November Seeks Moving Schools to Global Communicators

by Laura D. Pearsall

Why has student productivity in the United States not improved as a result of education technology expenditures? During a Thought Leader session on Thursday morning, Alan November tried to answer that question for a room full of eager ears.

A former history teacher, technology coordinator, alternative school director, city planner, school designer, university lecturer, the author and founder of November Learning led a high-energy challenge to educational leaders. November said he expected to generate more questions than answers in moving attendees toward global information sharing and student-led learning and away from simply acquiring technology. He proposed abolishing homework and lesson plans as currently practiced and replacing teacher knowledge with shared student knowledge as the driving force in classrooms. The real revolution in American education, he added, can be found in information sharing and innovative educational process and not technology expenditures and acquisitions.

November claimed educators are not asking the right questions and suggested redirecting attention to three pivotal questions: Do teachers have the right information at the right time? Do students have the right information at the right time? Are we giving students work that (from the student’s perspective) has purpose?

In guiding American education toward a more productive use of educational technology, November offered Eric Mazur, dean of applied physics at Harvard, as an example of “flipping” out-of-class time with in-class time. Pre-recorded lectures can be viewed by students outside of class, allowing class time to be used for “doing homework” and solving problems. Using this model, lesson plans are designed around student-generated questions and not teacher knowledge.

Teachers are encouraged to read, think and reflect in preparation for teaching, and technology is used interactively both in and out of the classroom to increase real-time teacher-student and student-student engagement. November validated an interactive approach to learning with his observations that students use friends to learn. If success in school is dependent on “who your friends are,” November said, then “ideally you want every student to be a teacher.”

November promoted a students-teaching-students model as an example of how teachers can give students work that has the motivating purpose needed to increase per-student productivity and increase authentic learning. By adding purpose to standards-based curriculums, educators can “improve how children are learning from one another.”

He advocated that Skype and screen-casting software be added to every teacher’s tool box and that every teacher help every student develop a library of work intended to help other students.

In the same vein, November encouraged education leaders to “create an urgency” to teach children to think and communicate globally. He claimed that for teachers to be leaders of real, authentic learning, they must have a global reach and that students must develop global empathy and a global world view to be successful.

November cited empathy as a critical 21st-century employment skill and voiced real concern that the “U.S. does not teach children to value other points of view.”

Every teacher should “find a global connection in the curriculum,” says November, and connection should be a motivating purpose in student learning. For November, students need to be socializing, communicating and debating with students around the world. However, he also recognized that to achieve this kind of global learning, the stifling effects of U.S. filtering must be challenged.

For November, regulations and political filters serve to shut down the process changes and the motivating purpose needed to realize real advancement and maximum student productivity from technology investments. In the end, the real revolution in education is information and the freedom to use technology to actively and globally socialize, communicate and debate in educational systems that incorporate new ways of sharing information.

Support material relating to his remarks can be found at www.novemberlearning.com.