Education 2020

This scenario is written from a future perspective.

When I think back on the educational experiences of my parents and grandparents, I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had.  I can’t imagine ever returning to the factory model…no, I would even call it a military model where students all had to run the same exercises and were pitted against one another with testing, academic ranking and remedial programs.  I love my new job as a teacher, but don’t think it is a vocation I would have ever pursued  in the old system.

The irony is that all we did was to apply what our ancestors already knew about what works in education.  They did all the pioneering research.  It just took The Crisis for us to restructure education to turn the research into practice.  I think it is also important to note that while technology has provided important tools in creating this new system, they are only tools and could have just as easily been used to develop something quite different.  The changes I have outlined below resulted not just from new technology, but from the will of the people to recreate a system of education that could truly help our world citizens to be all they could be.  We couldn’t afford to have talent and brainpower underutilized as we faced the complex problems of environmental degradation, international finance, peacekeeping, feeding an exploding population and multi-national corporation takeovers.  While the World Bank has certainly had problems of their own, we took to heart their theme, “Learning for All”  Simply put, there was too much at stake to ignore it.

Invest early.  It starts at an early age.  Parents truly are their child’s first teachers, so we began to include more about brain and cognitive development in the old high school classes and incorporated more hands on experience in working with young children – how to read to them, how to use positive discipline approaches, how to encourage their creativity and curiosity, etc.  Parents now know that the best preschool experience for their child is not one that sits them at tables to do worksheets but one that helps structure play experiences in a way that capitalizes on teachable moments.   We have applied that same system to most subject matter for all ages- introduce the learners to the key information and help them find life experiences in which to observe and practice those principles in action.  School is an important contributor to this system, but so are families and communities, both geographical ones and communities of interest.

Invest smartly.  A very different feature here is that much of this is content driven rather than age driven.  There may be what we used to call elementary, middle and high school students all in the same group as some adult learners.  What role each individual plays and how that activity is processed varies by developmental level, but they all participate in the same activity.  Technology becomes a key as we structure ways to reflect on and learn from the experiences in developmentally appropriate ways.  We have discovered this structure is very valuable for at least three reasons.  First, newbies have the opportunity to work with more experienced mentors and develop important relationships.  Second, it has long been know that the best way to learn something is to teach it and this structure gives the more experienced learners an opportunity to teach the less experiences.  Third, it helps each learner begin to build their professional learning network and utilize tools to create meaning and strengthen relationships.  The focus overall is learning together.

Throughout a child’s learning “career”, there is still an emphasis on assessment, but the focus has shifted from an achievement mentality to helping that child discover their natural talents and passions (What Ken Robinson calls The Element, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow and Peter Benson called Sparks), setting developmentally appropriate goals and helping the learner measure their progress toward the goal.  Again, a key component is helping them to build their personal learning network using tools that fit best with their preferred learning style.  It starts by clearly defining goals of what contribution each node makes, but that changes over time as the learner discovers holes, new information or new interests.  We have discovered that not only is this much cheaper than all the standardized testing that used to be done, but that achievement levels have gone through the roof.  Little did our ancestors realize that the standards they felt were so important to insure every child a good education were actually ceilings that distracted students, teachers and administrators from realizing the full potential of the students. 

Notice that the term “students” was used back then rather than “learners” like we use now.  That change signified a major shift in how we view education.  For example, students were traditionally obliged to work for the teacher & for “compensation” in the form of grades.  Learners, on the other hand, “are motivated by an understood and realized “value” in their work, especially when it is valuable to others.” This quote is from an old blog from 2010 called 2₵ Worth. David Warlick includes an excellent chart looking at how he sees the difference between “students” and “learners”.

Our schools are still centers of learning.  In fact, they are more centers of learning now than they ever had been.  Instead of being viewed as the fortress where education takes place, they are now seen as the hub of learning for people of all ages within the community.  They contain labs that can’t be found other places in the communities, high tech communications equipment for connecting a group of people locally to other groups anywhere in the world, libraries, mentors/counselors, meeting spaces and galleries to showcase learner projects and achievements.  It also provides a place for cultural, artistic and athletic activities which are viewed as an essential part of an education in our multi-cultural, demanding world.

This diagram from the free ebook, Learning Spaces shows a good example of how to design these blended learning spaces

Textbooks have mostly disappeared and have been replaced by ebooks, recent articles, Skype interviews and joint projects with internationally renown researchers, virtual field trips, role playing games.  That has enabled the learning resources to be both more cost effective and much more current. My mother told me about coming back to her 10 year class reunion and finding her name on the 6th grade social studies textbook still in use over 15 years later! (note:  a similar experience actually happened to my daughter.)  The transition started with laptops and tablets for all students.  Now it is much more mobile with handheld communication/projection devises and ubiquitous internet available to all.

