EdTechResearcherEdTechTeacher Founder, Justin Reich, writes regularly for Education Week through his blog, EdTechResearcher. For the past few weeks, he has focused on the transformative power of technology as well as what actual change looks like.

In MaKey MaKey Makes the World Your Computer Interface, Justin reported on a project from MIT to turn the world into a computer interface: “We have no idea what will happen when thousands of young (and young at heart) people use these kits to turn the world around them into keyboards, mice, joysticks, controllers, and the next generation of playdoh based computer interfaces. But I can’t wait to find out.”

He went on to ask Will Technology Lead to the Unbundling of Schools? followed by What makes EdCamp so special? as he explored the phenomena of Transforming Professional Learning with Teacher-Led EdCamps.

Today, Justin published commentary in this week’s Education Week paper titled Use Technology to Upend Traditional Classrooms.

In it, I propose three ways of thinking about how emerging technologies can transform the traditional factory model of education. In the factory model, we envision the process of education as the delivery of standardized learning objects into containers (brains) brought by students. One thing we could do with technology is to try to make the factory run more cheaply. For instance, we could have students take self-paced online courses and replace teachers with security guards. Another thing we could do with technology would be to make the factory run faster. If we give each kid their own assembly line, through the personalization of curriculum, then we can deliver standardized learning objects at a paced optimized for each student.

Another option is to use technology to try to do something other than run factories. In the commentary, I describe the story of sitting in a classroom of science students working on an online science fair project and thinking to myself, “This doesn’t look like a classroom, it looks like a creative agency on deadline.” Instead of just having kids stuff learning objects in their heads, what if we had them build meaningful intellectual and vocational products, supported by just-in-time instruction, and then publish and share those products with the Internet-connected world.

Many educators have proposed metaphors for what this environment might look like, and I propose the idea of the Creative Agency: an architecture firm, software development shop, magazine agency, and so forth. The metaphor has a few nice features: it describes innovative classrooms; it riffs off of the factory metaphor, the dominant metaphor of education; it provides a logical set of roles for students, teachers, and administrators as knowledge workers, project managers, and agency executives. Most importantly, I think nearly all parents and educators want our children to work in creative agencies rather than on assembly lines.

This is an idea that I’ve been brewing over for a long time, and I hope to find more time to develop in the years ahead. If you have any feedback on the commentary, please share.

Justin will also be leading several EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops at Harvard University in June & July. Come join him for 21st Century School Leadership: Leading Change in Changing Times (July 9-10), Teaching Technology to Teachers: 10 Years of Tips & Secrets from EdTechTeacher (July 12 or July 26-27), or Teaching Civil War & WWII with Technology (August 2-3).