Summer Reading for School Leaders

from Tech&Learning


Excerpted from:
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.


Excerpted from:
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 entirely possible.

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.
  • 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
  • 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.