Cavemen, Farmers, and Educators: How the Right Tools Make a Difference
Our schools are facing a revolution today. We have the tools we need to help sustain and enhance collaboration and student learning, but some of our schools aren’t using them. In fact, I would say that most of them aren’t. Keep in mind that:
- Some cavemen discovered the tools needed to make fire. Some didn’t.
- Some farmers in the Agricultural Revolution saw vast increases in production and diminished costs with new farming equipment. Unfortunately, some didn’t.
- Some organizations in the Industrial Revolution prospered by integrating assembly lines and steam-based machinery. Once again, some didn’t.
- Some businesses chose the Internet to provide a sales outlet for their clients… Guess what? Some haven’t.
What happened to the “some that didn’t”?
- Cavemen froze.
- Farmers lost sales, land, and their careers.
- Organizations failed.
- Businesses lack clients and potential sales.
Today, some companies and educational institutions are embracing 21st-century tools and new ways of thinking to help sustain and grow business. Similarly, some aren’t. Do we really need further proof that history is destined to repeat itself unless there is intervention? I guess some do.
If we continued to study the history of humanity and our advancements, we’d discover that every major shift were marked by the use of new tools and new ways of processing information. Major reformation is achieved by leveraging the use of tools that bring about efficiency and increased returns. As illustrated above, those who embrace new methods prosper, and those who don’t either fail or are seriously lacking relative to their potential.
What tools do schools need to leverage that will contribute towards education reform?
Just as knowledge is only power through organization and use, tools are only useful if they are properly integrated. Most schools have yet to embrace, adopt, and put to use the following tools. I believe these are the tools that are going to drive learning and business in the 21st century.
But be warned – just like the farmer that literally bought the hype of new farm equipment without first understanding its purpose, the tools will be ineffective without proper implementation. An engine without steam is pretty useless.
In education, it’s the blending of these tools that allow us opportunities to collaborate in ways that we have never had before. As a result, more students become a part of the learning process rather than an object of it.
I’ve been reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, and even though I’m only abut 20% of the way through it, the principles he’s uncovered so far have me considering the implications this will have in education. As I write this, I’m also eating some excellent peach cobbler my wife made for me yesterday… hence, my writing makes several references to food and cooking. : )
According to Shirky, it took one hundred million hours of collective thought to come up with Wikipedia. Americans spend roughly two hundred billion hours watching TV every year. Putting that into perspective, annual television watching equates to 2,000 Wikipedia projects every year. When we spend our time collaborating instead of consuming, we revolutionize the way we live by developing and using products such as Youtube, PickUpPal, and eHarmony. Harnessing the power of technology allows us to collaborate in ways we never have been able to before.
Because of modern-day conveniences, most of us can afford the “luxury” of being couch potatoes and passively participating in day-to-day life; unfortunately, many schools are marinated with an attitude that reflects this lifestyle. Come to class, get out your notes, take a quiz, and come back tomorrow to repeat the cycle… and again…. and again…. and again.
What recipe are we following? Who got out the cookbook and made “Drill and Kill Routines” our signature piece? I don’t know. The problem is, that recipe is circulating and somebody left out the critical ingredients. Ingredients like:
- Civil service
- Instrinsic motivation
- Communal value
Guess what though? Our students have the secret recipe to give our schools a new flavor, but we aren’t giving them access to the kitchen! Hands off, lest ye burn yourself.
I invite you to watch this clip on service-based learning. In case the embedding feature isn’t working properly, click here to view the video.
I’m going to suggest we invite our kids into the kitchen for a while. Even though they may accidentally bump us, smack us in the head with the refrigerator door, and overcook a few dishes, their recipe has much more to offer when it’s finally cooked right. Along with our adult insight and suggestions, we’ll cook up something far better than we would have alone.
Young people today are shifting their behavior away from consumption. Instead of just watching TV, they have outlets like YouTube and the ability to collaborate with others by means of comments, rankings, and in-depth discussions with people all over the world. Don’t get me wrong – they’ll still have their cake and eat it, too… but they’re sharing with others while they do. This population understands how to use the technology and they have so much to benefit by using it in school.
Reduced consumption and increased sharing delivers products that would have never otherwise been developed. Although the free time spared for sharing is fractional, the synergistic effect of multiple people collaborating together is exponential. We are the experts of pedagogy and our students pride in being the masters of technology. Let’s blend our strengths, guide each other’s hands, and take full advantage of the learning opportunities delivered to us by leveraging our assets.
We’ve been doing cross-curricular projects within our schools for a while now. The idea isn’t new; however, we can leverage technology to take these cross-curricular projects beyond the traditional classrooms and use the entire globe as our school.
