Apples and Oranges – Part Two: Place

As many of you know, two weeks ago, Apple launched iBooks 2, its new digital textbook software, and I am exploring the impact of this new technology in terms of People and Place.

When I was a student at Queen’s University, I had a few favorite places – if I was in a social mood, I went to Mac-Corry; if I had an essay due, I remained in my room at 272 University Ave; and if I really needed to hunker down and study, I went to Douglas Library, to the Stacks.

In April of my second year, I found myself in that latter situation. One week before my Shakespeare exam, with five plays still to read (never mind study so that I could write something intelligent about them!), I remember packing up my Riverside Shakespeare and heading down University Avenue and straight down further to four floors below ground level.

In the stacks, my favorite study carrel was an old metal one with a limerick scratched into it. Now my Dad is famous for quoting poetry, but he never recited this one to me and my siblings. This was 1990 – before the Internet – and I swear I had never read anything like it. Although I remember feeling absolute shock the first time I read that limerick, the laugh it brought me each time I read it has stuck with me. And thus it became my study carrel.

So when I think of favorite places at Queen’s, I think of Douglas Stacks. Now, in truth, the lighting was artificial, the air was stale, there were huge dust bunnies everywhere – I bet it would not pass today’s safety codes! It did not enhance collaborative learning, was probably not safe, and any self-respecting person would have cleaned up that graffiti. But I loved it there: it was silent and private, and I got a lot done. Makes me wonder – do these kinds of places still exist? What does the future hold for school libraries?

To understand the future, one can look to the past, and Douglas Library saw rapid change over the years:

1966 – Douglas Library attained 500,000 books (It took 125 years to acquire them, between 1841-1966)

1969 – Books were put into Douglas’ Reserve Reading Room and had to be signed out (Remember when you had to wait to access readings?)

1974 – Douglas Library attained its millionth book. (This time it took only 7 years!)

1980 – Douglas introduced the rule of no smoking in public spaces, including the stacks. (Really? In the same decade that I started university, people could smoke down there??)

1994 – Stauffer library opened (and there were large windows, big study tables, and no stacks)

2007 – Douglas had 2.2 million physical items and over 400,000 electronic items including 324,000 e-books. (But with the opening of Stauffer library in 1994, it was rarely used by undergraduates.)

As educators planning for the future, and as boards planning for today’s children’s children’s school, we should ask ourselves: what will the ideal study spaces of the future look like?

In recent history, we have Cushing Academy, the school that got rid of most of its collection and turned the library into a coffee shop, and High Tech High, the hugely popular school with no library and a Head who claims that future learning spaces can be summed up in one word: glass. Both places enhance collaboration, transparency and happy students. Are these ideal learning places?

Most schools have yet to understand – and plan for – the impact of digitization of information on places. My hope is that our CAIS schools look to the best of the past in designing places of the future….that we don’t just go from apples to oranges, but maybe blend Apples with apples and oranges.

Apples and apples – Part One: People

As many of you know, last Thursday Apple launched iBooks 2, its new digital textbook software, amidst a lot of marketing hype. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, described the new ebooks as “interactive, gorgeous, fun, and engaging.” According to Schiller, Apple is going to change the world of learning. Of course, digital textbooks have been around for a while. But think back to mp3 players and digital music files – these had been around before Apple made them easy to use and ubiquitous, with the iPod and iTunes, and transformed the way we listen to music. Will Apple take the iPad and iBooks and transform learning?

We know that kids can figure things out on the Internet faster than most adults – much faster. And they have access not only to information, but information delivered in ways that are engaging. If they have their own hand-held devices, and can learn at their own pace, on their own time, and anywhere they want, we might be tempted to just let them do their own thing!

But I think we’ll do better, because the best educators are going to take Apple’s new technology and test its potential impact. They’re going to ask:

  • What will teaching look like when every student has a hand-held device?
  • Will teachers still need to be experts in content when kids can access appropriate information instantaneously?
  • Will teachers require technology training?
  • What enhanced value will teachers bring to the classroom?

As educators plan for a class where every kid has a personal device, the revolution begins. In contrast to the ATM that replaced the teller, the iPad will not replace the teacher. The real change in education won’t come thanks to Apple’s tools; it will come from the work of inspired teachers.

I believe there will be two profound shifts in education. First, there will be a greater emphasis on the quality of relationships. Teachers must ensure that kids are shutting down, relating to one another and developing interpersonal skills. If you think about it, most of the forces that shape a student’s capacity to learn are relationship-based – parents, teachers, peers and school culture. The best teachers will balance the use of the technology with meaningful engagement to build authentic relationships. So technology may, in fact, deepen classroom relationships.

Second, the best teachers will harness the technology to customize learning. Most teachers strive to avoid whole class teaching; they are no longer the sage on the stage. But being the guide on the side, and facilitating learning that is active and engaging, is incredibly time consuming. With iBooks, the time to find resources that are appropriate will be quicker, which could then liberate the teacher to focus more on developing individual learning.

My hope is that Apple’s new technology will unleash educators to enhance some old-fashioned values….the teacher’s desk of the future will have an Apple and an apple.

The Parenting Shift

At 6:00 am on Monday, I put my son Jacob on the bus with his grade seven class to St Donat. He was incredibly excited to ski (especially since there was no snow this holiday) and share a room with four boys and no adult, and to eat his Bulk Barn snacks on the bus – and these priorities are probably not in the right order. This trip was a huge deal.

My daughter was equally thrilled and she would do a little dance in the days before he left as she planned her life as an only child. (This included a dinner at a restaurant of her choice last night).

I admit that I was also excited. Jacob got an Xbox for Christmas, and Call of Duty has been pounding through our house ever since. The thought of four days without wet towels on the floor, sibling squabbles, and leftovers that we could actually count on eating the next day for dinner was appealing.

So as I stood with the other parents in the dark, waving to the bus – the kids didn’t even glance our way – I was surprised at my feelings. I thought I was going to celebrate the quiet and feel happy that he was going on a fun trip. Instead, I had a pang of this: I’m going to miss my baby boy, and I’m not ready to let him go.

So I have been focusing this week on making a shift: I need to celebrate all that he will become from experiences away from home. This is not about me (Did I just admit that??)

Last month, the Boston Globe ran a great article called Welcome to the Age of Over-parenting that explores the need for today’s parents to let their kids have more freedom and take more risks. I learned in that article that Michael Thomson is writing a book entitled Homesick and Happy: How Children Change and Grow When They Are Away From Their Parents. He is conducting a survey on his website about parents who have let their kids go to camp or abroad. He wants to remind parents that children grow and change when they are away from home. His research naturally made me think about our Collaborative Boarding Project, and I submitted a question to Michael to see if he might expand his research to explore the benefits of boarding school.

But for now, back to Jacob who is on the bus home as I write this blog. Before leaving, he told me that they were warned that if they misbehaved on the trip, they would be sent home early in a limo. I told him that if he was put in that limo, he should figure out a new address because he wasn’t coming home. I think he knew I was joking.

I just got a call from a happy and tired boy. And I’m thankful to report, he’s on the bus.