One of the most difficult shifts was in preparing teachers for the new system.  It required synchronizing a number of very large and very cumbersome systems:  college and university teacher preparation programs; teacher unions and educational associations; PTA/PTOs; accountability and logistics processes such as evaluation, promotion, scheduling and payroll; and certainly professional development.  Again, many of the new technologies were critical tools.  It has been an excellent example of how important lifelong learning is and how well these tools are equipped to support just-in-time, asynchronous learning.  In future generations, the transition will be more easily made since many of the new teacher graduates experienced learning through blogs, collaborating online and developing their own personal learning networks.  Those networks have been absolutely critical in supporting teachers through the very frustrating transitions that have been necessary.

What does my daily work look like?  First thing every morning, I check all the forums in the classes I am helping to facilitate, check my email for questions, and contact the students I know need some extra daily attention.  Learners know that they can reach me via chat, Skype or phone during a certain time period each day.  I spend some time each afternoon conducting research on my own, looking for new resources that need to be included in the classes I am facilitating and interacting with colleagues around the world or designing new learning activities.  I add my comments to the peer evaluations on “homework” assignments and check blogs and forums one more time.  Once day week or so, I go to the school building to use the lab, library and broadcast room.

I hear stories about how students used to be underachievers, disengaged, just going through the motions.  We have a few learners like that, but they are very much the exception and are generally able to become true learners with a little extra attention to helping them find their Spark and helping them build their personal learning network.  Now, they are much more like David Warlick described, “Persevering, self-disciplined, group-, goal-and product-oriented, resourceful, and learning in order to produce and accomplish rather than simply achieving learning.”

This scenario is likely well past 2020, but there will be key transitions taking place during this time.  I mentioned something called “The Crisis”.  I don’t know exactly what that might be, but it often takes such a wildcard to help speed a transition along.  It could be a financial meltdown with an even more drastic cut in education funding.  Perhaps it is increased security issues around transporting and housing the majority our young minds in concentrated locations in any given community.  It could be recognizing the fuel savings that could be realized by allowing both learners and teachers to participate from home.

Demographers will tell you that there are great chunks of information that lead to very predictable and stable trends.  For example, every student who will graduate in the year 2020 has already been born.  Many of them were born in 2002.  In that year, slightly over 4 million babies were born in the U.S.  It was the lowest U.S. birthrate recorded to that date.  Over 12% of them were born prematurely, even higher for black and American Indian babies.  The rate of low birth weights was the highest level reported in more than 30 years. (National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 52 No. 10:  Births, Final Data for 2002)   Both of those have implications for cognitive and behavioral development.  These children are now students and have already taken the first tests required by NCLB.  We know their scores.  We know how many are struggling readers and how many are classified as talented and gifted.  We need to have a system that is flexible and nimble enough to understand and respond to those trends.

We also know the majority of their teachers, the college degrees they have and what their competencies are.  We know the condition of the school buildings.  We know that there isn’t going to be a major influx of cash into education any time soon.  We know that there are increasing numbers of families turning to homeschooling.  We know that more parents are unemployed or underemployed and more are moving to an entrepreneurial/freelance approach to making a living.

There have also been some great attempts to figure out what kids will need to know when they enter the world of work.  We also know that there are major shifts in that world, leaning to more entrepreneurial, free-lancing approaches to earning a living.  What are we doing to help students develop those skills?

The technology will continue to evolve, but there are key components already in place that will allow this scenario to become a reality.  I truly do believe that we have some very complex problems to solve.  We also have a responsibility to the generations that follow us to help them learn not only to survive, but to thrive.  We need to move beyond micromanaging “improvements” in the system we have in place now to envisioning what will truly work for the future.  We can’t anticipate every situation our kids will have to deal with in the future.  But we can build a system that roots their knowledge and skills in credible sources and help them develop the relationships, attitudes and processes to find the new knowledge and skills they will need to soar into the future.

There are a couple of projects looking for input regarding education in 2020.  One is an “unconference” wiki at  Another is a very comprehensive wiki called Education 2020 that looks separately at many of the components, theories and research to develop an “innovative design and rationale for the school/learning environment of 2020 for the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, we will articulate to the key stakeholders–administrators, teachers, parents, students, funding agencies– the critical issues that will define the future of teaching and learning.”


Hello Zoho! 8A1

One of the benefits of the read/write web is the variety of tools available to share information and gather feedback.  I’ve taken some time to explore some options I just learned and found several that I’d like to implement myself.  I’m trying to figure out why I have never heard of Zoho before now!  They have so many different components to it.  One I need to investigate more deeply is their project planner.  One that seems incredibly versatile is Zoho Notebook.

