Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation
Will Change the Way the World Learns
by Clayton M. Christensen (Author),
Curtis W. Johnson (Author), Michael B. Horn (Author)
Copyright 2008 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
What might the classroom of the future look like? Students
filter into their room. Chemistry workbenches, complete
with such things as test tubes, reagents, pH meters, and a
bomb calorimeter greet them. The students conduct experiments
in which they measure the effect of changes in the
pressure, volume, and temperature of gases. They record
their experiments in their lab workbook, and the teacher
grades them and returns it to the students.
This might not sound too different from the everyday
happenings many of us recall from chemistry class, but there
is a big difference. This all takes place in the Virtual
ChemLab. The classroom of the future is, in this case, present
and accounted for. Begun by a chemistry professor at
Brigham Young University, the Virtual ChemLab serves some
150,000 students seated at computer terminals across the
country. The professor took 2,500 photographs and 220
videos, and, along with some video-game designers, created
a simulated laboratory to allow students to do all the
above and more.
While it is not as good, perhaps, as doing the experiments
hands-on (some have pointed out that these students could
enter college science courses without having used a real
Bunsen burner), the virtual lab allows students to try experiments
that would be too costly or dangerous to do at their
local high schools. What is more, it is infinitely better than
many students' alternatives—nothing at all. For resourceconstrained
schools in isolated rural areas or impoverished
urban ones, this is a big improvement.
And as technology improves over time, who knows how
good the virtual re-creation of a lab might become? Maybe
one day the students will be able to feel the heat from the
Bunsen burner and smell the chemical reaction.
In another classroom, students are learning Mandarin grammar.
The students are wearing noise-canceling headphones
and working on laptop computers. The teacher is kneeling
beside a particular student. The students direct the work of
a brick mason on his computer screen by having him assemble
a sentence in the same way that he would construct a
wall—block by block. There are stacks
of blocks with words on them in the
background of the screen, each colored
for its potential role in the sentence. The
student has been directing the mason
to pick blocks out of the appropriate
stacks to put them in the correct order
of a Mandarin sentence. When all the
required blocks have been assembled in
the proper sequence, the Mandarin
word replaces the English on each block
and the student joins the brick mason in
reading the sentence (which is written
phonetically in the Roman alphabet).
When the student doesn't get the pronunciation
right, the brick mason looks
pained. The mason then repeats the
correct pronunciation, and when the
student gets it right, the brick mason gives a high five.
Mandarin is a tonal language, so the blocks then tilt to help
the student see and feel the tones.
Another student in the same classroom is learning the
same material from the same software
program by rote memorization—listening
to a native Mandarin speaker and
then repeating the sentences, in a mode
of learning familiar to her parents' generation.
Both students are learning to
put together sentences that they'll use
in a conversation together in front of the
rest of the class—some of whom are
using the same learning tools as these
two, but many of whom are learning
Mandarin in other ways that are tailored
to the way they learn.
In contrast to the Virtual ChemLab,
this Mandarin classroom is indeed a
classroom of the future—we've not seen
it yet. But it can emerge, provided the
technology is introduced disruptively.
Where do teachers fit in this futuristic classroom? One, of
course, is the teacher who developed the Virtual ChemLab.
Another, in the room with the Mandarin students, was walking
from student to student, helping each one, individually,
to stay focused and to master the material in a way consistent
with each student's way of learning.
As the monolithic system of instruction shifts to a classroom
powered by student-centric technology, teachers'
roles will gradually shift over time, too. The shift might not
be easy, but it will be rewarding. Instead of spending most
of their time delivering one-size-fits-all lessons year after
year, teachers can spend much more of their time traveling
from student to student to help individuals with individual
problems. Teachers will act more as learning coaches and
tutors to help students find the learning approach that
makes the most sense for them. They will mentor and motivate
them through the learning with the aid of real-time
computer data on how the student is learning. This means,
however, that to add value to this coaching, the future will
require very different skills than those with which education
schools are equipping teachers today.
Since customization will be a major driver and benefit of
this shift to student-centric online technology, teachers will
increasingly have to be able to understand differences
between students, and to be able to provide individual
assistance that is complementary to the learning model
each student is using.
There is another potential benefit for teachers. Because
student-centric technology allows for far more personalized
attention from a teacher, we can do something counterintuitive
in education—increase the number of students
per live teacher. Facilitating this disruption of instruction
has the potential to break the expensive trade-offs in which
school districts have been trapped so that individual teachers
can do a better job and give individual attention to
more students. As a result, there will potentially be better
pay for teachers.
