Yesterday, a colleague of mine on the OSAPAC Committee indicated that a press release from OPSBA (Ontario Public School Board Association) was something that would be worth following.  I read the news release and found it very interesting and Twittered the link.  Within moments, I received a number of mentions back and a whack of re-tweets as word of this release was spread.

By the end of the day, references to the news release and the document itself was spreading like wildfire on Twitter.  The power of Twitter to connect people from all areas so quickly and readily demonstrated.

So, what’s in the document?

It’s a discussion document entitled “What If?” and invites stakeholders to discuss technology in the 21 Classroom.  As noted in the document:

THE PREMISE UNDERLYING THIS DISCUSSION PAPER is that the public education system is in danger of being left behind by the students it serves.

All that it takes is a quick look around any environment where you see young people and you realize the significance of this statement.  Kids are connected with the internet and their devices at a level that we’ve never seen before.  For years, education has seen the power of groupwork and collaboration,  but always on the terms of the classroom teacher.  With contemporary tools, students are demanding these tools, these collaborations, and they want it now and they want it 24/7.  This is huge in a traditional environment that runs from 9-3.

Have educators been hiding from this?  Some yes, some no.  How are school boards handling it?  Inconsistently.  With content blockers and filters, some elements of collaboration are headed off before they even get started.  But, you can’t block a cell phone!  You can write rules; you can try to enforce policies – but are you missing the point?

The point is about collaboration and the power that it gives those that know what to do with it.  The power certainly includes working online but it also requires elements of computer skills.  In Greater Essex County, we have a document that tries to identify the computer skills on a continuum in elementary schools.  While the use of computers, technology, and communication are obvious when looking at curriculum documents, the one element that is missing is a plan for how students learn and develop computer skills.  We created this document locally to help us define them.  It is revisited annually, but is that often enough?

So, what happens and what do you do when you move away from the local area network and try using the tools of the web.  How does blogging, wiki-ing, podcasting, and the lot figure into the mix?  To help frame the discussion, the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee has invited some of the leaders in the field to address this at our annual Symposium.  Will Richardson, David Warlick, Amber MacArthur, Jeremy Gutsche are just a few of the presenters who have presented the possibilities to leaders in Western Ontario and, regularly, our friends from Central Ontario are invited to join us in this learning.  An extremely powerful tipping point for many occurred in 2008 when Will Richardson led a hands-on full-day event for technology leaders on the tools.  Since that time, Will has been invited back to Ontario on many occasions to share his message.  Recently, he joked that he may need to take up residency here.

So, the time is definitely right for this discussion.  We are getting it – I think – but at our own pace and with our own priorities.  Yesterday, at a CIESC (Computers in Education School Contact) meeting, one of the members indicated that every students from Grade 4-8 has his/her own wiki page for a collaboration space.  In my March newsletter, I identified a “Whack of Wikis” for readers.  I’m proud of the way that so many of our teachers realize the power of this one particular tool and are running with it.  What else is out there?  All year, we’ve been exploring “Web 2.0” applications during our meetings.  The latest agenda appears here.

I really like the fact that we’re opening the discussion.  Provincially, we need to fully understand today’s learner.  We need to recognize that “today’s learner” includes the roles formerly known as “student”, “teacher”, “parent”, “guardian”, “administrator”, “superintendent”, “School Board”, “Trustee”, “Ministry”, …  None of this is going to go away and an attempt to get a provincial understanding of all sides of the issue should allow us to address the Ministry goal of reaching every student.

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