Emergent Change in K-12 Education

new tech makes classroom 1 - Emergent Change in K-12 Education

Jorge Taborga’s post on emergent change provided me a framework for considering how emergent change can happen in K-12 education. As most everyone realizes, our structures and processes of K-12 education are rooted in the Industrial Age and are stifling learning for children in this amazing age of information, where knowlegde is at their finger tips. When they are on a computer, the world is before them. When they are in the classroom, they are primarily learning about the past, asked to develop knowledge and skills without a understanding of it relevance, and primarily focused on independent rather than collaborative learning. Is it any wonder, that our most creative and intelligent kids are bored in school?

One of the keys to emergent change in K-12 education is integration of technology. A few schools allow students to use laptops in class, though I still hear teachers expressing concerns that they are a distraction from learning. They fear that too many students would be surfing the web or communicating with friends via Facebook. Given the experiences many teachers have of students seeking distractions from the focus of the classroom learning, many have developed an assumption that kids don’t want to learn. I would like to propose that children are hungry to learn and just need new ways to engage in the learning process. 

As schools continue to struggle to find a way to transform education, I have begun to wonder if technology is the way to spark emergent change toward evolutionary learning within schools.

Apple Inc. is working with schools to place iPads in classrooms and offering grants to schools who adopt the technology. Their iBook 2 service provides electronic textbooks that sell for $14.99 and eliminate the need for print textbooks. This could enable regular updating and take a tremendous weight off environmental resources and kids’ backs. Putting iPads in the hands of students also opens the door to use of open-source textbooks and learning materials. Teachers and students would no longer be restricted to learning from textbooks, but have an amazing array of learning resources at their fingertips.

If we think of this in relation to the phases of emergent learning that Jorge described in his April 6 post, it is easy to see how leaping into a technology-based classroom could create a much needed transformation of K-12 education.

  1. While teachers and administrators do their best to establish boundaries and keep control of the educational space in schools, in reality our schools are complex open systems.
  2. Change is taking place rapidly through internal and external forces and the lack of funding, growing diversity of students, and increased resource needs are creating major disruptions and a spiral of decline.
  3. As noted above, technology integration can create a process of differentiation that can spur innovation in teaching methods and change the nature of relationships between students, teachers, administrators, and parents.
  4. As teachers and students engage in new and creative ways, excitement around innovation and learning changes the interest students have in learning about their environment and place in the world.
  5. As students learn more holistically and see the needs for change around them, they accept their responsibilities as citizens and change leaders helping us make great progress in addressing the complex problems of our time. 
  6. The knowledge and level of committed engagement of these young people as they move into adulthood and have their own families is passed on to future generations, creating a dynamic evolution of concerned and engaged citizens who can help move the evolution of change toward human and environmental sustainability.

Taking the leap and fully integrating technology in classrooms would definitely cause disruption and challenge many existing assumptions about education and learning, but having studied the complex challenges of changing a system as embedded in tradition as our K-12 schools, I think many might welcome such a disruption.

Read other posts by Nancy Southern

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