching a car commercial. It was flashy, well-produced and fast-paced. I honestly was not that impressed. I guess what people felt was that it was a window into what the future holds for technology and digital devices.
That I won’t deny.
The name on the video is “Microsoft Office Labs 2019 Vision Montage.” This is the vision that Microsoft has for our future.
What’s wrong with this picture?
For one, why are we letting Microsoft dictate what the future of digital life will look like? We could make the same statement about Apple or Sony or any other companies who manufacture digital products. Many of these companies do use customer input and feedback to improve their products, but in reality we are all consumers of what these companies feed us.
What does this mean for education? It means that we need to be putting our students to the task of deciding what THEY want their future to look like. We live in a time unlike any other in history. Our natural resources are disappearing, we have devices that are more powerful than ever before and we have tools that allow us to connect with people thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds.
Companies like Microsoft are not in the business of planning for the future of our children as members of society or for the future of our global community. We must empower our students with that charge. It is they who will inhabit the future. We must also ensure that we empower ALL students to take part in the building of future society, not just the ones who are privileged and can afford it.
There are many obstacles to overcome when we begin to ask our students to solve real world problems. Solutions to real world problems don’t fit on a standardized test. Solutions to real world problems take time to understand and even more time to solve. Solutions to real world problems require a restructuring of school as we know it.
I have been having various conversations (and sometimes debates) about what it means to be a teacher and a learner in the 21st Century. Some of the conversation has been focused around guiding students to understanding rather than delivering content, creating learning environments where learning is a connected and social experience, and infusing technology into learning when it can transform the learning experience. The world our students will inhabit will require them to collaborate with peers, understand social media tools and be problem solvers within their own communities and the larger world. We need to prepare them for that world.
Schools need to allow for tinkering. Tinkering with ideas, tinkering with materials, tinkering with students’ perceived limitations. Tinkering teaches children how to learn from failure. Tinkering teaches children how to think about a problem or a project from many perspectives. Tinkering allows children to build self esteem and feel pride in what they do. Students who tinker are the students who build our future.
Some examples of what I’m talking about:
- The Tinkering School teaches children how to build and guide their own learning. While it is not a true ‘school’ it is a model that could be replicated on a smaller scale within the school curriculum. (Listen to the founder’s TED talk here.)
- Philadelphia High School Students Design the Car of the Future
- Project Based Learning motivates students to solve real world problems–Edutopia article
- Sylvia Martinez writes extensively about tinkering on her blog, GenYES
There are those who will look at these words as a ‘pipe dream,’ ‘utopia’ or ‘fairytale.’ To them I would argue that we must have a Vision. If Microsoft can construct a vision of what it thinks the world will look like in 2019 then we as educators, parents, community members, lawmakers and general stakeholders in the world need to have a vision, too. Even more importantly, we need to let our children begin to build their own vision for their own future and give them skills to make it real.
Hey, Mary Beth! Nice to read you here. And nice to read about the importance of a collaborative vision. Sure, it can be easier for someone with some informed insight and time to think to come up with their own vision. And with sufficient time, motivation, and resources (coupled with a motivated go-ahead from the higher ups) it is possible for groups and/or large corporations (like this Micsrosoft example, or Apple’s well-known “Knowledge Navigator” for instance) to promote a possible “vision” of how things may be.
The true challenge, as you imply, is to come up with a shared, collaborative, participatory vision — one that is developed, endorsed, and supported by all of the participants. I’ve been involved in a few such “vision-setting” experiences, and there is no doubt that the result is always much more powerful, in the long term, than something developed in isolation and imposed by an external group. Equally important, in such situations, is the need to maintain that participation of all involved throughout the “living” of the vision. Churning out a vision and leaving the implementation to dis-connected groups and disengaged individuals won’t make it work. You shouldn’t have to continually sell and re-sell a vision if it belongs to everyone.
Perhaps that, at its core, is democracy? Maybe we need more informed, enlightened engagement (and, as Will Richardson called for in his Parents post a couple days back, involvement) on the part of all stakeholders, especially learners, in establishing and continually implementing our shared vision(s!) in education?
You make a good point that implementation is a huge hurdle for seeing a vision through to the end. Every school year we are required to post the mission and vision on the wall of our classroom, but I don’t see it being practiced in the building.
I also think that dialogue is important, as you stated, among all stakeholders when creating a shared vision of education.
I think, sadly, visions in schools are completed like homework rather than with a true purpose in mind.
Great point about the mission and vision. I’m always curious when I see those posted in a school if the students have any idea what they are or what they mean. Try walking around a building sometime and asking, “So tell me about the school’s mission” and see what kind of response you get!
I just completed a vision and mission statement for our gifted program, and I intend on making it an integral part of everything we do. I will talk about it, I will use it, and it will be a living document, not something laminated in the front of the procedure manual that no one looks at.
I counted 22 different mini-vignettes in the Microsoft video. By my reckoning, 7 of them (one third) are purely about individualized marketing to consumers. I was also thinking about how all of this could actually work. It would rely on having one universal standard for all devices (tablets, key fobs, tabletops, tools, VR goggles, virtual wallets, etc.) to communicate wtih each other. I’m guessing Microsoft would like to be the one to define that standard.
Interesting vision of the future Microsoft has.
I agree with MB and Andrew that a shared vision is more important than a corporate-driven one. Since schools are preparing tomorrow’s visionaries, perhaps we ought to be at the cutting edge of participating in that sharing.
In the world that MS envisions, everything around us will be aware of our presence and our data. The table in your kitchen will know what your schedule is for the day. Presumably much of that data will be networked and available to others, especially marketers (and probably Facebook). If we’re going to tackle the real-world problems this future is going to bring, kids need to start understanding the context in which those problems will arise.
What’s the implication for schools and teachers? I think it would be irresponsible for us to say we don’t want to learn new technology, or that technology is an “extra”.
So many schools have in their mission statement something to the effect of developing future citizens. But what does it mean to be an informed, productive member of society today? What will it mean tomorrow? I don’t think we can any longer say, “I just teach math” or “I just teach 3rd grade.” We need to get this so that our kids have a shot at mastering it.
I didn’t even think about the factors you describe! What a frightening future when a company will know everything about us (Google is pretty close to getting there). I guess for all of those devices to really work there would need to be one central control center for all of the data.
I think that many schools’ mission statements reflect the popular language of the day rather than what the school really believes.
Thanks, by the way, for the invitation to blog here 🙂
MB, my pleasure. I’m glad to have your voice here as part of my conversation!
Well stated MaryBeth. At the end of the day this is Microsofts vision for the future. Why? Because it gives them the edge, makes them the predictors of the future. It benefits them because if they convince us that this is the future, then when they come out with the products that make this possible we will think, they were right, and we will buy into their idea. We need a vision of our own. It isn’t that this vision isn’t an interesting look on where technology might be headed, but it isn’t really a vision for anything but consumerism. Let’s define where we want to go and then allow in the technology and products that will help us get there. Let’s stop building our definition around the technology. Let’s make it work for us and not the other way around.
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