1. The Rationale
After investing millions of dollars in information technology, corporations concluded that the mere addition of technology to their unchanged business processes would not guarantee survival, much less survival with greater productivity, larger profits, and increased competitiveness.
It was only when executives realized that the changes taking place in their business environment required them to review the core competences of their companies, reengineer their business processes, and, in some cases, entirely reinvent them, that technology started to fulfill its promises.
The quantum leap was given, for instance, not when bookstores automated their conventional business procedures, no matter how well they did it, but when virtual bookstores, that easily could, and have, become virtual shopping malls, were invented.
With schools the same principles apply.
The mere addition of technology to the teaching and learning processes of an otherwise conventional school will not produce a school of the future – certainly not an innovative school – but only a more expensive conventional school.
The quantum leap here will be given when educators, seriously facing the changes that are taking place in the way people communicate, access information, collaborate, have fun, and learn in the real world outside the school, decide to review their view of education and learning, redefine the way they understand the curriculum, reengineer the spaces, times and methods that allow people to learn through interaction and collaboration, recast the roles of teachers and students, and, so, reinvent the school as an institution.
Here we have a few examples of the dissonance between the schools existing today – even the good ones – and the school environment brought about, largely, by technology:
a) Today information is abundant and access to it is extremely easy – and today’s approach to information is much more centered on “pull” than on “push”. Yet the conventional school is organized and operates on the basis that education is transmission of information, and that, therefore, the main function of the school is to transmit information (“deliver content”) to the students – an approach clearly centered on “push”.
b) If education is not mere “delivery of information”, learning is not simply “absorption of information”: to learn is to become capable of doing that which one was unable to do before. To learn is, therefore, capacity and competence building. And humans learn from the time they are born to the time they die – and they learn all the time.
c) If to learn is not simply to absorb information, a school curriculum cannot be a canon with all the information that one is supposed to absorb, drawn from the academic disciplines, and then retain for the rest of his life: a curriculum is more like a mosaic of competencies and skills that are necessary for living in this world.
d) If they are not to be deliverers of information, having students as its absorbers, teachers should be seen as mentors, coaches, advisors, counselors of their students, and in this capacity they ought to instigate and facilitate their learning, or even, under some conditions, present challenges to learning that is more presumed than real, acting, therefore as “difficultators” of learning.
e) If we learn from birth to death and do it all the time, and we learn mostly by communicating and collaborating, a school cannot be a place in which some teachers pack information into students, face-to-face, when the students are aged 6-23, but, rather, a learning environment to which people can turn to, physically or virtually, at any time during their lives, to try to acquire or develop, through interaction and collaboration, competencies and skills they do not have and yet need or desire to possess.
This is the pedagogical roadmap for the Innovative School – for the true School of the Future.
Lumiar aims at bringing about this kind of School of the Future.
So, Lumiar’s proposal is not simply another program that aims to bring technology into the schools that we now have: it is a program that aims to help schools reinvent themselves in an age of ubiquitous and diffuse technology.
2. Summary of the Proposal
In Brazil, most of the pedagogical principles outlined in the previous section have become mandatory for schools through the set of National Curriculum Parameters and Guidelines.
Although these documents came short of declaring traditional education illegal, they made it unequivocally clear that, in a society where information and communication technology was pervasive and, more and more, easily accessible, it made no sense for the schools to continue focusing on their traditional tasks of delivering information and what they called knowledge to the students.
The documents proposed the notion that education should be seen as a permanent process of human development and that schools should be effective learning environments where students could develop the competencies and skills they need in order to live as individuals, citizens and workers in the 21st century.
The documents also proposed that schools adopt project-based learning as their methodologies, and that they should pay great attention to the need of connecting what motivates children (and should therefore be the focus of their learning projects, with a “competency matrix” that outlines what children ought to learn – all of this in a flexible environment that takes very seriously the fact that children (as human beings in general) are different from another, have different natural talents, have different interests, and so schools should have curricula that shied away from the “one size fits all” model.
