NAIS: 2008

At the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) conference, Ian Jukes presented, Technology is Changing the Face of Independent Schools. He shared his ideas on how technology is changing the ways in which independent schools educate. Dr. Lynn Friedman, clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and executive coach to independent school heads and school leaders published this commentary on the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) website. It is republished with permission here.

A crowd of more than 500 people gather to hear Ian Jukes, with those wait-listed eagerly hoping for a spot. Jukes screams out to the audience, “my job is not to educate you, my job to irritate you. And, this he does! In his own inimitable fashion, he conveys a provocative message, “Technology is changing the world.”

It’s not just changing the way that we work or do business, “It’s changing the very way that we think. It’s changing our brains.” These changes are fundamental and profound, all the way down to the synaptic level. Citing the neuroscience research, Jukes proffers compelling evidence that the teenage mind is not working like our own (we knew this before we met Jukes, didn’t we?) 🙂

But it’s not all attributable to raging hormones. Today’s teenage brain looks different than the teenage brains of our generation. “We are immigrants”, he tells us, not truly denizens of the technology world. Our students have had a very different history of neuronal inputs than their predecessors. Their exposure to extended, repetitive visual stimuli eclipses anyone of our generation save artists. Spending thousands of hours in the visual world of Wii’s Xboxes, gaming, and the Internet has permanently altered their brains.

He reminds us: What we do affects our brain development. Just as the brains of artists, mathematicians, and musicians are more finely developed in those areas used in their vocations, so too, are the minds of gamers more finely honed. Specifically, after years of devotion to visual technology, the visual cortexes of teenagers look very different from those of the 40- and 50-something crowds.

Technology is here to stay, Jukes tells us. If we ignore it, our students will leave us behind. School leaders will go the way of the buggy whip maker. Kids will devote themselves to technology and we should be following them NOT expecting them to follow us.

With the genie now out of the bottle, educators have a daunting task. It’s our job to track our kids, to know exactly where they are – or we will lose them! His message is abundantly clear. Don’t ignore technology, embrace it. Toward this end, he offers several suggestions:

1. Catch up. To help us accomplish this, he assigns homework.

  • Listen to an ipodcast.
  • Make a blog.
  • Use Skype to talk to someone in another country.
  • Attend a Second Life course.
  • Create a personal avatar.
  • Take a peak at craigslist.
  • Create a MySpace page.
  • Check out Teachertube.

As I listened, I could not help but think that NAIS should offer a technology immersion program aimed at the totally illiterate. In any case, Jukes exhorts us to use and integrate technology in our daily professional lives. It will allow us to get connected, stay involved, and bear witness to the fast-moving pace of technological change. If you don’t know how, ask your students to show you.

2. Teach to the “whole new mind.”

Next Jukes urges us to teach to the whole new mind. With information only a mouse click away, memorization is largely passe. It should no longer be our primary thrust, he says. Instead, our emphasis should be on developing critical, analytical thinking and problem solving skills. He adds, we should teach kids to be responsible in the creation of content.No doubt NAIS could add a special ethics and privacy section to their technology immersion program.

Since technology is here to stay, we need to assimilate it at every turn. Don’t ban it! Challengingly, Jukes questions, Are we preparing students for their future or our past?” We need to engage students where they are – in cyberspace. If we bore them, school will be of little interest to them.

3. Develop fluency – technological fluency, media fluency, and information fluency.

Teach students to ask good questions, to acquire data (from both low-tech and high-tech sources), to analyze the quality of the data, to apply the knowledge, and to critically assess both the product and the process. That is, step back and see what they have learned and see how they learned it.

4. Encourage autonomy.

He recommends that we have kids teach each other. “Watch one, do one, teach one”, has long been the mainstay of medical residency programs, but Jukes advocates this strategy starting in kindergarten. We seem to be promoting a dependency on teachers he tells us. We need to prepare our students for workplaces in which they are expected to be active learners, information gatherers, and effective problem solvers. The days of nine to five are long gone; workplaces seek workers who are product driven. All of these kids who we are diagnosing as ADD. “They are not attention disordered, they are just not listening. Actually, they are bored.”

5. Access information natively. Let kids access information natively.

6. Collaborate. Let kids collaborate. After all, this is what will be required of them in the workplace.

7. Create real world, real time digital products.

8. Re-evaluate assessment and education.

He says we need to revise our assessment processes. Today’a kids need timely, non-judgmental feedback, given in a non-punitive way, he tells us. What Jukes is proposing here is a skills-based form of development and assessment in which we shift the responsibility from learning away from the teacher onto the student.Jukes enjoins us to wake up and get on board. If school leaders and trustees ignore his admonition, he asserts they will face extinction. He points out that home-schooling, formerly a fringe phenomenon, has become increasingly popular. He comments, “Schools will be replaced by bands of talented teachers who will join together, cut out the middleman, and, ‘sell direct’ to a nation of consumer-oriented, home-schoolers.” Despite audible murmurs in the audience to the contrary, Jukes is not completely out of his mind. A week after his talk, NPR aired a discussion with the leaders in the home-schooling industry. And, indeed, these were exactly the kinds of purchases they were making – and, interestingly enough, they were joining with their neighbors and buying math instruction in bulk!

Jukes’s advice dovetails elegantly with Malcolm Gladwell’s and Adam Gopnik’s talk. In this talk, Gladwell asserts that the Ivy League schools enjoy unjust admiration. They have simply, he tells us, done a superb job of branding. However, tomorrow will be less about where you went to school and more about what skills and talents you bring to the table. Gopnik cautions school leaders to focus less on creating dutiful students preoccupied with meeting expectations of adults and more on developing students concerned with accomplishing their own goals.

Jukes’s talk provides some important lessons for school leaders and trustees. Recognize that as industry becomes increasingly product-driven, it is seeking out workers who are skilled at learning and problem solving. This means that employees with proficiency in critical-analytic thinking, written and verbal expression, as well as an array of technological fluencies will be highly sought after.

This awareness should inform faculty development programs. Ideally, school leaders and trustees should provide programs aimed at helping faculty – of all ages – to achieve technological fluency. These programs should be mandatory and their efficacy should be evaluated. Also, an assessment of faculty proficiency in technology should be part of the faculty evaluation process. It should influence recruitment and retention decisions.

I found Jukes’s ideas stimulating and his suggestions useful. Certainly, his observations about today’s teens are consistent with my own impressions. I can only add that although technology allows one to connect with people from all over the world, it can also leave teenagers feeling utterly isolated and disconnected.

Listening as a psychologist and independent school consultant, I found myself contemplating the amount of teenage drug use nationwide and reflecting on the lament of teenagers who describe feeling alienated from their peers and from themselves. Technology opens up wonderful educational possibilities. Hopefully, as school leaders and trustees carefully attend to these opportunities, they can also be thoughtful about developing and supporting the student’s internal and interpersonal world. Maybe as an adjunct to the NAIS technology immersion program an effort can be undertaken to strengthen school commun

 

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