Idea Talk

WVIZ Idea Talk

This past November, I was selected to do an “Idea Talk” at the WVIZ Ideastream conference in Cleveland.  Presenters were were asked to share ideas on Real Teaching with Technology in the Age of Digital Literacy.  My talk, titled “Be the Revolution” was designed to inspire teachers and IT professionals.  You can watch the video below.  I’ve also put the script I used below if you’d prefer to read it.

“Be the Revolution”

I want to start by talking about traditions. On the screen behind me is my four year old daughter Alex.  She’s a fun, bright, energetic little tornado who I am confident is destined for great things.  On the first day of preschool or kindergarten (or both), parents ask their son or daughter what they want to be when they grow up.  This has been a tradition for as long as I can remember.  In more recent years, mom writes out a quick message on a piece of paper that the child holds up declaring their future career aspirations.  A picture is taken, its shared on the social network of the moment, and a memory is made.  Can anyone in the audience guess what my daughter aspires to me?  (chef/cook).  No, not even close.  I choose this picture cause she’s adorable, but it has nothing to do with her future. 

When I was growing up, common answers to this question included a policeman, fireman, chef, or occasionally a superhero.  Apparently quite a bit has changed since my childhood.  My daughter was quite specific about her future endeavours.  She wants to own Great Wolf Lodge.  She intends to own an indoor waterpark in Sandusky Ohio with a cuddly mascot.

Looking Forward
You laugh (hopefully), but a lot can happen in 20 years.   Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge fan of “Back to the Future”.  I’ll be Marty, you all can collectively be “Doc”.  It’s my talk so I can be Marty.  Deal with it or you can’t go to the water park that my daughter will own one day.  Let’s hit 88mph and take a trip to what life might look like in 2036 when my daughter enters the workforce.

What will the world look like in 20 years?
To be clear, I’m not a futurist.  These are not my ideas.  These are merely speculations based on what may happen.  For starters, advances in 3D printing will make the current model seem like the dialup internet of the mid-nineties. The slow, choppy, less than perfect process that is 3D printing now will be much more refined.  Prints will include multiple materials, colors, and intricate designs.  These advanced fabrication machines will be as common as a coffee pot.  Instead of going to Home Depot to replace the broken wheel in your dishwasher, you’ll simply purchase the plans online and print one out in minutes.  Going out for dinner and don’t have anything to wear?  Login to the Gap, purchase a new shirt, and print it out at home before you leave.  

According to Elon Musk and President Obama,  we’ll have sent the first humans to Mars in 2036.  At a recent talk in September, Mr. Musk outlined the engineering details and a timeline required to make this happen.  The goal of his company Space X doesn’t just stop at Mars though.  They are hoping to create a system of interplanetary travel.   He hopes to have a million homes on Mars by 2060.  

On the health front, we are poised to see unprecedented medical breakthroughs through the use of technology. According to experts on aging and longevity, the first humans expected to live to age 150 are already alive right now.   Medical advances are not expected to cure cancer, but new tests will look at the body on the molecular level to look for early warning signs.  Other diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and autoimmune deficiencies will be continuously monitored by embedded sensors for known sign and tissue destruction to help prevent a clinical crisis from developing.

Automation is another field that looks to have tremendous growth opportunities in the decades to come.  Uber, Google, and Apple are all working on driverless cars.  Economists have speculated that the shear number of jobs replaced by automation will force our country to move toward a basic income model.  

Keeping all those examples I just mentioned in mind, let’s come back to 2016.  Its an amazing time to be alive. There’s one question that immediately should come to the forefront of the conversation.  It’s not a new question. This is not a new idea.   As educators, how do we prepare kids for an uncertain future?  


Looking Backward
People have been asking this same question for decades.  In fact, you can almost pinpoint the exact moment in history when the idea of an uncertain future began to take shape.  April 26th, 1983 – A Nation at Risk is released.This comprehensive assessment warned that American schools were being eroded by a “rising tide of mediocrity.”   This report led to national fears around our education system and  the first waves of school reform in America.    During this time, the personal computer revolution began to take shape as well.  Companies like Apple began to make affordable personal computers for home and subsequently, the classroom.  

