Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You have to be out there and doing it

I just spent 20 minutes responding to Stephen Downes' post re my post this week, but his blog is telling me, even though I am logged in, that this is spam. So, why waste a good 20 minutes, here are Stephen's thoughts followed by my comments......some 'flat thinking' to brighten your day.

On Stephen's Web he wrote:

Julie Lindsay enthuses about Dean Shareski's 'Flat Classroom Project keynote Address' (Vicki A. Davis does too) and posts the video on her website. "Yes, we all agree 'design does matter' but what also matters in this flat world is immediacy, communicating a message so that the concepts are accessible, and having fun doing it." I like this sort of initiative, but I'm less comfortable with the use of the word 'flat', as in 'The World is Flat', when it so evidently is not. It's a nice metaphor, but it's mostly intended to allow rich people to feel comfortable with their wealth, by fostering the belief that the wealth has spread around the globe, which it hasn't, and won't, so long as we think in terms of doing the same sort of thing things we have always done, like, say, 'classrooms'. Julie Lindsay, E-Learning Blog, October 29, 2007.

This is my response:
Stephen, you know I dislike overdone cliches as well however I think you have missed the point of our project. It is early days yet to start focusing on spreading the wealth more evenly around the world. Before we do that we need to get people to talk to each other and to understand how to best communicate ideas and how to respond to ideas and initiatives of others. By joining a number of geographically challenged (in terms of diverse time zones and school calendar requirements (southern and northern hemisphere) classes we are providing an opportunity for young people to do just that by experiencing the highs and lows of non-face-to-face communication and collaboration.
You know I still think David Warlick gives one of the best examples of the concept of a 'flat classroom', and he included this in the recent K12 online conference keynote when he diagrammatically showed a bell-shaped curve where students were in the lower parts and teachers and 'knowledge' were on the top of the bell. He then proceeded to flatten that until essentially everyone and everything was on the same level. To me this means opportunities. Everyone has the same opportunity to practice good communication, everyone has the same opportunity to learn from each other, everyone has the same opportunity to be creative and original.
It is hard for me to expound on this and sound sincere when I am working in one of the top 5 wealthiest countries in the world (Qatar: a land where the students order take-away sushi for lunch and bring the latest of anything you can think of in terms of gadgets to class). But if you keep in mind that I have also lived in Zambia and is not about the money (yes, I know Friedman has his disbelievers) it is about doing different things in the 'global classroom' and bringing the world in and going out to the world at opportune times. This can and does make a difference to all participants. And it doesn't matter if you use the latest tech gear or a 'hole in the wall' PC for a village in India, the aim is to connect, communicate, create a relationship and celebrate differences and similarities.

By the way, just to let you know the Flat Classroom Project is featured in the new edition of The World is Flat (Friedman) in the chapter called 'If It's not Happening, It's Because You're Not Doing It', Pg 501-503. So, acceptable terminology or not, we ARE out there doing it and, along with other educational pioneers doing similar projects, showing by example how curriculum reform can make a difference to the world.

Technorati Tags:

1 comment:

Stephen Downes said...

Sorry about the comment feature, I had added some extra spam protection in order to allow registered users to post links, and was counting references to 'http' incorrectly.

I haven't lived in the developing world, but I've been there, and spent some time there, and as you know the wealth in these countries is unequal. There is a certain part of most cities that is as modern as anything we see in the west, and there is the part where people don't visit.

The thing is, the practices that work in the more developed areas don't scale. Things like teachers and classrooms, for example. This is an approach to learning that *only* allows the wealthier to be able to take part. It is simply too expensive to provide high quality teaching and resources to every child. Goodness, look at how even a rich nation like the U.S. struggles.

And my concern is that the perpetuation of these practices will exaggerate the disenfranchisement of the poor. The push toward teacher-led classrooms results mostly in education conducted at private institutions, not state-run public education. And as such, it becomes education for the rich.

Friedman is right about on thing - it has nothing to do with the place any more. The rich people live in gated communities, have private eduction, and private doctors, and the rest, in the U.S. as well as in Bangladesh and in Bogota.

But it has everything to do with the methodology. The reason why I work in computer technology is not because it's high tech or cool, it's because it's much cheaper and more accessible than any alternative. For the same price of a few books, a computer can bring a child an entire library. For the same cost of a single teacher, an entire community can access a world of knowledge.

I don't think that such liberating technology should be used in such a way as to reserve its use to the wealthiest in society. It needs to be used in such a way as to allow a person to gain the most education for the least cost, which in almost all cases, mans taking learning *out* of the classroom - and ultimately, out of the gated communities and private schools, and into the hands of the people.