I am beginning what I hope will become a frequent feature on this blog -- the Guest Author. If you would like to contribute, please email me your proposed post.
Here's the first Guest Author post from Tim Skaggs, Program Consultant for the American Leadership Forum:
The 2008 ALF Convocation was a wake up call for many of us. I don’t know about you but I left feeling like I know very little about how to connect with this generation of Pre K – 12 learners. David Warlick did a great job explaining why my 19 year old son hated high school and why he’s not alone. Since Jeff discovered on-line college courses he’s pulling a 3.5 average and can’t seem to get enough. He lives and works in one state, goes to college in another and is not having the “college experience” that I so highly treasured. His educational experience is so vastly different from mine that I can hardly relate to it. If you liked David Warlick’s futurist presentation at convocation you will love Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson.
As educators, you may never have heard of Christensen, Horn and Johnson before because they don’t typically write about education. Disrupting Class will be found in the business section of your bookstore (if you still use one of those outdated stores that have books sorted into sections.) The authors’ business perspective on the future of education is beautifully aligned with the world foreseen by David Warlick.
Disrupting Class is less a prescription of how to solve public education’s ills than a look into a crystal ball. It is a forecast of what will be, not what might be if we all do the right things. I also found it refreshing that Christensen, et. al., don’t blame schools, parents, teachers, kids, administrators, legislators or unions for the state of public education although each could certainly take a healthy serving of the blame pie. They actually make a pretty good case that public education has done a decent job of meeting the changing and compounding demands that have been put on the backs of schools. Given that we are one of the only nations to be so bold as to attempt to provide a quality education for every child we have reason to feel good about ourselves.
In our attempt to educate “every child, every day”, we have done little to transform the monolithic system of teaching. Our challenge is that we know star athletes (gifted in bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) learn differently from the poet laureates (gifted in linguistic intelligence). Those most gifted in certain intelligence dominate the same field and create the profession of teaching along with all the teaching aids such as textbooks, model lessons and teaching aids. So, if your son or daughter possesses strong logical mathematical intelligence he or she will naturally connect with the teacher’s way of teaching, the textbooks way of explaining and the homework assignments way of demonstrating competency. However, the math genius may fail miserably when demand for interpersonal intelligence calls on her to lead a team to solve a problem. We already know about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences and we address it through differentiated instruction. What we have not quite figured out is how one teacher differentiates instruction for up to 150 students he or she will see over the course of a day. Christensen tells us, be patient, change is coming.
To understand the change that is coming one needs to understand how business addresses societal needs. The model used to explain is called disruptive innovation. Christensen provides enough charts and graphs to explain but being more linguistically gifted than spatial, I will give an example. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s huge mainframe systems dominated the computer scene. Personal computers were a dream and to build one would have been so cost prohibitive that no one could have possibly afforded it. The beginning of personal computing was not designed to compete directly with mainframe computers. The authors state that personal computing began with the gaming industry. If you are my age you well remember the hours of fun and fascination we spent with an Atari Pong computer hooked up to our TV screens. This marked the beginning of the PC revolution.
Initially disruptive innovations are not designed to compete head on with the dominate technology. Frankly, they just aren’t as good as the dominant technology but they do create greater access at a more affordable price. Christensen reminds us of the first phonograph. It didn’t replace the symphony orchestra but it hugely expanded the audience. Initially families sat around a Victrola (Wiki it if you are too young to remember!) listening to a scratchy recording of Glen Miller. However, today a digital recording of the Cleveland Symphony played on your I-pod with Bose headphones will deliver superior sound to sitting in Severance Hall. One big difference being you can wear your bathrobe in your Bark-a-Lounger while listening.
And so will go the delivery of student centered high tech learning. Right now we are mostly trying to lay the new technology over the old monolithic ways of teaching. We pride ourselves in equipping schools with a low child to computer ratio. Christensen equates this to going to Severance Hall to listen to the phonograph recording of the Cleveland Symphony. Who would do such a thing? However, slowly technology is being used in the parts of education where public schools don’t compete and it will transform the way we teach and we learn.
For example, a high school in Hunt, Texas can’t afford to offer an Arabic language class. There just aren’t enough students interested to support an FTE even if you could find an Arabic teacher in Hunt, TX. However, the student in Hunt can get together with students from Modesto, CA, Raleigh, NC, Bangor, ME, Monterrey, Mexico and pretty much any small town around the globe and be taught by a native speaking Arabic teacher in Amman, Jordan. What is more, they can be assigned a university student tutor from Cairo and spend an hour a week practicing Arabic on the phone through Vonage. All of this can occur at considerably less than the cost of the student sitting in the Spanish 1 class with the teacher in front of the room. Is it as effective as the Spanish Class in meeting the learning needs of the student? Initially, maybe not but when the choice is no choice at all for the student wanting to learn Arabic it creates a viable option. And over time, technologies will appear that actually make this virtual experience even more customized and student centered according to the student’s ways of learning.
So what happens to the teacher as we know him/her? Teachers do not go away in this high tech learning world of the future. The role of the teacher becomes “the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.” Teachers will assist the student in making the many choices he/she will have available to him/her. Christensen argues that a teacher’s satisfaction with the profession will increase because they are even better able to meet the individual needs of their students through a customized learning experience.
How far away is this future? The substitution from the old monolithic teaching system to a new computer-based student-centric model is gaining ground rapidly. You are seeing technology booming in parts of the market already where public schools don’t compete. This is happening in Pre-K and early childhood, AP courses, credit recovery, course offerings such as the example above where it isn’t cost effective to hire a traditional teacher and early college. Christensen’s model suggests the “flip” in the substitution curve is going to happen in about 2012, four short years away. By 2019, 50% percent of all student learning will be delivered on-line. Wow, get ready!