What can we live with(out)? Part One

Over at Mind/Shift, Shelly Blake-Plock wrote a great little piece on what he feels will be obsolete by 2020. It is a timely piece as I begin to plan for what could be massive shifts in instruction and learning in our own school district.

Some of his items should be gone already, and in some cases, are. Other items might not seem so easily dispensable in the politically driven times we are in. I see no immediate end to politicians getting out of the “run down education” business anytime soon. It is just too easy to do that for political gain. Instead, they will spend countless billions of dollars trying to convince the world that a standardized test result is the end all beat all. But I digress. I am giving away my opinions much to early in this.

Over the next course of (insert an unknown amount of time here), I will hit upon Shelly’s items a few at a time to reflect on them for my own self-learning. Maybe you will find my thoughts worthwhile. Maybe they will sound like drivel. The goal here is for me to kind of flesh them out and see where I end up.

The first item up for debate:

1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

We go for the easy target first. I like that. Get warmed up with a softball lob. Okay. I agree with Shelly on this, but I think desks are still a part of the landscape. The focus should be that the desks are no longer in rows, and the entire learning space is not made up of desks. This allows students to find a comfort place in the classroom to fit them. It can actually become a learning space of their choosing. Some might like a beanbag. Others might like sitting on the floor leaning against the wall. Still others might like the baseball stadium chairs nabbed at the pawn shop for a great price.  The teacher gets to decide how they want the room to look for their part of this bargain, so why not let the kids help figure out their part of it? After all, when you are finished fixing your room up like you want it, you call it “my classroom,” right? There’s a good chance the kids will also claim some ownership of it if they get some choice in the matter. At least consider what it is like to be a kid in your room to learn about what you are teaching. Besides, who made the rows of desks a sacred cow anyway? And if you really want to challenge your thinking on classroom design, go ask Christian Long and David Jakes for some assistance.

Shelly’s item number two:

2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone
away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun
with that room.

This one I struggle with a little more. There is a difference between acquisition of language and acquisition of a device that can do the language for you. I prefer the device part myself only because it is easier. Does that make it better? Is it less personal in today’s times to let the device do the talking instead of the human holding the device? I’ll leave this one for others to debate. It will take legislative change to pull it off in Texas anyway, so it really is not in the hands of teachers. All I know is I have Google Translate, and it does a pretty decent job on my iPhone. I just wish it didn’t require the Internet to do it. When I go to China in a few years with my family, the data plan is going to eat me alive.

Item number three:

3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one
should read: ‘Our concept of what a computer is’. Because computing is
going mobile and over the next decade we’re going to see the full fury
of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can’t wait.

Yeah, I’m here already. I believe that schools not already considering and preparing for a BYOD (bring your own device) environment are years behind where they should be. Given the current economic climate and the grim future in education funding, this is going to be one area that will stick out. Shelly is right in that computing is going mobile, but I believe it already has. The only portion that hasn’t is the mundane automated tasks, and even many of them are there thanks to an updated Google Apps (word processing, spreadsheets, etc). With Adobe introducing Wallaby recently to help businesses convert their Flash based work over to HTML5, I think the writing is on the proverbial wall now. I brought this exact thing up with a leader at Texas Education Agency in a phone call today. I won’t go into specifics, but the outcome is that they are developing apps for mobile devices to overcome poor web design (or maybe it is poor web updates). Regardless, it will help pave the way for a BYOD setting that can be platform agnostic.

Consider the great devices out there already. Android based tablets are making great strides, and Apple is dominating with the iPad 2. I’m not going to go so far as to say the iPad 2 is the game changer, but it is a device worthy of serious consideration. Its greatest asset is the sheer number of apps available to help learners of all types.

I was skiing in Wolf Creek this week when I met a young lady at lunch who is studying to be a teacher at Texas Tech. She shared that she had to leave her high school in Plano for a private school because they were not meeting her needs as a special ed student. Considering how bright she seemed from the conversation, I deduced correctly that it was dyslexia. One thing led to another and we began discussing technology options as she finds more and more integration in her college classrooms. She was considering a Nook or a Kindle and asked my opinion. We discussed what those machines can do, and I asked her what else she would like them to do. Again, she was hoping for something that could help with her learning needs. I shared some of the apps I found for special education, including one that offers to assist in the writing of papers for dyslexia students. Then throw in the nice accessibility features for special needs. And, of course, she can always add the Kindle app if she wants it. She said just the writing assistance app alone would be worth the purchase for her. She felt she could easily account for spending the money on it considering that the iPad is the cost of just TWO textbooks these days. I’ll write more about my thoughts on the iPad 2 later, but having heard great stories of what it can do in the lives of children who live with all types of differences, it is safe to say it is a viable candidate for a mobile computing future.

I’d say that is enough for this post. So far, I’m at a crossroads on number two, but I will catalog that thought to come back to when the time is right. My next post will cover Homework, Standardized Tests, and Differentiation. All three are worthy of reviewing on a regular basis, much less waiting for 2020 to change them.

All Photo Credits: mine.