I could envision putting together a Zoho Notebook on virtually any given unit.  As the teacher, I would start by compiling resources in the notebook, combining my own materials with a variety of web-based resources.  I could use those to target the learning styles of the students in my class, adding videos, charts, visual organizers, etc. for the visual learners, upload a lecture or directions for an activity for those who learn best by hearing and written documentation for the ones who need to read it.  As the teacher, I would probably have some standard components for everyone, then let students self-select which other components they felt would be most beneficial to them.  Another option would be to have separate pages for several different learning styles and send the student to the corresponding pages.

One of the benefits of Zoho Notebook is the ability to have so many different types of objects all in one place.  Another way to use it would be to have each student assigned to their own page, include the class calendar, resources and assignments and have them post their responses, questions and homework all right there.  If the teacher could then use RSS to subscribe to changes in each page, it would make an easy way to find and track homework, questions, etc.  No more “the dog ate my homework” or “I forgot it at home”.  Giving parents access to the page, or at least certain components of it such as the calendar and assignment list, could be a great way to help them stay up to date with what their son/daughter is doing.

I think my first step will need to be to set up a notebook for myself and get some practice using it, especially figuring out what objects can be included and how work.  A good example of how to use it is available at

The Paperless Pipedream 7B1

All these things I consider to be true:

  • We need to conserve trees.  They are more important to our future than we understand.
  • Schools use way too much paper.  So do offices.  So does just about everybody.
  • My life would be much simpler without so many pieces of paper to evaluate, file, recycle or find again.
  • My home and work place would be much more peaceful without all the stress and mess that paper generates.
  • Technology makes it possible to do many tasks with much less paper.
  • The paperless classroom will happen about as soon as the paperless office.
  • Paperless classrooms won’t happen in my lifetime.

While I don’t believe that a paperless classroom is feasible, I certainly hope that “less paper” classrooms will.  While technology can make a huge difference in the amount of paper necessary, I don’t think it will make it go away.  I think of my school days when every single classroom submitted an attendance sheet every single day.  Think of the paper and tabulation time that is saved by doing this function on the computer!

In a magazine this week, I saw technology defined as “stuff that doesn’t quite work yet.”  While that was certainly a tongue-in-cheek definition, we’ve all experienced the frustration of losing something important  or not being able to complete a necessary task due to technology failure.  Especially in schools, where there is frequently either not a dedicated technology person in the building, security/controlled access is set at very tight levels and there is a whole range of very old to very new hardware and software, we are not yet at the point where we can completely count on technology to be available and functioning at the exact moment we need it.  Student’s access to technology outside of class is also all over the board and often not dependable.

How would a paperless class change teaching/learning?

When I am trying to juggle multiple sources of information at once, I find it very confusing and difficult to keep track of things if I am doing it all on a computer.  As a teacher trying to view multiple assignments, compare a student’s rough draft to final version, evaluate several steps to arrive at a final project, I think I would have a difficult time.  In some cases, it would mean adjusting how those projects are assigned and carried out, but I have a hard time envisioning it with no paper at all.  From a student’s standpoint, there are many different learning needs/styles and many different levels of organizational ability.  For some, technology could be a great help.  For others, it could be a disaster.  It certainly gives a much broader, more powerful range of learning opportunities.  How much more interesting and information-rich to Skype with a class in another country than to read about that country in an encyclopedia!  What a great experience to tour Capital Hill  and debate a bill in Virtual Congress than to study one more worksheet on how a bill becomes law!  I think technology not only allows us to teach and learn differently, it allows us to teach and learn different things in a much shorter time frame because it makes it possible to have different experiences in school than we’ve ever had before.  The challenge to attempt a paperless classroom to push the boundaries and learn new methods is certainly a useful task.  While I’m a firm believer in utilizing new techniques, I see that as a way to expand rather than limit our options.  For example, every teacher I know has stacks of worksheets and papers to grade on a regular basis.  While some don’t “count” for a grade, they still require feedback for a student to learn effectively.  Having students grade each others’ work is one option, though often the feedback isn’t very reliable.  Using a technology-based system for many of those significantly reduces the time to collect, sort, grade papers while also providing much more immediate feedback to the students.  It can also be structured to help the students who have already mastered the information/skill to move on instead of enduring so much repetition while providing alternative learning opportunities for students who are stuck.  Teachers’ time can be spent helping students who need one to one assistance, enhancing their teaching or (gasp!) spending evenings with their family.  Certainly, the whole concept of collaborative learning is enhanced.

How would you measure learning in a paperless class?

I’m not sure having paper or not makes huge changes in how we measure learning.  Typically, paper and pencil tests are one of the easiest things to transfer to a computer format.  Corrections and tabulations can be much less time consuming in traditional T/F, multiple choice, short answer tests.  Grading essay tests wouldn’t change much.  The format might look different (write a blog instead of write a paper).  Again, it broadens the opportunities to use more performance-based options.  Those options are available now (build a model, perform a skit, conduct an experiment), though not utilized by some teachers as much as they could be.  Often that is driven by school-adopted textbooks and the assignments that accompany them.

