Yes, technology is revolutionizing politics, from raising money through online donors to organizing and mobilizing supporters using Facebook and text messaging. Yes, technology is impacting businesses big and small, particularly how they pitch and sell their products in such a fragmented, almost ADD digital marketplace.
But most importantly, the onslaught of new technologies -- cell phones, video games, social networking sites, the Wikipediazation of information, the reach of YouTube and Skype, you name it -- have ushered a seismic shift in education: how our kids learn, how our teachers teach, how curriculum is shaped and presented, how individual students, powered by technology, process and experience what they're learning.
It's this shift, an education earthquake of sorts, that prompted Karl Fisch, formerly a math teacher and now the technology coordinator at Arapahoe High School, just outside Denver, to create the slideshow "Did You Know?" That was in August 2006. What happened next, within three years, illustrates the very nature of what I've called our evolving "Clickocracy": one nation under Google, with video and e-mail for all.
First, Fisch posted original slideshow on his own blog. It quickly fired up the education blogosphere of which Fisch, a long-time teacher, is one of the earliest pioneers. A few months later, he got an e-mail from Scott McLeod, then an instructor at the University of Minnesota and now an associate professor of educational administration at Iowa State University -- if you want to be a principal or superintendent, contact McLeod. McLeod loved the slideshow but also wanted to tweak it a bit, shave off about half a minute, jazz it up with photos and do a video, which he then posted on his own blog.
Then the mash-ups, the remixes, the parodies, the re-uploads on video sharing sites like Glumbert.org and Break.com came pouring in. The design company XPLANE contacted Fisch and McLeod and wanted to create a 2.0 version of the video, complete with animation, for free.
A year later, Sony BMG Music Entertainment got wind of the video and wanted to create their version of it for an annual meeting of their executives in Rome. (This explains, by the way, one of the last frames in the video, highlighting how many songs are illegally downloaded within the 5-minute presentation.)
This fall, The Economist contacted Fisch and McLeod. They, too, created a new version, which they presented at their Media Convergence Forum last month -- "convergence" being one of the biggest and most overused buzz words in media.
Altogether, Fisch and McLeod estimate that the videos -- shown in business and education conferences, still spreading on video sharing sites -- have been viewed about 25 million times. That's probably a conservative estimate. On YouTube alone, there are dozens of "Did You Know"-related videos, with tags such as "shift happens," "education," "workforce," "globalization" and "visual thinking." The versions have changed. From 2006 to 2007, MySpace was the dominant social network. Not so in 2009.
The video series "has become one of the more popular anthems on YouTube for the impact that technological progress is having on society," Steve Grove, YouTube's news and politics editor, told HuffPostTech. "It's makes you simultaneously think, 'Man, how can we keep up with all of this?', and 'Man, I'm excited to be living in a world with this much possibility.' It spurns more versions and more mash-ups and more discussion."
Added David Weinberger, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and co-author of the prescient book The Cluetrain Manifesto, which was published in 2000 and foresaw how the social, networked Web would change human relationships: "In some ways, it's a shock video to tell people who are in denial about all the changes we've been going through. It's using a very tried and true and traditional technique: presenting quantitative facts that are surprising. We are shocked by the quantitative facts, the sheer scale of the changes, that have happened in such a relatively short period of time."
It's been a decade of tremendous technological turmoil -- and for many "turmoil," as defined by Merriam-Webster, has literally meant "confusion," "agitation" and "commotion." But it's also been a decade of creativity and experimentation that will continually define our technological reality. This is the decade that gave us YouTube and Twitter, which is flexing the "me" in "media" in ways that "legacy" organizations (newspapers, magazines, TV networks) are still struggling to understand; the decade that saw the expansion of the Apple and its "i" brand (iMac, iPod, iPhone, soon-to-be iTablet), emphasizing your individual relationship with your gadgets; the decade that saw video games and interactive entertainment ("Grand Theft Auto," "Spore," etc.) push the boundaries of what we deem art; the decade that saw the birth of Friendster (remember that?), the rise and fall and re-branding of MySpace, the staggering growth of Facebook. With more than 300 million users, Facebook is a country of its own. As Mashable reported earlier this month, Facebook grew by 25 million users from Sept. 15 to Nov. 6. If you do the math, as Mashable's Ben Parr did, that's a daily growth rate of 471,698 users. "That's a small city joining Facebook every single day," Parr wrote.
But this is not about Facebook -- only time and the marketplace can dictate how that company moves forward. At bottom, this is about living in what Fisch and McLeod have called "exponential times" and its inevitable impact inside and outside our classrooms. In six of the most striking slides in the video's Version 3.0 -- the one that Sony BMG showed to its executives and ends with the question "So what does it all mean?" -- Fisch and McLeod wrote: "The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010. . . did not exist in 2004. . . We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist. . . using technologies that haven't been invented. . . in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet."
