Last Thursday, The New York Times hosted SchoolsForTomorrow, an all-day event featuring a variety of speakers sharing their vision for “bringing technology into the classroom.” The conference leaned toward corporate (Skype, Pearson, Scholastic, Intel, Cisco, etc.), or at least it felt that way. Conference symbiosis is always a delicate balance, though. And Yes, some teachers and administrators were there, but a student panel or two would have offered a useful contrast with the corporate discourse. Youth sometimes provides a healthy reality check (crucible?) for the ideas adults espouse.
The panels were too crowded—eight people (plus moderator)—but they generally uncovered some worthwhile ideas on the current state of affairs in education and technology. Keynote (Harvard University president emeritus) Larry Summers stated emphatically (paraphrased): 1. technology is dramatically transforming education, and 2. the mobile phone is central to that transformation. And on a broader level, one of the more important ideas of the day was that the event happened, that The New York Times gathered these groups to share ideas with a broader audience. A good sign, I hope.
Mitch Resnick (Scratch), in the K-12 panel covering The Student, noted something revealing. Most of today’s discussions, he remarked, were about delivering and consuming, not making and creating. While delivering/accessing information is important, new technology can also broaden they way we create and design things…to be full citizens in society, said Resnick. Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab states: “We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn.” I could see Nichole Pinkard (Digital Youth Network, Remix World) and Esther Wojcicki (Palo Alto High School, Creative Commons) nodding in agreement as Resnick spoke. I did, too.
Herein also lies a problem, I fear. Are most of the efforts to transform learning with technology merely duplicating old (ineffectual) models? Delivering and consuming, instead of designing and creating?
At the end of the day, I stopped by one of the new edtech showcases. As I watched the black box theater and chatted with the rep, a hologram of Nicholas Negroponte (OLPC) emerged from the darkness to present a lecture.