The transformation of American society from its agrarian roots (America 1.0) to its industrial near-past (America 2.0) took place over some 60 years, between roughly 1810 and 1870. Our present transformation, launched in the 1950s, has accelerated year on year, creating a most astonishing and productive gap between students and teachers, between the needs of the future and the capacity of the present. School leaders have the extraordinary challenge and opportunity to help their faculty and students bridge this gap. One way to do this is by looking not to the future, but to the past.

ISTE’s National Education Technology Standards call on administrators to “create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.” Too often, education technology teachers and school administrators seem to operate on the principle that the tool (WordPress blogging software, for example) take precedence over the learning that the tool is supposed to facilitate (i.e. collaboration, critical thinking). This is a half-measure.

In order to be effective with teachers who are not digital natives and students who are, administrators need to make clear connections between a particular tool and the meaningful learning that tool is supposed to facilitate. Technology for its own sake will always intrigue a select group of teachers and students. The ISTE standard isn’t speaking to them. Nor am I.

I have said in previous posts that from my perspective the Greeks got it right – the purpose of education is to empower the young to be able to ask good questions, think critically and give sound answers to those and other questions. We have never needed students who can think like philosophers more than we do now. The great advantage of living in the dawning of America 3.0 is that we get to ask questions to anyone and to crowd-source wisdom before making final judgments. Digital immigrant faculty who are either confused by or mistrustful of technology in the classroom will surely agree that students need the capacity to think critically more than ever.

Administrators must empower their educational technology staff to respond flexibly to the needs of teachers and students. They have to be many things to many people and have to be evaluated on that principle! Furthermore, administrators must encourage their teachers to boldly experiment with technology tools within a framework of developing student critical thinking. At my school, two teachers constructed a final exam for their 19th and 20th century world history class in which a documentary film made with iMovie and other tools formed the core of the students’ work. One teacher was a digital native, the other, a digital immigrant. Both agreed that the form of a documentary film was appropriate for a final exam. What made the project work was not the technology but rather the questions the students were expected to answer by means of the technology. I would encourage school administrators to reward experimentation, flexibility and creativity, but to do so within a framework of the expectation of critical thinking.

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