So it’s been a while since I’ve turned to my blog, obviously. Just felt like I needed a break, some time to get some balance and reconfigure my thinking a bit. It’s been good, and for what it’s worth, I’ve been growing a list of things I want to write here about. More on that later in the week as I come up on my eight-year blogversary. But for now, just a quick post about a piece that has had me thinking for the last month or so.

Not sure how I stumbled across this 2000 article in CITE titled “If We Didn’t Have the Schools We Have Today, Would We Create the Schools We Have Today?” by Tom Carroll, but I’ve spent a good chunk of time over the last few weeks reading, rereading and thinking about it from a number of different perspectives. In many ways, it’s an amazingly articulate view of the learning and networking potentials of Web 2.0 technologies given at a moment when Web 2.0 technologies were in their nascent stages. In other ways, it’s a validation of what many of us have been thinking and saying about the learning in networked communities aspect of this and the challenges that potential presents to schools. But on another level, it’s a bit depressing to think of how far we haven’t come in this conversation in the almost 10 years since it was written. Most people, I think, would find his vision of the new learning world to be a harsh challenge to their current thinking.

I mean, how close are most educators to this concept?:

In the networked learning communities of the future, expert learners (we call them teachers, educators, scientists, and researchers today) are going to be recognized for their ability to learn and help others learn, as they continue to construct new knowledge and develop their own expertise. Their job will not be to teach – but to help others learn, as they model learning through collaboration to solve problems and achieve goals they have in common. (A significant part of the expert learner’s role will be organizing and managing the collaborative learning community.)

Nothing new here, I know. (Actually, there’s very little “new” anywhere in the thinking about schools and teachers and classroom learning right now.) But it reiterates the importance of being able to do this for ourselves before we try to do it with our kids, to at least have some sense of connectedness beyond our physical spaces.

The vision that classrooms must become more inquiry driven, “learning” (not learner) centered spaces where we co-construct the learning opportunities and new knowledge is also nothing particularly new. But it makes me wonder what percentage of the classes our students take have a curriculum that is significantly altered or made different in the process of taking the course and making “new knowledge.” I would doubt that there would be more than a handful in any individual student’s K-12 career even at this point.

While there is a whole bunch more to think about in this essay, it’s striking when you think about how little of this really transformative thinking is taking place when we think about schools. And how difficult it is to retrofit this thinking into existing spaces. That’s why I particularly love the title of this essay. I think most of us in this conversation would say “no”, that we would create something very different. That given a blank slate, we would keep the best parts of the interpersonal relationships between adults and kids but throw out the schedules, the desks in rows, the grades, the workloads, the levels and more and “think fresh” about the learning process in the context of what’s available to us now. Still, I wonder what percentage of educators in general would really think differently about the role of schools and their roles as teachers and learners.

And I also wonder if we can actually make something new out of something old in this case. Without remaking the system, is it reasonable to expect that we can systemically move toward inquiry based, self-directed, networked learning spaces that focus on the learning that Carroll describes in the essay?

In a networked learning community, we will have “schools” that are nodes in a larger learning environment, and in those schools there will be no teachers and no students– just learners.

That is a huge, huge retrofitting process that would be fraught with failure save a clear vision and inspiring leadership to put it into place among many other things.  But the biggest piece, I think, is the re-envisioning of the profession, that we are expert learners first, content experts second (if at all).

The teacher will become an expert learner organizing and leading others in networked learning communities.

To me, supporting that shift is the first step.

(Photo “Bryan Adams High School Hallway” by Dean Terry.)