As one can imagine, these documents initially created an outcry in the educational community. Gradually, the “new pedagogical discourse” came to be accepted – but in theory, only, because practice continued very much what it had always been.
The main difficulty on the way of translating this new educational vision into effective pedagogical practice in the schools has been the lack of workable pedagogical models that show how this can be done and the absence of concrete examples that demonstrate that this new educational vision has been successfully translated into everyday pedagogical practice.
Lumiar’s main pedagogical objective is to incorporate these principles into its daily practice.
Lumiar is maintained by private efforts – but it has a public vocation. It is committed to being an open, democratic, flexible and very powerful and effective learning environment (where technology indeed has its place) that will, eventually, contribute to bringing about an “epidemic” of change in the public schools.
The Lumiar proposal also contains important contributions to what we could call “school governance” (instead of “school management”). However, what interests me here is its model of curricular organization, the main elements of which I will try to rapidly summarize here.
First, there is a “competency matrix” – an attempt to organize the competencies and related skills needed for living as an individual, a citizen, a worker, and a permanent learner in the 21st century.
Second, there is the “project bank” – a database of learning projects to be developed by people from the community (business leaders, professionals, artists, workers of all sorts, housewives and househusbands, etc.), who have interesting competencies and skills that they can share with the students and are willing to donate their time, for short periods (from one to two weeks to two or three months) in helping interested students become involved with these competencies and skills. (These people are the so-called “masters” of the school. The database has presently a good number of such projects, as well as the names and other features of the people who can coordinate them).
A series of “nodes” will link and connect, for each learning project, the competencies and skills it will most likely help students develop with the “competency matrix” – thereby creating a “mosaic”.
Third, a “learning portfolio” that registers, for each student:
* An initial evaluation of their competencies and skills as they arrive in the school and begin each school year;
* The projects they have been involved in;
* Whether, and how well, they developed the competencies and skills that were linked and connected with each project in which they were involved;
* For students in higher grades, information on their life projects and the competencies and skills that life project requires.
This “learning portfolio”, in way, relates “the pleasant” and “the useful”: beginning with what motivates students, and therefore leads them to engage in a given project, it makes the connection with what they ought to know. This task is also to be coordinated by the group of permanent educators in the school, who constantly evaluate how well the students are doing and how far they are progressing in relation to the “competency matrix”.
The “learning portfolio” also registers the progress of the students in the appropriation of what could be called “traditional curricular content” that is needed for the development of their learning projects: knowledge of their own language, of mathematics, of science, of the social fabric in which this project is being developed, etc.
Although the school is convinced that there are competencies and skills that all students ought to develop (in communication and in interpersonal relations, for instance), it clearly allows, especially for older children, ample space for the pursuit of competencies and skills that could be qualified as more idiosyncratic – and that have to do with each child’s specific “life project”.
The whole process is democratic and has full involvement of the students – and here the methodology links with the question of governance. The itinerary of each student, the evolution of the group (including disciplinary issues), and the governance of the school are objects of discussion and decision in “decision rounds” that take place every week.
This is a very short summary of the pedagogical model.
3. And what about Technology?
And what is the role of technology in this process?
There is, first, the role of technology in systematizing this model in order to make it transferable to public schools, where it can be scaled up. All of this is being done mostly manually at the present. With a small number of students, this is not a major challenge. But it would clearly become impeditive in the case of applying the model to larger schools – as is the case of most public schools.
Therefore, the main technological challenge of the proposal is to develop the technological infrastructure that will make this pedagogical vision applicable to public schools. This infrastructure will have to fully integrate Microsoft’s interactive technologies and tools for use by the students: e-mail, instant messaging, group chat, discussion groups, personal spaces (information sharing), etc.
There is, second, the use of technology by those involved in the learning process in the school: masters, educators, students and those responsible for specific tasks in the governance of this process. Once completed the development of the technological infrastructure, Microsoft technology will also be used to make us of the various elements of this infrastructure.
The challenge here is to transform technology into an effective learning tool.
Eduardo O C Chaves
São Paulo (Brazil), on the 22nd of December, 2006. Transcribed here from Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007