Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

21st Century Schools

Although a lens to view the future is clouded, and must be filtered through the past and present, the ability to stand back and think about the impact of technologies on student learning will under-gird research in technology for the education of children, youth, and adults in the 21st century. We must view the coming changes, and they will be massive, from the perspective that technology provides access to learning but does not control it; that technologies are not the content of education rather, they provide a cornucopia of tools for learning.

The technologies we know now will change and merge, at an increasingly rapid pace. In 1965 Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, predicted the exponential growth of technology. Moore's law postulates that the processing power and speed of any electronic calculating device will double every 18 months. At the same time, the price for that technology will decline approximately 35% a year relative to the power. If this continues to be true, researchers will have an abundance of exciting new tools to use as they study the curriculum and children of the future. Those tools will not only be more powerful than we have now, they will cost less, making them affordable for research, for schools, and for business.

Educational research will undergo massive paradigm shifts we can only imagine. Because we live in a revolutionary time of astonishing advances in technologies, a world of constant and unrelenting change, new paradigms appear before the implications of their predecessors are digested. We know that schools must make changes to accommodate the technology revolution. West is already making changes in curriculum, teaching, and learning.

Living in a world of constant change is not easy, and predicting the nature of the coming changes brought about by the accelerating pace of technology advances, the accompanying information explosion, and the future's research agenda in education is a little like going backpacking in a primitive wilderness area. We must explore technology applications with children and youth and attempt to keep abreast of the rapid advances and potential uses in education and anticipate increasingly interesting possibilities.

The critical gear we carry on the research trail into the future is our mindset, one of exploration, of investigation, of accepting new ways of doing new things.

The literature on change describes levels of initiation and acceptance of innovations. Educators are divided into at least four groups, quite similar to what one experiences on the trail: the forerunners, the trailblazers, who innovate; those who come along and build on what others do; the middle ground who try what the first two groups find out; and those who lag behind. As we negotiate the wilderness trails ahead, accepting and adjusting to paradigm shifts in teaching and learning will become the survival tools for schools of the future.

The focus of the future's research agenda must remain on children and youth, the learners and the teachers, and how to find strategies to harness the power of the technologies in this endeavor. Education must come to grips with the technology revolution quickly, design and use new learning experiences, and teach more process skills than ever before. A mindset that encompasses creativity and subsequent innovation will be required if we are to explore and harness the potential offered by technologies. Futurists and educational reformers argue that new schools are needed for a new age, that the social power of technology will force us to redefine education, a task that will require a different mindset than educators have today.

There are those who espouse standards-based testing, founded on the knowledge of the past, and there are those whose position is firm in the process-based curriculum for the future. This differential is the critical point in the redefinition of education. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, children and youth must develop process skills in problem solving and critical thinking, communication, technical reading and writing, applied technical reasoning, information literacy, using technology as a tool, new personal skills, new mindset skills, and new curricula.

Crucial questions revolve around new strategies related to making changes, to applying what we already know about change, and to bringing research findings to practice quickly. How will we instill a mindset in educators so they will incorporate the potential of present and new technologies into the curriculum quickly? What are the most effective ways of bringing about changes that reflect the new curriculum?

Technology is not another turf, another subject, and another class. It represents a pervasive set of changing tools for learning and teaching. Given the power and potential of new technologies, if we continue to do the "same old thing," and use the "same old" paradigms, then the outcomes, no matter their age, will be less than favorable, much less than possible, and much less than we dream.

Technology is a tidal wave flooding the whole world, not a passing fad. It will not disappear in the next few years.

Computers and their accompanying applications, as well as other technologies, are the basics for children. Schools are not just "getting children ready" for technology use at some later date. In the West children can and are using technology now and they are connecting. It is preparing children for the future.

Old ideas die hard; however, we must not forget the lessons history teaches, or we--and each generation following us--will be relegated to repeating the work and mistakes of the distant or recent past. Educators must move away from entrenched positions. We must not only do things differently, we must do new things and do them quickly, or schools are likely to succumb to businesses that see education as a profitable enterprise. One of the most critical needs at present is that of finding new ways to connect learners and teachers with the results, implications, and procedures of educational research. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation