[The following is an article I wrote for the August 2012 issue of Children’s Technology Review.]
Last month, 18,000+ tech-loving educators gathered at the San Diego convention center for ISTE — an annual event that has become the Mecca of ed tech in the United States. Also known as the International Society for Technology in Education, the four day event always starts with an opening keynote address — this year the headliner was Sir Ken Robinson, the English futurist.
But I wasn’t going to be there.
Due to family commitments I needed to miss the first day, and Sir Ken’s talk. So, I did what any valid data cruncher would do. I started collecting and analyzing the tweets from the one hour event. What I discovered was fascinating. The “big ideas” aren’t necessarily what comes from the podium. If you don’t believe me, you can watch the presentation yourself, (jump to 32:27 to see the keynote). The best ideas are the ones that are heard by a massive audience — collectively chewed and digested, and then captured in a collective mass of about 2,500 tweets, under a single hashtag (#iste12). It’s as if Sir Ken were talking to a giant brain comprised of 750 busy tweeters, waiting to pounce on the next nugget.
Listening carefully to this brain at work taught me that trying to paraphrase Sir Ken based on Twitter information is a little like playing the telephone game, where you pass a secret phrase around a circle, only to end up with a different result at the end. Each spoken line from the original keynote was tweeted and re-tweeted at least 20 times, complete with some minor edits. I picked out, and in some cases merged together, some of the best tweets from the event. If you can forgive some editorial sanding, here’s what seemed to resonate:
“No Child Left Behind is proof that Americans get irony. No Child Left Behind should be renamed to be millions of children left behind.”
“If we know anything about children it is that they are not standardized. Yet we have a suffocating culture of standardization and we need just the opposite. Humanity is based on the principle of diversity, yet our education system is based on compliance and conformity. Our lives are not linear, they are organic, and school is based on linearity.”
“One-third of all students drop out of high school. If doctors lost 1/3rd of their patients it would be unacceptable. If 1/3rd of airplanes dropped out of the sky there would be an uproar. Yet this is the reality in education.”
“There are opportunities to personalize education. And while we may not be able to afford personalization, we can’t afford not to.”
“People on the planet today have more access to mobile devices than safe drinking water.”
“What will it take to truly engage students in their own education, and what role does technology play in this?”
These are inspiring and somewhat depressing words, but they were what this particular audience decided to capture. It seems that many educators view the US education system to be a flawed, broken process, and that the Department of Education doesn’t have much to add to the conversation. During the lengthy live and prerecorded statements made by DOE personalities Karen Cator and Arnie Duncan, a brief moment of Twitter praise came when Karen Cator’s comment “your work matters” was retweeted by many. However, the overall tone from the twittersphere during the DOE remarks was more snarky than pleased.
Was there any gold in the twitter stream? Sir Ken did challenge the audience to engage each student in a unique way, to empower the abilities of the individual, for the benefit of all mankind. The tweet read like this: “Great teachers don’t take students to a destination. They give them the tools to get there on their own.” Certainly this is a strong tweet from a smart crowd, and it is a good closing thought.