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A technology broadside against school leadership preparation programs

Well, I finally wrote the article I always wanted to write: a letter to my 3,000+ faculty peers in Educational Leadership preparation programs all across the country about how our collective inattention to technology-related issues is an embarrassing indictment of our lack of relevance:

  • Are we irrelevant to the digital, global world in which we now live? [PDF] [UPDATE: A HTML version is now available too!]
  • Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of the language that I used in my broadside against my own profession. Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

    We also are witnessing the early adolescence of a vastly different global economy. For instance, the rapid growth of the Internet and other communication technologies has accelerated the offshoring of jobs from the developed world. Complex corporate global supply chains locate manufacturing work wherever costs are lowest, expertise is highest, or necessary talent resides. Geographic or product niche monopolies disappear in the face of Internet search engines. Micro-, small-batch, and on-demand manufacturing techniques facilitate customized, personalized production. Whatever manufacturing work remains in developed countries is high skill, is high tech, and, more often than not, requires greater education than a secondary diploma. The low-skill industrial system that was the backbone of the developed world’s economies in the previous century is increasingly a bygone memory.

    Like manual work that is non-location-dependent, knowledge work also is frequently done cheaper elsewhere. Service jobs are increasingly fungible, able to be located anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection. Ongoing workflow and final products are exchanged at the speed of light via e-mail, instant messaging, and other corporate networking tools. The same technologies that facilitate interconnected global conversations also facilitate interconnected global commerce. As was done in previous decades for manufacturing work, the next two decades will see many complex service jobs broken up into component parts. Once these tasks are disaggregated, they will be done by lower-skilled workers who can do these discrete components of the overall work, facilitated by software. In other words, many high-paying service jobs will turn into globalized piece work. Since the service professions represent over three-fifths of America’s economy, the impacts of this are going to be quite significant.


    If every other information-oriented societal sector is finding that transformative reinvention is the cost of survival in our current climate, schools and universities shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from the same changes that are radically altering their institutional peers. We shouldn’t pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in compelling and often as yet unknown ways. And, yet, for some reason we do.

    As long-existing barriers to learning, communicating, and collaborating disappear – and as what it means to be a productive learner, citizen, and employee shifts dramatically – it’s worth asking how we as educational leadership faculty and programs are responding. Are we doing what we should? To date the evidence is pretty clear that most of us are not.


    Can we as educational leadership faculty do better? Given the scale and scope of the transformations occurring around us – and their power and potential for student learning – we MUST do better. It’s embarrassing to consider how little we’ve done to stay relevant. A learning revolution has occurred and – given the attention we’ve paid it – it’s as if many of us didn’t care.


    We know, simply from projecting current trends forward, that in the future our learning will be even more digital, more mobile, and more multimedia than it is now. It will be more networked and more interconnected and often will occur online, lessening dependence on local humans. It frequently will be more informal and definitely will be more self-directed, individualized, and personalized. It will be more computer-based and more software-mediated and thus less reliant on live humans. It will be more open and more accessible and may occur in simulation or video game-like environments. And so on. We’re not going to retrench or go backward on any of these paths. We thus need school leaders who can begin envisioning the implications of these environmental characteristics for learning, teaching, and schooling. We need administrators who can design and operationalize our learning environments to reflect these new affordances. We need leaders who are brave enough to create the new paradigm instead of simply tweaking the status quo and who have the knowledge and ability to create schools that are relevant to the needs of students, families, and society.

    Like teachers, administrators, and media specialists, educational leadership faculty have a voluntarily-assumed (and paid) responsibility to be relevant to the needs of children and education today and to prepare administrators as best we are able for tomorrow. Our professional priorities must be aimed at preparing our graduates for the world as it is and will be. Otherwise, what are we here for? In other words, who’s going to prepare these school leaders if we don’t?

    Please share this widely

    Want to help further my cause of fostering technology-savvy school leaders? Share the Summer 2011 issue of the UCEA Review with any Educational Leadership faculty members that you know. I also think the article is good reading for most practicing administrators; in 4 short pages it sums up much of what I think principals and superintendents should be thinking about right now regarding 21st century schooling. Other great reads in the issue include Matt Militello’s article on technology integration challenges (p. 15), Jon Becker’s article on open access (p. 17), and the interview with John Nash (p. 12), one of my CASTLE co-directors.

    All thoughts, reactions, and suggestions regarding my article are most welcome. The ironies of publishing my piece in a print / PDF medium are not lost on me, but sometimes you have to put your writing where your intended audience can find it.

    Happy reading!


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