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Needed: A Digital Woodstock

Mark Gura My job calls for me to visit a large number of schools to assess their progress in the area of instructional technology. True, Ive almost worn out my Toyota Camry crisscrossing the city. But, Ive been afforded a unique view of the way the transition to computer enabled instruction is going. In recent months Ive walked through countless classrooms which have recently received computers. The majority of these machines remain, as of yet, underutilized or unused. Ive talked at length to teachers and supervisors about why this is the case. These have been thought provoking conversations. Ive learned from the concrete suggestions, complaints, and requests staff members have voiced. More interestingly though, the need for something not spoken of, a kind of glue to hold together all the elements of this profound shift in human intelligence, consistently appears between the lines. Its been my observation that in relation to the technology issue, schools tend to fall into one of two categories. A small group, those that are well on the way to integrating computer technology into the fabric of teaching and learning, revel in their self-assessed position as being far ahead of the pack. These schools, like all schools however, hold that the day in which teachers will instinctively reach for a mouse instead of a piece of chalk, is still down the road. They simply believe that they have somehow managed to do the impossible and gotten themselves to the future ahead of schedule. The other group, those schools that represent the vast majority, is stuck in a holding pattern. They are waiting for something undefined to signal that the era of computer supported learning is ready to begin. It is not the lack of any particular technology resource that is holding them back. One simply has to walk through these schools and observe the quantity of computers, networking, online access, professional development, whatever, that has been made available, to see that that is not the case. Whats needed is something else. It is not lack of interest, understanding of the possibilities represented by technology, or commitment to education that is lacking either. Rather, there is a strong sense in these schools that as soon as the era of computerized instruction begins in earnest, they will take the plunge too. They look forward to jumping in headfirst, but are waiting for the whistle to be blown indicating that the train is ready to leave the station. Until then, they will continue to test the waters with their big toes. Sadly, such schools often burn up energy that could be better used to reinvigorate instruction through technology, in token gestures to legitimize themselves as worthy recipients of technology resources. Theyll point to their superficial use of applications like word processing as evidence that they are on-board, the offering of tired and outmoded computer courses to ensure that technology literacy is part of the curriculum, and the occasional scheduling of technology in-service days for teachers, and the like. The pity is that although technology may be in use to a degree, it is just another set of motions to be gone through. It does little to add value to the learning experience and the entire community knows it. Often they feel confused or cheated because of it.

If whats needed to move us to the next level is not so much a question of getting more of anything more stuff, more services, more money etc., then what is it thats missing? Could it be a shift in awareness? School people need to find their way to a point of clear acknowledgement that they are ALREADY immersed in an environment in which the types of resources needed for technology transformed education are in-place or available and humming away. They need simply to open their eyes to a body of teaching practice and student activity that takes advantage of these resources. It already exists and is burgeoning. All they need to do to participate in the intoxicating new era of telecommunications supported social connectedness, search engine empowered learning, and hyperlink enriched communication is be aware of it. Whats needed does not involve efforting, but rather a critical mass of personal declaration to a new set of ideals a public coming together of kindred spirits in undeniable, world changing numbers in effect a Digital Woodstock! Woodstock, the definitive moment of the 60s and all they stood for, is a perfect example of how an important change in beliefs, values, and behaviors can achieve full realization through the effects of a single, spontaneous event. The revolution of ideas that came to life in the mud at Yazgurs Farm had been growing and gathering momentum for decades. It was not, however, until an unexpected breakthrough occurred at what was naively conceived of as a simple rock festival that the history altering Aquarian age was born. There are numerous parallels between the Woodstock Era and what now appears to be coalescing into a full-blown Digital Age. In both eras technology is the driver at the core of profound social change. This go around however, the technology is digital instead of chemical. Both eras are marked by a dramatic increase in global consciousness, a vast flowering of democracratization, and a counter-culture based on new and empowered forms of individualism. Those transformed by the spirit of the Digital Age are positive about the future in such starry eyed fashion as to alarm those who have yet to join them. Their desire to get the rest of the world wired and on-line as digital partners in a brave new world have the same Id love to turn you on feelings as their counterparts did thirty five years ago. Not surprisingly, we educators are beginning to feel what our predecessors in the classrooms of the 60s did, too. Youngsters are appropriating the culture of a new era and making it their own. And, as was the case a third of a century ago, resistance on the part of elders will only result in a Generation Gap (remember that item), something truly counterproductive. Hey man, Dylan said it four decades ago

Come mothers and fathers from throughout the land and dont criticize what you cant understand your sons and your daughters are beyond your command the order is rapidly changing so you better start swimming or youll sink like a stone cause the times they are a changing. The Woodstock Generation, by the way, was responsible for more than just Rock and Roll and tie-dye tee shirts. It tremendously reinvigorated such basic American ideals

as Tolerance (racial, gender, age etc.) Freedom (sexual, intellectual, spiritual etc.), and Activism (environmental, political, economic etc.) exerting unfathomable influence on the quality of life in the U.S. and abroad. It was an awesome force that put an end to a brutal war and profoundly influenced the outcome of presidential elections. There is much about the coming Digital Age that is made of the same stuff and that represents a similar type of socio-cultural revolution. This time however schools are positioned to be an important and integral part of the process instead of being part of that which the change is reacting against. For many youngsters school is their prime opportunity to experience computer technology and the opportunity it represents for personal growth and EDUCATION. Members of the Digital Generation are growing up in a Pokemon era of non-sequential, hyperlinked and virtual reality supported information saturation. The intellectual landscape that is evolving with them bears little resemblance to traditional schools. Schools will have to keep pace with the spirit of the Digital Age in order to serve members of the Digital Generation. Adapting technology to traditional practices without adapting school to the logic and dictates of the emerging technology will only temporarily stall an inevitable gap between teachers who impart information in one mode and students who process it in another. The window of opportunity that currently exists will not stay open forever. Whats needed is a catalyst, a rallying event or activity that will precipitate educators voluntarily crossing a line in the sand. On the other side is a willingness to