McLeod, a former 8th grade teacher and a father of three, has shown the video (and its different versions) to various groups. In a phone interview, the 41-year-old McLeod told me: "When you show some version of the video to corporate people, like the folks at Sony, they nod their heads and say, 'yeah, this is the challenge we're dealing with.' When you show it to kids, to students, they nod their nods and say, 'yeah, we've been waiting for you to catch up, we've been living through all of this.' When you show it to educators, as often as not, the predominant reaction is withdrawal. They retreat like a turtle to its shell. Not all of them. But a lot of them. It's too much. It's too overwhelming. They don't know what to do with it. This is our challenge."
And it's the challenge that keeps Fisch, the technology coordinator at Arapahoe High School, on his toes. Like McLeod, he, too, is a father -- to 9-year-old Abby, currently in 4th grade. How will Abby learn in 5 years, in 10, when she's in college? As technology coordinator, his is a multifaceted job. He provides technical support for the campus and also curriculum support, helping teachers understand the inevitable pitfalls and great promise of new technologies. "I began to get ideas of how perhaps these technological changes could help us better meet the individual needs of students, and how it might allow them to take more control over their own learning and pursue their passions," Fisch, 45, told me over the phone.
As I listened to Fisch and typed my notes, I instinctively put these phrases in bold: "individual needs of students"; "take control of their own learning"; and "pursue their passions." In my years attending American public schools in Silicon Valley -- first in Crittenden Middle School, down the street from Google's headquarters, then in Mountain View High School, not too far from the offices of Apple and Facebook -- I felt almost threatened by the rigorous standardized testing, which grew more and more constant as years passed. (I had it good then; I graduated from Mountain View High in 2000.) I was so scared of tests -- and how they determined my aptitude (or lack thereof) -- that while I took courses preparing for the SATs, I was too scared to actually take the real SATs. Thankfully, my GPA was high enough that San Francisco State University, where I chose to go to college, didn't need my SAT scores. And I was fortunate that throughout my years in public schools, numerous teachers and school administrators took the time and energy to get to know me (as an individual) and see beyond tests and numbers (and through my passion for writing).
In retrospect, I wasn't just fortunate -- I was really, really lucky. I think of students in classrooms now -- cell phones in their pockets and purses, their Facebook and MySpace pages serving as real-time journals -- and their individual needs and individual passions. Like Fisch, a flood of questions come rushing by, some of which are:
* What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century? In an expanding Web fueled by online videos, how important is it for students to be "viderate" -- video literate? It's a term coined by Andrew Rasiej, one of the leading thinkers in technology culture. Is it time that we require students to pass a Media Literacy course before graduating from high school, like Civics, like P.E.? Maybe even start it at middle school?
* Are we teaching students about their digital footprints? The positive and negative effects of what they post on their Facebook pages, what they forward in e-mail chains, the kind of videos and images they pass around on their phones?
* How is the relationship between teachers and students changing? Fisch noted that "our schools are currently designed for a world where information is scarce, not abundant, where kids come to school to get information, from the teacher and the textbook." In classrooms today, Fisch added: "the teacher is no longer the smartest person in the room if there's an Internet connection." But teaching, for the most part, is a one-way street. Students learn, teachers teach, that's that. Should a classroom be more like a collaborative experience, where a teacher is what Fisch calls a "chief learner" who is learning alongside the students? This can't apply to all subjects, of course.
* Can we encourage students to create what Fisch calls "personal learning networks"? Through the Web, Fisch communicates with teachers on six continents, most of whom he has never met, and learns from them every day. How can we help students do this? Say you're a 10th grader who's really into marine biology or industrial design or the Japanese language. There may not be classes in your school about those topics, but you can be connected to other students and teachers are who interested in those subjects.
* How do we address the still lingering -- and under-reported -- issue of digital divide in our classrooms? Technology is not cheap. Neither is Internet connection.
On Nov. 24, President Obama launched Educate to Innovate, a star-studded campaign drawing the likes of Big Bird, Discovery Communications and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, focusing on math and science. This is a time for innovation in education, and technology in general and the Internet in particular are central to that. As Obama and Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, continues to plan the future of our schools, Fisch and McLeod's videos serve as resources -- and, altogether, a call to action. Shift happens. It's here. Lead.
*** Check out these slides from three Did You Know? video series. For the sake of transparency, Fisch and McLeod created a wiki page for the presentation. This page traces the history of the slideshow. And this page has the source files.
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