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Online Edge


If you want to really challenge your thinking about the roles of teachers in the classroom, take a few minutes to watch Newcastle University (UK) professor Sugata Mitra talk about the research he's doing on providing technology to poverty-stricken kids in India. His "Hole in the Wall" experiment, in which he put a stand-alone, Internet-enabled computer, keyboard and mouse facing inward into a walled-off Delhi slum, shows that even children who know nothing about computers can self-organize to learn quickly and deeply on their own without any adult supervision.

One day last fall, much to my surprise, I walked in the front door and heard something that sounded amazingly like Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" being banged out on the piano in our family room. I couldn't imagine it was my 13-year-old daughter Tess, who had been struggling with the piano for the past five years, getting by with practicing for 15 or 20 minutes just before her weekly lesson. I actually thought we had an unexpected guest.

I'm not your typical parent in this age of Race to the Top and Common Core Standards. I don't care so much how my kids do on the test, whether they can remember the names of Columbus' three boats (it was three, wasn't it?) or how many AP courses they are going to take in high school. I'm not much concerned with the traditional ways that my kids' school or their teachers are being evaluated.

Imagine online learning communities. Personal learning networks. An Internet device for every teacher and student. Ubiquitous access to the Web.

Here's the quote that I think should compel every school administrator to read Allan Collins' and Richard Halverson's new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology:

"If educators cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, then the long identification of schooling with education, developed over the past 150 years, will dissolve into a world where the students with the means and ability will pursue their learning outside of the public school." In other words, it's time to figure this technology thing out—now.

If you haven’t read the new MacArthur foundation report Living and Learning with new Media (http://, which discusses how our kids are using social networks and tools to connect, you might want to consider it sooner rather than later. In a nutshell, the study found that kids are using online social technologies in impressive numbers to stay connected to the people they already know and, more importantly for us, to connect to other people around the globe they don’t know but with whom they share a passion or an interest.

During his presentation on “Effective Leadership in an Era of Disruptive Innovation” at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington, D.C., in June, Scott McLeod of Iowa State University (and blogger at made a statement that was quickly captured in Tweets by many of those in attendance. “We’re facing a disruptive innovation,” Scott said. “But it’s not online learning; it’s personalized learning.”

I’ve often wondered what the response would be if we asked the kids in our schools to reflect on how their teachers learn. Not on how much they know or how creative they might be, but on how they learn—what their process is,what their passions are. My guess is that few if any of those teachers have made their own learning transparent to their students to any great degree.



Here’s a quick three-question quiz for you to take:

1. How do you find out who owns a particular domain address or Web site?