Technology and the Social Media are growing like a weed almost everywhere except inside the schools. Prominent digital learning advocates like Alberta’s George Couros (@The Principal of Change) and New Yorker Tom Whitby (@My Island View) have both recently expressed exasperation with school districts and teachers who remain oblivious to the potential for learning unleashed by the spread of social networks. With traditional institutions like the churches taking advantage of Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, education observers are beginning to wonder whether the schools will be the “last hold-outs” in the 21st century digital learning revolution.
Connectivity is spreading rapidly and fundamentally altering the way we live and learn outside the system. While Social Media is fast becoming dominant in every facet of society, including the 2012 London Olympics, Couros still sees “many schools and school districts fearful of what social media can do” to impact negatively on their “business” or on their “reputation.” http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3108 Both he and Whitby are concerned about the stubborn resistance to Internet connectivity and digital learning among administrators and teachers in the regular public school system. http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/teachers-are-poor-consumers-of-learning/
Leading Canadian school change wizards such as Michael Fullan and Ken Leithwood have, until recently, remained curiously silent, perhaps assuming that digital technology was a fad that might blow over. After spending decades espousing educational change theory and promoting “teacher-driven, system-wide reform,” one would expect them to be on the leading edge. The publication of Michael Fullan’s latest book, Stratosphere (June 2012), makes it abundantly clear that the Fullanites are coming late to the digital learning movement. http://www.amazon.ca/Stratosphere-Integrating-Technology-Pedagogy-Knowledge/dp/0132483149
Michael Fullan may be late on arrival, but his new book has been heralded as the 21st century ‘New Testament ‘ by Toronto’s digital technology crowd. In a June 2012 MindShareLearning promo video, Dr. Fullan was lauded for being “Canada’s leading school change expert ” and given free reign to explain his latest theory. “System-wide reform” was now passe, and a little boring, he conceded, so he was turning his attention to the “Stratosphere” — that land beyond the clouds –where information was flowing freely and can now be accessed with our own portable devices. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYimGuToREU
Fullan’s “whole system change” initiative has, by his own admission, plateaued and the book signals his determination to get back “ahead of the curve.” What Stratosphere really signifies is his discovery of “connectivity” and an attempt to get back in the game of meaningful school reform. It’s clear that the “wild growth” of technology and online learning has shaken him to the core. “Motion leadership” was going nowhere on planet earth and he’s awakened to the need for “change managers” to gain control of the powerful forces reshaping how we grow and learn outside of school.
Where have we gone wrong? The latest Fullanite revelation is that the chasm between technology and educational change can be bridged by bringing pedagogy, change management, and technology together. It forms a “triad,”, according to Fullan, and “change management” can bring technology under control, making it more palatable to educators and useable in his flagging schemes of “system-wide” reform.
Fullan’s Stratosphere is worth studying because it will likely be adopted in Ontario where Fullanites tend to command most of the educational resources and drive the school system. Whatever his motives and agenda, the book does zero -in on some critically important criteria for embracing 21st century digital learning. It must be: 1) irresistably engaging for all stakeholders; 2) elegantly efficient and easy to use; 3) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and 4) steeped in real-life problem solving.
Fullan is warming to the idea that children can and do learn a great deal from Social Media and free access to the Internet. Though still a child of the print culture, he’s awakened to the excitement of Web 2.0 and its enormous potential to reshape the way we live, play, and learn. Having said that, Canada’s renowned school change wizard continues to inhabit what George Couros termed the “culture of fear.” He’s plainly worried about the “weed-like growth of technology” and fears that “our brains” are being “distorted” into “a permanent state of hyper-distractionism.” Recent ed-tech crazes have left a legacy of what he describes as “Digital Disappointments” and “Digital Dreaming.” http://mindsharelearning.ca/2012/06/06/book-review-stratospher-by-michael-fullan/
For Fullan and his camp followers, the best defense of the existing Ontario “change management” system is to mount a good offense. Technology will only improve learning if it can be reined-in and harnessed for “teacher-driven, system-wide” reform focusing on “improving learning outcomes for all.” American public school reform, focusing on school choice, testing, and accountability, scares him to death and so does the rather vacuous pursuit of generic “21st century learning skills.” He even takes a totally unwarranted pot shot at Alberta Education’s “Inspiring Action in Education” mandate, labelling it “inspiration with no perspiration.”
Fullan’s book Stratosphere signifies that he and his OISE entourage will be wading into the so-called “technology malaise” in public education. True to form, he’s trying to recapture the “leading edge” and to put his “system management” stamp on the “wild, irregular, spreading weed” of technology. He’s even trying to apply his familiar systematic “change agent skills”: knowledge and skills; a plan to action; strategies to overcome setbacks; a high sense of confidence; monitoring progress; a commitment to achieve; social and environmental support; and freedom, control and choice.(Fullan, 67)”
Sincere advocates of Social Media and digital learning will likely be skeptical about Fullan’s conversion and attempt to bring systematic change theory to the digital learning revolution. What explains Dr. Michael Fullan’s entry into the public policy debate over the purpose and future direction of digital learning? To what extent is the rise of virtual learning and connectivity threatening Ontario’s patented “system-wide” but “system-bound” reforms? Will Fullan’s intervention help or hurt the advance of online learning in Canada and the growing diversity of alternative learning programs?