The next few decades brought us technologies like the Internet, Windows, and Cyber Monday.  On the education front, we saw reforms such as Outcome Based Education and No Child Left Behind.   Schools had technology!  Schools had reform! On the 25th Anniversary of the Nation at Risk assessment, the Strong American Schools organization released a report that stated “While the national conversation about education would never be the same, stunningly few of the Commission’s recommendations actually have been enacted.”

Change, change, change
Nothing significant had changed.  Nothing.  Why is that?  A Nation at Risk brought us international comparisons of our students and the fear of falling behind those other nations.   Lawmakers and politicians focused on that fear and how we could keep pace on a global level.  They focused on solving that problem…but keeping pace ISN’T our problem.  

The problem in America is a fundamental flaw in how we educate our children.  We have a factory model of education in which we push students through school based on their age, not the speed at which they learn, how they learn, or the mastery of the content.  For the last 100 years or more, in many classrooms across the country, teachers lectured and students listened. It’s a 20th century model that doesn’t lend itself to collaboration, creation, critical thinking or communication.  It doesn’t build the skill set our students need to be successful today, let alone the future.  

Let’s come back to today.  It’s been 33 years since that report was released and still, not much has changed.  We still have that same model. We still have those international comparisons and the fear of falling behind.  The solution is simple though, right?   We just need to test students more.   A typical student takes 112 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation.  We are a nation chasing test scores.  We are not asking how to prepare students for the future.  We’re not solving the root problem.  

We need makers.  We need creative thinkers.   We need problem solvers.  We need innovators, but innovators are considered outliers in our current framework.   How can we expect to build this future in system that stifles innovation?  


There is hope though.  Technology is rapidly reshaping our world and the pace isn’t slowing down anytime soon.  New technology is finally delivering on all those failed promises of the past.   Chromebooks are the fast, affordable solution to access in the classroom.  Video conferencing through Skype and Hangouts is reshaping how we connect across the country or across the globe..  Online resources like Khan Academy are delivery quality content to anyone at any time.   

Learning is happening all the time now.    Its not confined to the school day or even the school itself. Technology is the driving force behind a revolution in education.  

While technology isn’t the only answer to the nation’s education system,  pervasive access to devices and information is disrupting this archaic model. We are in the midst of a disruptive revolution in education, but we don’t have enough revolutionary soldiers!  This is where you come in!


Its time to take risks.  There’s talk in education about “failing forward”, but are you really doing that in your own classroom?

Its time to act.  You have to be more than just a tech savvy teacher.  Be an advocate for tech in your district.   Share your success with your colleagues.  Be an advocate for events like this one.  

Its time to leverage technology to do more than just augment a lesson.  Redefine those lessons!  Use all of the free tools out there to take your lesson to the next level.  Make collaboration, research, and problem solving an integral part of your student’s experiences.

Its time to create the makers, the innovators, and the problem solvers of tomorrow.  You can’t wait for the system to change.  You be that change for those kids.


For those of you educators who are not in the classroom, there’s a total shift in thinking that needs to occur.   You need to make yourself relevant or over time, you will become completely irrelevant.  Maybe not this year, maybe not five years from now, but if you don’t change your views on education,  you’re slowly working your way out of job.  

For example, let’s tech about technology folks in this room.  IT professionals need to take a new approach to tech in order to stay relevant.  Districts are hiring educators, not technical professionals for IT leadership roles.  IT has power in what it enables, not what it controls.

So what does that look like?  

  • Rethinking your content filtering.  Why are you blocking social media when that’s how these kids communicate?  This is the world they live in.
  • Rethinking your WiFi.  Wireless is not a luxury.  It’s a necessity.  And it should be easy to access and reliable.
  • Rethinking how you approach IT.  Start with saying “Yes, let’s figure this out.”   Success in this new world will be measured by your ability to build bridges, not barriers.  

Closing Thought
Look at her.  Look at that smile.  Her future is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. When it comes to my children’s future, I don’t know what they’ll be.  Who they’ll be.  What they will achieve.  What I do know is that public education, technology, and the people in this room will shape them.  

Don’t wait for the revolution.  Be the revolution.