Would a paperless space make it easier or harder to build a learning network? Why?

I think a paperless space would make it easier to build a learning network.  One of the biggest changes in a less paper classroom would be the dependence on textbooks.  Right now, in many schools, the textbook drives much of the pacing, assessment, structure of learning.  I know there are many teachers who have shifted away from dependence on textbooks, but they are still the exception rather than the rule.  As long as we have the notion that the answer is in the book, a learning network is an extra effort, not a necessary part of learning.  If we eliminate the book and associated worksheets, tests, etc., a learning network becomes much more necessary and time is freed up from studying the book to researching the best nodes to include in a learning network.

There is a difference, in my opinion, between a paperless classroom and making good use of web 2.0 technology.  A creative teacher could go paperless (or at least less paper) without web 2.0.  Utilizing 2.0 doesn’t have to mean eliminating paper.  If we’re looking at best practices of using Web 2.0, my arguments would look substantially different.


The Education Broker 7-A-1

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, each state received a few thousand dollars to train teachers on how to locate and use teaching resources developed as part of the Representative Democracy in America (RDA) Program.  These resources are free and amazing.  Each teacher received a totebag full of print materials, CDs and DVDs, lesson plans, etc.  We had some great trainings – very interactive, with teachers exploring the resources and sharing their ideas with other teachers around the table. Then the recession hit and the money went away.  Thankfully, the resources didn’t.  They left the world of totebags and bookshelves, however, to live in a parallel universe in cyberspace where they are cared for by a very small but talented and committed staff who continue to make sure they are well fed and up to date.  But the dilema for the State Coordinator (me!) was how to help teachers in Iowa find and use these wonderful, free resources?   Another state had already gone the online class route where teachers were pointed in the right direction, told to explore and given a little assessment all in return for a single credit that couldn’t be used in any program of study, only as an elective.  And people loved it!

Our face to face workshops, though, had been so alive, so stimulating, so dynamic that the thought of a “point and shoot” class just wasn’t enough.  I started trying to figure out how we could capture the synergy and inspiration of a whole group of energized teachers sharing with each other, but do it in an online environment.  A blog entry led to a class that led to a certificate program that brought me here.

Enter Big Shift Number 2 – Many, Many Teachers, and 24/7 Learning .

As homework for some of my earlier classes, I started developing components of the course I want to use for RDA.  I think I have begun some very good pieces, but still struggled with how to structure it to be as interactive as possible.  This particular subject matter is perfect for it!  We already have many, many teachers.  I can help them find some of the resources and show how they correlate with different standards and learning objectives.  One section of our face to face class developed a wide variety of lessons incorporating different resources into a diverse sampling of subjects and youth leadership opportunities.  Some of the online resources feature very targeted professional development videos on nationally known experts such as Thomas Mann and blogs by Lee Hamilton and Karl Kurtz.  It’s another great example of how “none of us is as smart as all of us.”  With all the RDA resources now online, both the resources and the training have the ability to be available 24/7.

I still have a great deal to do to get the online training completed.  I had a couple of good ways for the teachers to interact and share and have a decent “Swiss cheese” start – lots of independent pieces that aren’t quite all connected together yet.  It started before this course, but I have been rethinking much of my original plan.  As I’ve learned more about how to use some of the resources and explored the whole Connectivism theme, I’m re-envisioning this effort not so much as a great professional development opportunity, but as a way of building a learning community of Iowa teachers who can continue to exchange ideas, share resource, challenge and support each other.  Building a wiki together, sharing bookmarks, blogging – all are ways to help facilitate this shift.

There is already quite a bit of professional development training available on the web.  A great deal of it, though, is still “sit and git” with what basically amounts to video archives of lectures and automated quizzes.  As budgets get tighter, I see more demand for online education.  Quality online education, however, will require not just people who understand the technology of translating into an online format but people who understand the unique structures and possibilities of online pedagogy.

I am certainly not there yet.  I need more practice in utilizing the tools and putting them together in the most effective ways.  My thinking has changed, though.  Right now, one of the projects I’m working on is an onsite conference in November involving people from several different disciplines (education, medicine, engineering).  I find myself wondering and exploring different ways to use Web 2.0 tools to expand the content of the conference and extend the time frame so that attendees can benefit more deeply and over a longer period of time.  I always get so excited about all the new ideas at a conference, then get back to my old routine with a pile of new messages and emails to answer and no time to fight the learning curve that comes with incorporating new ideas “back at the ranch”.  How can we use online pedagogy to help these folks structure a learning and support network?  It’s an exciting challenge to undertake.