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Are We Building a School in the Cloud? Think Rationally Please

09/16/2013 03:47 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

At the 2013 TED conference, Sugata Mitra had one wish granted to him. At TED, genies appear in the form of someone with clout like Bill Gates, Al Gore, or a Steve Jobs figure. These are the ones sitting in the audience, willing to help the TED prize winner obtain his wish.

This year, Sugata Mitra, wished for a school in the cloud. Watch it here.

He caused a bit of a ruckus in the education community. Just check out the comments at The Huffington Post here. In just two days time, over 300 comments flooded this article, ranging from praise to high-quality criticism and unnecessary rude comments.

I'd like to address the rationality behind these range of comments. Here comes in the work of Chip and Dan Heath, in what they write in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. But to understand, you'll have to think back to the magic days of riding an elephant at the local circus.

Imagine being perched upon an elephant. A really big one. Like a Dr. Seuss elephant. And you're trying to steer the elephant to turn. Not the easiest thing to do.

This metaphor is what Chip and Dan Heath use to help explain the difficultly in making a large organization switch. The elephant is full of emotion, the rider full of rational thought. The rider knows change is needed, but the elephant is so full of emotion he continues to lurch forward, ignoring the turning efforts of the rider.

Unless the rider gives clear direction where to go.

The education system is the elephant. Sugata Mitra is the rider, so is Seth Godin, so is Daniel Pink, and so are you -- if you believe that the current education system just isn't working.

This is what I call The Transforming Education Paradox:

The Elephant: The emotional side.

"I don't want to lose my job, nor do I want to worry about money or feeding my children." This only begins the emotional argument behind why so many in the school system (teachers, principals) may feel anger towards Sugata Mitra's TEDTalk. Taken at face value, Sugata's "School in the Cloud" concept may seem to denigrate the value of a teacher by labeling them "Grandmas" that act as encouragers. But, let's look past the verbiage that may offend the teacher or principal. After all, teachers and principals in the American K-12 public school system must go through a rigorous academic process to gain the credentials needed to perform these jobs. To keep their jobs, teachers, for example, must have a four-year bachelor's program in their content area and a master's degree, to boot. Oh yeah, and they must achieve 175-credit hours in professional development every five years (i.e. see NYS teaching credentials).

Are schools supposed to be preparing students to be the best they can be in the given world at that time? Many would argue yes. So, let's bring more technology in. -- Mark W. Guay

Rider: The rational side.

There's a building. It's a school. There are rows of desks and chairs. This isn't working anymore. The world is using technology where schools are still banishing smartphones. Are schools supposed to be preparing students to be the best they can be in the given world at that time? Many would argue yes. So, let's bring more technology in. Strike a deal with Datalink and each student gets a tablet for $35 or cheaper. Have teachers use their scholarly brilliance to design the best learning environment for students. Act as an encourager. Create projects that synthesize real-world skills. Use the SOLE method and have students present their findings. Perhaps this isn't any different than the teacher who already uses experiential learning and creates a student-centered classroom. This is good teaching, after all.

It makes sense that most teachers who see Sugata's wish may take offense that the teaching profession -- as we currently define it -- may be becoming obsolete. Sugata argues that "Knowing is obsolete." As content specialists, teachers may therefore be obsolete in the definition as content specialists. It may no longer be necessary for teachers to have all the answers or a wealth of content knowledge. Perhaps the focus on being a teacher now is more like a scientist. Teachers will use their knowledge of pedagogy and learning design to craft a classroom or lesson that best gets students to discover learning and achieve the lesson's objective. Here comes the rider.

When change is needed most it is often so far removed from the general public's ability to conceptualize the change that an incipient outcry occurs. Think Copernicus and the heliocentric theory. Think democracy. And think back to when school was first mandated. The masses all said, "No way. Ain't gonna happen."

What do you think? What would a school in the cloud look like?

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