THIS BUSINESS WITH BLOGGING
Web Literacy for Educators
By Alan November
Copyright © 2008 by Corwin Press
While the words blog, wiki, and podcast are used
to describe the enabling technologies, the real
focus should be connecting students to an authentic
audience and challenging them to create work
that can have an impact around the world. Of
course, to a student the word blog means free Web site and a
potential connection to friends and the power of expression.
Alternatively, in many schools, the word blog represents
something that is automatically blocked via the Internet filter.
Of course, no one can argue that there is very questionable
content on free blogging sites such as MySpace and
Facebook, where students may expand their voices around
the world. A small number of students have produced totally
inappropriate and even vicious content. Blocking blogs in
school is a natural first response against the potential deep
harm this medium can create. However, now that blogging
has gone mainstream (e.g., in presidential politics, corporate
communications, higher education), it is time to revisit the
upside of preparing students to understand the ethics and
social responsibility that comes with all of this global power.
If we can all agree that students do not need our permission
to have a blog when they leave the school house, then
let's focus on the teachable moment. Our students need us
to provide the excellent role models and the thoughtful
ethics this medium demands. Blogs are
not going away. Indeed, essentially all of
the major 2008 U.S. presidential candidates
used blogs to connect with the
next generation of voters. If we do not
teach our students how this powerful
media works, the worst case may not be
student abuse. To paraphrase Marshall
McLuhan, the real danger is that a
majority of our students will lack the
critical-thinking skills necessary to separate
the message from the medium.
Students are currently participating
in what is probably the most powerful
opportunity the Internet can provide—the ability to communicate within a
global forum, build knowledge content
as a community, and publish
writing to an authentic audience.
Think about how motivating it would
be as a middle school student to have feedback on your
writing from the real-life author of a book you are reading
in class. Not all bloggers are going to have the opportunity
to meet with nationally acclaimed authors, but the
ability to communicate with anyone around the world—experts in your community or peer-editors in Japan—is
Blogging represents one of many tools that pioneering
teachers are using to empower students to take more
responsibility for managing their own work and adding
value to the world. Thousands of teachers are using blogs
as educational tools: they are relatively easy to create, you
can create content in minutes, you can publish to a large
audience or a targeted community, and you can invite
almost anyone into a conversation.
Even so, there are also some fierce critics who believe
blogging has no true value in the classroom. Each has an
important voice. Here are some of the common concerns
I've heard from other teachers about blogging:
- Blogs give too much freedom for students
to express themselves.
- Teachers will never be able to control comments.
- Students and parents will have too much access
to other students' published work.
- Students will feel too much pressure to improve
as they see the work and comments of others.
SHIFTS OF CONTROL
Unlike word processing, using a smart board, or having students
present a PowerPoint presentation to classmates
behind closed doors, blogging shifts the concept of the control
of information. Perceptions of time, space, and relationships
are expanded. The audience
moves from teacher and class to the
world. Teachers are no longer the sole or
even the primary arbitrator of student
work. It is even possible that teachers do
not have to work as hard to motivate
traditionally failing students or to set
much higher expectations for excelling
students. Parents can now have access
to the writing of an entire class, compared
to only what their own child
brings home written in their hand.
Enter "pre cal" into Google and in one
of the top spots you will find
http://pc40s.blogspot.com/. This is the
class blog of Winnipeg math teacher and
department head, Darren Kuropatwa.
Darren is another pioneer who has
engaged his students in producing a student
guide to precalculus and calculus.
Each day a different student is the official scribe of the class and
is responsible for producing notes for publication of that day's
discussion. Students are challenged to produce accurate notes
with accompanying illustrations and examples by their classmates.
At the end of this year, his classes will have produced a
Student's Guide to Understanding Calculus. Before blogging we
would expect hardworking students to be able to read the calculus
textbook. Darren expects his students to write the
"book"—i.e., blog. Darren's students are published around the
world in real time. In fact, a recent check using the link: command
in AltaVista shows hundreds of Web sites linked to the
class site, including conferences and commentaries by leading
educationalists and other math teachers. (Go to AltaVista and
type: link:http://pc40s.blogspot.com to generate today's list.)
Darren knows the power of students who understand
that their work is being referenced by organizations around
the world. His students are contributors to the world's
"knowledge commons." Not only does he teach calculus, he
teaches students that one of the responsibilities of global
citizenship is publishing knowledge
products to add value to the world.
As with all technologies, there can be
serious abuses. We must balance the few
amazing stories of blogging with what
can go very wrong. We have all heard the
horror stories of what can happen when
students pick up a free blog from Blogger,
Facebook, MySpace, and many other free
sites. Death threats to fellow classmates
and inappropriate pictures by young teen
girls who are looking for dates are horrible
examples of blog abuse.
