Saturday, September 20, 2008

Technology, and then some

I've been trying to update the look and functionality of this blog over and above the cosmic wisdom of the posts themselves, and I find myself focusing quite a lot on technology. The links, widgets, and feeds that form the corona around the intended content are almost blinding, but I think that we're not going to be living without their like again. It's really too early to know what Web 2.0 will really bring, but already the possibilities seem endless, and even some of the old technoskeptics in my world are beginning to succumb. Give a man a phone, and he can make a phone call; give a man an iPhone, and he dreams he can do anything. (And yes, I have one, an "old" one, and I envy the 3G crowd and am shamelessly plotting to leapfrog them when the next iteration arrives; I check MacRumors every day in hope....)

But one of the cool things about the New Progressivism is the understanding that technology is a tool, and not an end in itself. If the tools of 2.0 seem compelling, it is because they support goals of collaboration, advocacy, self-expression, and creativity that are the hallmarks of the movement, and teachers quickly learn that students fluent in their use can move quickly to a mastery of skills and content and to depths of understanding that would simply not have been so attainable in a world without digital media. The possibilities for acquiring and using better and more complex data and for creating, editing, and polishing presentations in all media are simply astounding, and the best students become expert at technologically facilitated learning that is profound, real, and lasting.

The trick, of course, is to learn how to process and evaluate what students can do and are doing in ways that align with high, explicit standards and lofty, clear values. We have all seen student work whose form glitters with its own corona of bells, whistles, animations, widgets, sound files, and sheer cleverness but whose substance falls far short of demonstrating the intended learning. Teachers creating rubrics for the 2.0 world need to be astute, not astounded, when confronted with such work, and we need to be able to guide students toward truly effective and sustainable learning using technology. To this end, teachers will need to understand how it all works, even if they are neither expert in application nor wedded to the world of 2.0 in their own lives.

Thus, technology, and in particular the technologies of Web 2.0 and the world to come, may seem to be taking a place of primacy in New Progressivist thought, and I think this is all right for now. We have at times needed to accelerate rapidly in expanding our skills as educators in order to integrate new thinking in cognitive theory, curriculum design, sustainable development, and multicultural education into our work before, and we now have a compelling body of possibility from the tech side. Our students may be digital natives, but it is our job to harness and hone their skills as substantial tools in our common struggle to teach and learn in the name of global equity, opportunity, and security.

A goal of New Progressivism is to create "all-terrain" students, able to function and thrive in any cultural or intellectual milieu. Our students intuit that cyberspace is not a void that separates us but rather a membrane that connects us, but as educators we need to believe and act on our belief that there is even more: that connection is only the beginning of common effort and collaborative enterprise with the very highest of human purposes.

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