By Karl Fisch

When educators talk about schools and technology, there’s a natural tendency to look forward, to a time when schools are “better,” with technology often part of the perceived solution. In fact, this is often a technique to try to focus on that elusive “vision” of what it is we do and what that could look like.

In the ADVIS Cohort of PLP, we recently had an interesting discussion that Will Richardson started around the idea of a “2020 Vision” for education and where we might be ten years from now. Will asked,

If you could see one “big shift” happening in your school or classroom between now and then, what would it be? In other words, what’s one thing that you see as being really different at the end of this next decade?

The ensuing discussion was rich with different ideas and viewpoints. One thread focused on how much of a presence books, and more specifically textbooks, might have in a classroom in the year 2020. Delia Turner, a teacher at The Haverford School, added this interesting insight:

We piloted a set of Kindles in one of our Upper School English classes this year, with mixed results. It’s easier to do e-books in our English classes because so much of our content is already available–much of it no longer subject to copyright restriction (with all that says about our curriculum).

But I wonder about the assumption that we should replace paper textbooks with e-textbooks without some serious tweaking or without re-negotiating education’s association with publishers. Some years ago, when I was teaching elementary school science, I got fed up with using the large, expensive, glossy books that were the best compromise for my curriculum, and I wrote my own text with only the facts I actually taught. Much of my curriculum wasn’t facts at all; it was skills and understandings, things I couldn’t put in a textbook. I focused on developing some habits of inquiry, the capacity to be surprised, and the ability to write about and reflect on understandings.

The textbook was a good deal shorter that way.

So if I were to wish a wish for ten years from now, it would be to have a great deal fewer and smaller texts, with teachers who were better able to teach.

Delia reminds us that it’s not enough to say “paper textbooks are bad, e-textbooks will be good,” but that we need to think more about what those e-textbooks (or other electronic resources) say about what we value in our schools. We need to focus on what it is we do with our students; on how technology can help us transform what we do instead of how we can use technology to simply improve on something we’re doing poorly.

There’s a reason PLP doesn’t have technology in the title. It’s about learning practices. What do the technology choices your school has made say about what it is you value?

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Karl Fisch

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