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CoSN Day 1: Education Reformers Abroad Hitch Their Star to Technology

Related Tags: Assessment, All Grades
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Editor's Note: Don't miss David's dispatch on Day 2.

Sunday, I camped out at the 9th Annual International Symposium of CoSN, also known as the Consortium of School Networking, in Washington, D.C., and learned a ton from an A-list of international education innovators. Listening to folks from Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, as well as some of our own American leading lights, I came away understanding, with ever more precision, how essential technology will be to educating students everywhere. And how this tech-enabled education has the potential to prepare students for what will likely be a great challenge and reward in their adult lives: to work collaboratively across borders in an innovation-driven, global economy. That is, of course, if those of us in the most powerful and wealthy countries don't screw it up. And, happily, there are more than a few indicators that at least some of those nations are determined not to do so.

Some highlights and some links you can check out:

The keynote speaker was a man named Francesc Pedró, a senior policy analyst with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in France. (OECD is developing tests for measuring critical thinking, problem solving, and other 21st-century skills. These tests could be a model for the way standardized testing in the U.S. could change. Here is an OECD link, not the sexiest website in the world but. . .)

Pedro's talk was wide ranging. On the loaded topic of learning assessment, he said something that stuck with me. Technology, he explained, is not the most powerful driver of education reform. Assessment is. Because assessment represents the values of our society, those things that we hold dear that ought to form the core of what we teach children. Technology, he said, should enable the process.

Pedro and other speakers also called out a social media tool worth checking out. (Caveat: it is mostly for European educators.) But it will inspire anyone who is looking to link their classroom efforts with those of another teacher and class in another country. It's called eTwinning and it's being used by more than 80,000 teachers on more than 36,000 learning projects, involving more than 18 million students. Lots of inspiration and smart, simple ideas there.

Sasha Connors, a teacher from Burlington County, NJ shared some of her efforts to connect her students to peers in India and Afghanistan via Web 2.0 tools like Skype. Connors's students read their poems and essays to their counterparts and, as she tells it, were transformed by the praise and feedback they got from their Indian and Afgahn peers. Suddenly, interest, enthusiasm and hard work in class and at home, all began to rise. Discussion of Islam, dating, marriage, and the de-bunking of stereotypes (all Americans are not over-weight and infatuated with violence) energized kids on both sides, far more, she reports, than their more traditional studies.

Ken Kay from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills took a moment to distill what he thought the essential 21st century skills would become in the future: 1) the ability to accommodate change and 2) to work in concert on global teams. Interesting, when you think about the long list of virtues touted as "21st Century skills."

Just about every speaker agreed that the world faces a host of challenges in reforming education: human issues, technological issues, finance issues, language issues. And everyone agreed that the human issues (national prejudices, fears, long-held habits and customs) are and will be the hardest to solve. And everyone agreed that technology would be among the least difficult.

Michael Trucano of the World Bank said that without technology it would be impossible to make a meaningful dent in the inequity issues that plague education reform around the world. He cited his organization's commitment to enabling a decent primary education for every child in the world by the year 2015 -- impossible without technology, especially 2.0 tools.

There was lots of talk about understanding the role of technology in learning. Some call it an indispensable tool, an enabler, a required utility. The interpretation offered up by Karen Cator, Director of Educational Technology at the U.S. Dept of Education, captured my imagination. Think of technology as an environment, the eco-system in which education unfolds.

We, Americans, can get caught up in our national cocoon, living in a big, well-to-do nation, we come by it naturally. Yet I walked away from Sunday's symposium reminded how swiftly our nation's fortunes will change for the worse (already we are losing ground by the day) if we don't embrace efforts to reform the learning process and listen and learn from our global neighbors as we go. What did Darwin say? It's not the strongest who survive, or the smartest. . . but those who adapt best to change.

-- David Markus, Edutopia's editorial director

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Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

I was there, thinking and having DEJA VU, once in my life I was a part of a NIIAC group and we dispersed the ideas of technology all over the world. People listened and acted on our ideas. Broadband in some nations is much more extensive than ours, even in developing nations. Shirley Malcom and I talked about how some countries are educating to innovate and starting with the newest of technologies.

But Americans seem asleep at the wheel of education. I attend many meetings in the District of Columbia.
In one researchers complained about the fact that those with broadband were blocked from using their resources by administrators or tech people. ( Computational Workshop ). In another
the concern was from Eddie Bernice Johnson, of how to get people interested in the use of STEM.
Further from that ITEST meeting we thought really hard about computational science, and high performance computing as well as the projects within the ITEST group. We were hearing PI's say that
the tests restricted the time that teachers could involve themselves in the use of anything innovative.

I was wondering and I said it outloug, how do we bring together NSF, and the Dept of Education. There are
such similar programs in some ways, and some distance from the emerging ideas. We must embrace efforts to reform the learning process and stop using teachers as the excuse for not doing it, or the
evils on the internet, there are tools and awareness resources to use, and we must not just play on the internet, but use it for serious games and deep content.

Many teachers have never been exposed to the STEM resources available for project based initiatives.
It is time for educational leaders to work together in STEM , workforce readiness and emerging technologies.

THere was a time when we were the leaders. We still have Supercomputing and some of those projects as leads. But we have few students who have been introduced to the workforce skills that will allow us to retain our leadership.

I am hoping the "leaders" at CoSN were listening.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Laura McCall's picture
Laura McCall
More-at-Four (Pre-K) Teacher's Assistant

I like how Skype was used to generate conversations with students from other countries. Our school used Skype once to speak with a co-worker's husband who was deployed in Afghanistan. It was the first time many teachers, including myself, were exposed to this web 2.0 tool. It was amazing. I think utilizing this tool is a great way to get students involved in concepts and ideals outside their of their physical learning environment, and is a great way to integrate technology into lesson plans. This is key if we want to keep up with our global competitors and prepare our students for the 21st century workforce.

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