Uncanny coincidences in thought have happened online so often for me now that I am ready to accept that singularity is here! (I’m still waiting for my birthday wish list to come in with a copy of Singularity is Near), so while I wait for that, let me ponder singularity’s arrival already…

This morning I was laying awake wondering what I might talk about at the Global Summit. Needless to say, when you see the line up there,I feel a little out of my depth… I stand out like a sore thumb – but I like it 🙂 Anyway, I was thinking about a conversation I had the day before with some colleagues at work and a guest from up North. While talking about standards, guidelines, the post LMS age, failures of sharable learning object theories and SCORM technologies, I made the claim that educational organisations have been far too proactive with technology and not reactive enough. They have invested too heavily in their own technological developments and lost site of what is happening outside their schools, in the real world, in the hands of the average citizen.

I’ll expand on that in a tick, but first I want to finish my story of amazing coincidence in thought.

I fired up the laptop in bed this morning, intending to post something on my proactive/reactive idea, and while I was distracting myself from resolving the concept in any way, I happened on another beautiful post from Doug in Alaska called Diffusion. In it he has posted his thoughts on a similar concept, but instead of using proactive and reactive he has used instrumentalist and determinist.

Instrumentalists say that Education Reform is made possible by new technology, while determinists see Change as a process that is driven by new technologies.

Doug points to a screen by VH Carr Jr (can’t find his/her full name), called Technology and Diffusion that makes me wanna go arh! In it are gems like,

None of these technologies, however, has been generally available for individual or private use due to cost, scope or application. This deterred a “grass roots” technology adoption cycle as it was nearly impossible to generate movement from the bottom up by influencing faculty peers and administrators with demonstrations of successful applications.

Did you get it? Could you see me in back waving a sign “proactive or reactive”? OK, maybe not… let’s see what else this Carr Jr has to say while I look for some more back-up to the proactive reactive idea…

Unlike most earlier technologies which were thrust upon the education community, Internet technology is individually available to faculty and students who can use their own systems to serve their own purposes. The impetus for the innovation frequently grows from individual users of the technology, and as their communication and influence moves laterally through their contacts, a body of support can grow and exert “pressure” on the institutional administration to commit to adoption of the technology. There is, therefore, a high potential for a “bottom-up” or “grass roots” adoption process to succeed.

Come on! Surely you can see me and my sign there now? While I think Carr Jr is spot on in identifying the communications renaissance we are going through now, I think he’s too general in saying Internet technologies. You can take the principle though and apply it within the idea of “Internet technologies” and it starts to work even better. Take free blogging v’s pay a web designer and buy a server with software approach. Take mobile phones v’s laptop computers that need electricity and Internet connectivity, take wikipedia v’s the National library’s closed reference section… take a Learning Management System v’s small pieces of free web based applications loosely joined…

That’s what’s going on now. In the early days of Internet enhanced teaching and learning we had experts creating SCORM compliant content, for Learning Management Systems sitting on expensive servers maintained by expensive server administrators. We still have it, its rediculously entrenched. But now days we have a trend emerging not from the management and their systems, but from the grass roots of part time teachers and all sorts of students. Based on an opening up of content and a largely free and accessible Internet of communication tools, a grass roots revolution is being fueled that will surely draw those managers and systems into question.

But at this point we should return to Doug’s important observation,

The subject of internet technology and education reform (ie. blogs, wikis, podcasting, videoblogs, games, Wikipedia, Google,…) is frequently coupled with the observation that many teachers don’t seem to recognize the wave of Change that is rushing toward us, traditional classrooms are becoming obsolete, new forms of communication are requiring new definitions of literacy, etc …and the question: How are we going to get them to see it? Because, according to the edublog evangelists, seeing it is a mark of progressive visionary practice that will prepare kids for the future.

He’s right, there has to be an awakening in the school culture before the grass can grow. Education needs to attract a different type of person, evangelists like me will have to become more patient, and managers will need to step back and be less prescriptive with technology implimentation and policy.

So, I’m still unresloved with my proactive/reactive idea. Perhaps I’m toying with the wrong words, maybe even the wrong ideas. What I’m trying to find is a simple way to explain the need for grass roots development instead of standardised managed systems, and cynical staff development programmes.

Perhaps another night’s sleep and another occassion of singularity will emerge the idea for me a bit more. So I’ll finish with Doug’s final dark word on it, which I have experienced myself more time than I care to remember:

I made a presentation about blogs to a group of teachers last summer. After I talked for probably too long, a woman raised her hand and asked, “Why would anyone want to do this?” I didn’t know what else to say. You either see it, or you don’t. We lack consensus – not only for technology – but for our vision of schooling.

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