I’ve been doing some serious thinking about the “state” of edtech. This really goes all the way back to last spring and summer. Around this time I wrote a few posts that had me thinking about online communities and other sort of cutting edge classroom education practices. I was also asked by the Canadian Education Association to write a backpage article for their back to school 2012 issue.
Both of these instances left me feeling a little cold about where we are as an edtech community. In the time that I’ve been an edtech advocate (8-10 years?) I’ve seen some serious goodness and a community of educators grow from infancy into something else. It has expanded to include a global cadre of talented and caring individuals who are doing some truly great work. The tools have changed, evolved, and made it much easier to connect with others and form communities of teachers and learners. Yet, for all of that, I think we are still mostly catching the low hanging fruit of what is possible.
Hundreds, thousands of classroom teachers are blogging and having the kids in their classrooms share what they write. Thousands are on twitter. There are plenty of teachers who have Flickr accounts and Edmodo accounts and who use any of a dozen other services in their classrooms.But I’m going to argue that using any or all of these services, while a great addition or add on to the learning that happens in your space, is only a small portion of what could be possible.
Thousands of classrooms are blogging. That’s a good thing. How many are building robots? Thousands of teachers are on Edmodo (a great service btw), how many are teaching programming? Or setting up Raspberry Pi computers? Or teaching photo editing or building cars? How many teachers have a set of tools (even a small set) in their classrooms for kids to use to tear things apart with? Schools are spending millions on ipads, how many of those set ups include a set of sensors for kids to use to collect data about their environment?
I come from a town that is built on people who make things. I know at least a half dozen people who have built their own homes from the ground up. People around here build decks, install windows and change their own oil without a second thought. My dad worked underground in a hard rock mine for over 30 years. Some of the jobs that are in the most demand across the country aren’t necessarily people who can set up a website, but are people who can use technology in applied ways to solve problems. Machinists. People who work in the field of instrumentation. Heavy duty mechanics and health care professionals.
The world of technology doesn’t just belong to people who work in offices, but also to those in workshops, garages and barns who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. In the world of edtech, these kinds of applied uses of technology have been long neglected.
This is why it’s time for a change. It’s time to start thinking about hackerspaces or makerspaces in schools. My twitter stream fairly exploded the other day when I asked about this. A few of them are out there. But we need more. Hopefully my own school will soon have one. As well, I’m going to start a resource page on this blog that will help people who are looking for resources to move their classrooms, their curricula, or their after school programs in this direction. We need to push and expand in new directions. We need to help people to explore new ideas. The best part of all of this is that much of the stuff that we need is low priced or free. There are dozens and dozens of great resources online with all sorts of software and tutorials for you to use. You don’t need to be even close to an expert yourself to move in this direction.
Helping kids write and share the gift of who they are with the world is great. Helping them to make connections with people in far away places who live lives very different from their own will broaden their world view and help them to see the world in new ways. This is part of what schools need to do. But it’s only part. For too long edtech has been about our heads. It is time to get our hands involved as well.