Monday, July 18, 2011

5 Issues: Education and the Network

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Been having a lot of facetime recently with folks out there in the education world and have noticed a few misconceptions that keep popping up regarding the conversation we've been having about social tech integration and networked classrooms. So I thought I'd write this brief post concerning some of the issues folks have had.

1. Networked education will not improve test scores. This is a 100% true statement. Networked education will not improve test scores. Personally, I have no interest in improving test scores because I hold them to be by-and-large a poor reflection of the actual learning, growth, and understanding of our students; that's just me. Other teachers feel differently. And that's fine. I like debate. But as for networked education, improving test scores is not the objective... therefore, do not expect results. You are going to have to redefine what "assessment" means if it's real networked learning you are trying to gauge.

2. Technology will not fix education. This is a 100% true statement. All along, we've been stressing the fact that technology -- and the digital age broadly speaking -- is the context, not the goal. Having computers in your room will not make your kids understand Shakespeare better. But denying the connection in your room will limit your students' capacity to use the connections and resources of the web to better learn, grow, and understand in a personalized and context-savvy way. Eventually, there will be two types of students: connected and not-connected. Connected students will have the power of broad personal and professional learning communities at their fingertips. Not-connected students won't. You are the teacher: decide what kind of student you think is going to have the skills and understanding to make it in a connected world.

3. Smart kids don't need networked learning, because they'll pick it all up along the way. This notion demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what networked education is. It's not about the "end result"; it's about the process. Networked learning isn't a goal; it's a way of being. It's not analogous to getting the "A" or the "5" on the AP exam; it's about learning to be a thinker, citizen, and engaged person within a connected global network. And that's a life-long ongoing process that doesn't end just because you got into your top choice college. It's not another accolade to pick up at the podium.

4. Wealthy schools will always be the best schools. I get to visit many schools and have walked the halls of some of the most august. And I have seen in some of these schools only what I would consider at best a complete lack of recognition of the reality of what is happening in the broader culture, and at worst a complete mis-reading of what the digital paradigm means for the future of our society. There are many, many so-called "top tier" schools that you could not pay me to send my own children to. In the connected age, the quality of a school will ultimately have less to do with the size of the endowment than with the capacity of the program to produce engaged and creative thinkers who can handle a variety of complexities and types of connection. The future doesn't care about your reputation.

5. Inner-city schools have bigger issues than whether or not their students are using Twitter. While schools of all types face a multitude of challenges, this statement betrays a deep lack of understanding of what social networks represent. I can't help but hear such a statement and not glean the anxiety that social networks might prove to represent the greatest challenge to present and status quo hierarchical systems of authority in education, business, government, and beyond. I could imagine no greater issue facing any school district than whether or not their students are connected and engaged in an empowering and culture-redefining network.


  1. Love the point-counterpoint on this one, Shelly. I teach in a low-SES school. Networked learning is huge. Ghettos walls are often digital, ideological, economic and political. They are reinforced with well-intentioned stereotypes about "these kids." My students need networked learning as much as any other students.

  2. Thanks for these clear, well-expressed thoughts.

  3. @John The comment about Ghetto walls really struck home with me. Digital networking destroys walls of all types! It expands the reach of everyone and destroy control.

  4. Shelly: Nice job tackling misconceptions, contextualizing social tech integration and networked classrooms within the framework of hot-button issues, and focusing attention on what's at stake as digital networking redefines and re-calibrates much of our culture.


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