No More Wagon Rides For Me Please

Saw this on twitter today –

“Many people tend to associate 21st century learning with digital technology.  This is an incomplete perception because 21st century education goes beyond mere trinket tools of the trade. Rather, it is a way of thinking- a rationale about what educators do and why they do it.”

And it got me thinking. Technology enables, but cannot by default create, 21st century learning environments. Unfortunately it is very hard to even begin to imagine what opportunities an authentic 21st Century technology rich integrated learning environment can provide teachers and students without first having access to technology.

Up until this moment, the technology wasn’t ready for the average classroom. People that tried one to one computing with clunky laptops that took 5 minutes to boot and died after 3 hours were the pioneers. They bravely crossed the frontier in their Apple IIc wagons but the whole endeavor was too expensive and cumbersome to bring the average classroom teacher along for the ride. It was the wild west of technology in classrooms and the majority of folks were quite happy to stay back east in their comfy cities, with their books and pencils and chalkboards.


Image Source:

But now with “relatively inexpensive” bandwidth, low cost Internet enabled devices (ubermixed netbooks, iPads, Nexus tablets and chromebooks), a new set of standards that promise electronically accessible curriculum content and a generation of teachers coming online that grew up digital, the digital frontier is fading fast. Replaced by the new normal of ubiquitous access, information abundance and the social web. The roadblocks to providing students an education relevant to their time and the one we need them to have (so they can fix all the messes they’ll inherit from us) exist mainly in the mind now. The transcontinental railroad has been joined and passage west is ready for the masses. Time to get onboard and see the world.

My favorite section from William’s article:

“Peter Senge (2006) coined the term “mental model” to describe our deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, pictures, and images that influence how we make sense of the world.  We all frame our opinions of education based on our own beliefs about what comprises a “good education.” These “mental models” are primarily based on our own experiences with participating and observing educational practices.  The difficulty of subscribing to 21st century learning ideology is that it requires a deep understanding of a student outcome that is unfamiliar to our own life experience.  We have to educate with less control and allow our students minds to … play.”

People used to have a mental model of crossing the country in months in wagons and stage coaches. I guarantee that crossing on a train in just 10 days changed that mental model and along with it their entire world perspective. My mental model shifted when I took my first train ride (metaphorically speaking) on the 1:1 railroad. As I watch others taking their first train rides and realizing the world we live in as educators has fundamentally changed, I wonder how long before I’m back riding on trains again because shuffling around in wagons (computer carts) from classroom to classroom is really slow.