Friday, November 8, 2013

Power to the Students!

"All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo
If you've been paying attention, you've seen this coming for some time now. There is a powerful shift going on in some of our schools - and outside them as well. As our students get their hands on Internet connected devices, they aren't simply able to accomplish the often menial tasks that we adults dole out to them. They also discover that they are now connected to the accumulated knowledge of the entire human race. They are also infinitely connected to one another, with unprecedented access to the simultaneous learning shared by their peers. This change has fundamentally altered the way that we learn in a digital world, and it is changing the way connected schools do business. The concept of a 'connected learner' is an idea whose time has come.

This week I saw some powerful examples of this in my visit to the leadership summit of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).  This gathering is always a fantastic opportunity to learn from the technology leaders of each state, share the tremendous things going on here in Indiana, and also glimpse new technologies and ideas that are on the horizon. However, the annual highlight of this event is usually...the students. This year, we featured a talented group of students from Raleigh Hills K-8 School in Beaverton, Oregon. These young leaders flew across the country to Washington D. C., took the stage in front of hundreds of state and corporate leaders, and they left us in awe.
Led by a passionate technology coordinator named G. Douglas Bundy, this group of students has created StudentSource, a simple Google Site where they have accumulated games-based interactive modules and shared them in more than 5 million lessons!

As I watched their presentation, I not only marveled at the confidence of these 8th graders in front of this audience, but also wondered at the depth of their thought as they evaluated which modules would be most appropriate for their kindergarten peers. These young people, inspired by one teacher, and empowered by technology, are truly remarkable.

And yet not uncommon.

This year Oak Hill's sixth grade eLeaders presented at our state conference, as well as the conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Indiana also has student groups like Plymouth's eLearning Rockstars, GSHS Student Technology Corps and Madison's Digital Leadership Class who collectively hosted a Twitter chat for teachers across the state! You can find a transcript of their chat here. if you are paying attention, you see the work of these connected learners outside of school all the time! They are Super-Awesome Sylvia, and Jacob Collier. Talented kids like these are the heart of the Maker Movement and they hold immeasurable potential. More importantly they are your son and my daughter, who prove daily that they can learn to do anything from a simple YouTube video.

What truly had an impact on me was the knowledge that students just like these are sitting in our classrooms every day. Can you imagine what we would have missed if someone had simply asked these students to be quiet and finish their vocabulary list? Can you feel the deficit that occurs when we try to wall them off from tools like Google Apps or even Twitter, because a few others may abuse the privilege? At this event, Kristen Amundson, Executive Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) made reference to recent news coming from very public iPad deployments where students had gone around the district firewalls. Her response was "Don't punish them, hire them!"

In light of these examples, I hope you will join me in reflecting on the work we do. Are we empowering these students to be amazing in our classrooms, or are we working to hold them back? Are we working with them to create new models, or are we still expecting them to conform to the version of school that we experienced? And when we place powerful devices in their hands, are we asking them to show us what they can do, or are we confining them to that which we know?