The Pew Charitable Trust, a leading
Internet in Society research organization,
reports that a fifth of students in
the United States already have their own
blogs, and this number is growing. As
with email, instant messenger, and text
messaging, the question is not about
whether students will be blogging.
Eventually, the majority of students
probably will have a blog.
The real issue is: what is the professional
response to blogging? Because of abuse
on the public sites that are not controlled
by teachers, some schools are blocking all
access to any blogging sites. The blame is
on the technology and there is no opportunity
for pioneering teachers to provide
adult role models. (As a point of information,
with the right software, all comments
to a class blog can be moderated by the
teacher for complete judicial control.)
Using the medium to teach responsibility
is a direction recommended by Anne
Davis (http://anne.teachesme.com/) from
Georgia State. Anne works in the College
of Education in the Instructional
Technology Center. She writes that even
when talking to second graders about
blogging and about how to leave a comment,
"I talked briefly about being ambassadors,
of their class, their school, their
state, country, and yes even the world. I
spent time on the importance of learning
how to use a tool well and being a good
representative of responsible use of that
tool. I'm planting blogging seeds so that
when they are teenagers and want to
'write all,' maybe, just maybe, they'll ponder
the possible results" (Davis, 2006).
We will need courageous leaders willing
to explore the strengths and weaknesses
of this medium. Our students will
live in a world where they have access to
increasingly more powerful communications
tools. Who should teach them how
to manage the power of these tools?
The amount of personal information
many students post on their personal
blogs is staggering. In many ways it's
important for teachers to consider the
use of blogs in the classroom if only to
model appropriate behavior of this powerful
communication tool and provide
students with guidance and precaution
about keeping themselves safe.
Keeping children safe on the Web is
obviously a very serious issue. If you plan
on creating a blog for classroom use,
here are guidelines you should consider.
- Choose a blogging service that offers
moderating features. To protect the
integrity of your blog and ensure it
garners no inappropriate comments,
you will want to be able to read comments
first before they are published.
- Instead of using student names, consider
having students use pseudonyms
or class numbers.
- When posting student writing, be
careful about publishing materials that
include personal information that will
identify students to the outside world.
- If you have younger students (13 and
younger) and wish to blog, you must be
familiar with the Children's Online Privacy
Protection Act (COPPA; Federal Trade
Commission, 1998). See Coppa.org.
- Cyber bullying is a real threat. Do not
expect students to create their own
blogs for classroom use unless you
have precautions in place to carefully
monitor their content and the comments
they receive. In other words,
please do not set your students up to
be targeted in any way, shape, or form.
- Check to see if your school requires a
parental consent form before beginning.
What T&L blogger extraordinare
Ryan Bretag suggests for this summer
I admit it. I've fallen into the trap of reading the business-minded
books that seem to be quite the rage amongst many educators in
the blogosphere. I've read the one talking about being flat and
left-or-right-handed/brained/footed/something, a couple with
–'–nomics' tied in nicely, and quite a lot about swells, networks,
connections, ones, 2.0s, and everything else that makes me think
of buzzword bingo (and yes, someone could easily play that
game at my expense).
While all of these offered something
and were worth the read, most
seemed to be... well, the ideas in
them lacked that lasting impact. Yes,
there was initial excitement—those
head-nodding moments of "Yes!
Someone understands what I've
been thinking." Then, it slowly faded
to "it was a good read" though I
couldn't really recall anything specific
that was good about it, other than
a few pearls or quotable moments.
However, included in this stack
of non-education-specific books
are some great educational pieces
that challenge, expand, and potentially
shift (A1), which makes these
great additions to an educator's
summer reading list.
Bretag's actual stack of books as seen on Flickr.
Nine Shifts: Work, Life, and Education in the
21st Century by William Draves and Julie Coates
Results Now by Mike Schmoker
Turnaround Leadership by Michael Fullan
The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the
Age of the Computer by Seymour Papert
On Common Ground by Rick Dufor
Building Engaged Schools by Gary Gordon
Dumbing Us Down by John Gatto
Learning by Heart by Roland Barth
What Video Games Have to Teach Us about
Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee
Summer Learning List
It doesn't always have to be about the tech. I'm plotting my new
summer learning list with a mindset on expanding and deepening
my thinking. Here is my starting point that I will surely add to
based upon recommendations:
Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger,
Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder
And What Do You Mean by Learning? by Seymour B. Sarason
Reframing Teacher Leadership to Improve
Your School by Douglas Reeves
In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning
in an Era of Testing and Standardization by Deborah Meier
Learning Places: A Field Guide for Improving the
Context of Schooling By Michael Fullan
Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for
Teaching, 2nd Edition by Charlotte Danielson