For example, let’s look at the service-based project below. I’m intentionally going to be a little vague in case somebody wants to use it as their project and add their own wrinkles to it.
Our project’s mission:
- We will help meet the clothing needs of inhabitants in third world countries.
One simple sentence packed with opportunity. Using the collective knowledge of classrooms beyond our physical school walls, here are some off-the-top-of-my-head ways we could weave this service-learning project into curricula:
In order to receive funding, somebody is going to have to write some proposals. Many companies and donors would love to fund a project like this, and it would certainly help our sales pitch if we had grammatically-correct writing.
Art & Design
Students with strong backgrounds in art and design would have an outlet to express their creativity by developing apparel designs.
Geography & History
We need to understand the background of the people, what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and the geographical features of the area we’re producing clothing for.
Math & Science
What type of clothing material is most appropriate and why? What are the dimensions of clothing we need to produce
Marketing & Economics
Even though we may be receiving funding for this, we still want to use our money efficiently. Who’s going to develop the clothing? Are we going to do it, or are we going to outsource? These are questions students and teachers would have to answer.
Computers & Technology
Technology facilitates this entire project. Skype, wikis, social bookmarking, etc… all of these are necessary tools we’ll use to complete this project.
As focused groups, what we end up developing is far beyond what we would do on our own.
Is there a method behind developing projects that fuel passion, service, the whole-person paradigm, and curricular connections? Shirky’s book along with student insight has led me to identify a few key elements. The service-learning project should:
- Meet a civil need
- Have communal value
- Promote membership, generosity, and contribution to a noble cause
- Provide an outlet to express competence in a field of expertise
- Give the opportunity to enhance knowledge
- Allow members to freely collaborate without fear of ridicule
- Enhance citizenship, student/student relationships, and student/teacher relationships
This is not an exhaustive list, but gives a solid frame of reference when trying to come up with your own service-learning project. If you’re considering starting your own, I suggest you also check out the K–12 Service Learning Project Planning Toolkit for more information.
How Can Technology Fuel My Collaborative Project?
While you can have a service-learning project without using a whole lot of technology to support it, you won’t really start to take advantage of the ideas behind “Cognitive Surplus” until you utilize technology to meet with other like-minded people that bring their own set of uniqueness and skills beyond your brick-and-mortar school.
Edmodo was launched in September of 2009. Here’s how they describe themselves on their site:
- Edmodo is a social learning network for teachers, students, schools and districts.
- Edmodo is accessible online or using any mobile device, including DROID and iPhones.
- Edmodo provides free classroom communication for teachers, students and administrators on a secure social network.
- Edmodo provides teachers and students with a secure and easy way to post classroom materials, share links and videos, and access homework, grades and school notices.
- Edmodo stores and shares all forms of digital content – blogs, links, pictures, video, documents, presentations, and more.
- These guys provide a great outlet to host your project and help you connect with like-minded others. Navigation is a little bit cumbersome, but once you get a good feel for the site, you’ll be able to connect with virtually anybody around the world that’s willing to participate in a cooperative project with you. You can outreach to other schools to find participants, host groups, discussion boards, and implement third party plugins that help facilitate your project.
- You can use other tools beyond the tools they host. I personally feel like there’s better technology tools out there, but they provide the house to communicate and find the right people you need for your project. Expect to integrate technology like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and PBWorks to make your project successful.
Here are some other useful resources that will help you begin your service-learning project:
- Leveraging Our Cognitive Surplus
- Service Learning Project Examples
- Bank of Service Learning Resources
What do you think? Am I too much of an idealist in thinking this is plausible? Maybe so… but I’ve had the ham and cheese for a while now and this offers something new… give me some more peach cobbler!
On my website, K-12 Mobile Learning, I have written other articles that discuss how to integrate mobile technology and social media in your school or classroom:
- Augmented Reality: Second Life in Education
- iPhone Augmented Reality Apps in Education
- GPS-Based Audio Commentary for Classroom Field Trips
- Cloud Computing In K-12 Schools
- Mind-Mapping On-The-Go: Collaborate, Brainstorm, & Innovate
- Teach On-The-Road by Broadcasting Yourself Live
The intent of this post is to express the necessity for mass adoption of these tools in education, assuming we want our students to thrive in the 21st century. I believe education reform starts with proper use of the tools that are relevant to 21st century learning. With proper integration, we provide our students opportunities to collaborate and develop new banks of knowledge that would otherwise be close to impossible to attain. Don’t fall by the wayside like some cavemen, farmers, and organizations have. Get the fire going in your school or classroom by properly utilizing the tools that will help your students thrive.