from the Director's Desk

Musings about school library media and instructional technology programs from NCDPI's Instructional Technology Divison.  Subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Technology and the Historical Record

Sunday (November 20, 2005) the Raleigh News and Observer dedicated the front page of their editorial section to the question: Is technology making us dumber? The paper did not come to a conclusion, but it certainly brought up many of the usual arguments:
Cashiers can’t make change on their own . . .
Kids can’t spell . . .
Plagiarism is so easy . . .
No one can remember phone numbers any more . . .

Frankly, I believe that we do run the risk of brain atrophy if its use is not cultivated, yet my greatest concern with technology is that we seem to be losing our history. Technology morphs before our eyes, and our archiving systems have not changed with it. E-mails vanish, web sites move or disappear, entire journals and articles appear only in electronic format.

All this is symptomatic; my greatest concern is our potential inability to explore in depth our historical record. Far too often we fail to learn from our past mistakes, both as individuals and as a nation. Obviously careful documentation of centuries of historical data does not assure that we or our leaders will actually study the past as decisions are being made. But if we cannot access that past experience, if indeed those awful lessons learned are unavailable or at least unreadable, then we have little chance of survival. Truly technology will have made us dumb—and possibly extinct.

We in technology continue to wrestle with the challenge of archiving, backing-up, and storing. What solutions are you using at the LEA level to ensure that your system’s and individual schools’ records will be available and accessible into the next century? How are you instilling in your students an awareness of the value of historical preservation in this age of immediate gratification and superficial knowledge?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Missing 21st Century Skill Set

Yesterday was the dedication of the Bill and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University. For the past two years I have had the privilege of being a member of its National Advisory Board. It has been an incredible professional development experience for me as I have represented the Department of Public Instruction and all instructional technology educators across the state.

(Full disclosure: This is the third year that the Friday Institute and NCSU have been the external evaluators for our IMPACT Model School Grants as well as one of our partners in the US ED LANCET Study (part of the federal Evaluating State Educational Technology Projects 3-year grant).

Today was a particularly fascinating meeting. A couple of facts you might be interested in:
• Gambling surpassed pornography as the greatest money-maker on the Internet this year.
• In North Carolina, of every 100 students who enter high school:
o 61 will finish high school
o 41 will go on to some sort of post-secondary education
o 19 will graduate from some sort of post-secondary education

I find both these pieces of data depressing for very different reasons, but depressing nonetheless. But in some ways they also fit into the keynote presentation by Chris Dede, who is Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University. Dede talked about 21st Century skills and their relationship to economic development. The focus was on how we need to link education--K-12 education particularly--with the state’s economic development. But since “all politics is local,” this ultimately means we all need to link our individual school systems to the economic development and well-being of our individual communities.

My true ah-ha moment came, however, when Dede made the observation about where he saw the gaps in the 21st Century Learning Skills recommendations. As you well know, these skills encompass 6 key elements:
• Core Subjects (Science, Math, Language Arts, Foreign Languages, etc.
• Learning Skills (ICT [information and communication technologies], thinking and problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and self-directional skills)
• 21st Century Tools (tools to manage, construct, and communicate new knowledge)
• 21st Century Context (academic content based on real-world, authentic experiences)
• 21st Century Content (global awareness; financial, economic, and business literacy; civic literacy)
• 21st Century Assessments (high-quality standardized tests for accountability and classroom assessments for improved teaching and learning)

His contention is that we are missing those skills that can be learned, but cannot be taught. He delineates them as follows:
• Problem-finding
• Leadership
• Creativity
• Entreprenureship

Obviously these 4 skills that he has identified are the true key not just to economic development, but to economic empowerment. His question for the Friday Institute and for all of us: How do we create learning environments that do not teach specific skills, but have the tacit supports needed to help kids learn those “unteachable but very learnable” skills?

Please share your thoughts or answers to this all-important question. . .