Friday, July 24, 2009

Innovation: Policemen & Possibility

Hello Innovative Educators!

I’m Dana Lawit and I wanted to formally introduce myself as a new contributor to The Innovative Educator. I hope you enjoyed my debut post How I Use Social Networking to Keep My Students Engaged All Summer Long. I appreciate all that left comments. The reason I contacted the Innovative Educator and wanted to join the discourse on this aptly named blog, is that I believe that one of the reasons technology engages students so greatly is that it challenges both their and my idea of what schooling is and what it can be as witnessed at The Innovative Educator’s recent visit to The School of One. To me, innovation is the challenging application of technology that pushes what is towards what could be.

This challenge was brought to mind recently when I rewatched one of my favorite TED talks: Lexicographer Erin McKean redefines the dictionary. She explains how she's often frustrated when people ask her if a word is or isn't real because this turns her job into that of a traffic cop, when she's much rather be fishing -- that is casting a net out into a sea of words, looking for new and exciting species. Why does she have to act as a traffic cop? Because dictionaries, at least by tradition, are paper bound anthologies with only so much space in them for print. An artificial construct (the size of a book) determines how many words are real.

Here comes the exciting possibility brought about by technology and specifically the Internet (which Erin describes as nothing more than "words with enthusiasm"): the artificial construct of the size of a book no longer exists, and words can exist and be studied to our hearts' content. Technology pushes through the traditional limitation.

As a teacher, I too often feel like a traffic cop when I'd much rather feel like something else. (My favorite metaphor for teaching comes from Garret Keizer in "Help" -- teacher as midwife, present to help the student labor through learning, though she cannot do the learning for her.) How often do we find ourselves limited by artificial constructs? We call the constructs different names, of course; tradition, 9-month school years, union contracts, facilities limitations, standards, time, the status quo. Technology allows us to break through these constructs, and innovation provides the direction and purposefulness with which we do so.

So my questions are these:

  • What are the artificial constructs of schooling to which we subscribe and which are negotiable?
  • How do we employ technology to circumvent these constructs and improve the business of schooling?

Thank you to the Innovative Educator for the opportunity to connect with others interested in topics such as this. I look forward to the continued questions, answers, and conversations.

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