When my grandfather was a teenager in the Ukraine, he played his accordion for the ‘moving pictures’. He was a member of the band that would play scripted music as damsels in distress were first tied to train tracks by villains, then rescued by heroes.

The music the band played added life to the moving pictures and helped to set the mood or build suspense. Essentially another channel of meaningful information was added to these silent moving pictures… the new channel improved this form of media and created something greater than what was there before.

For his services, my grandfather received two paid entries to these same movies, 20 cents worth of tickets. He would watch movies again and again, and he would charge friends 5 cents (half price) for his second ticket, to earn some pocket change. But never would he sell both tickets, he loved the movies too much. Eventually he would own a cinema, and his fascination and appreciation for movies stuck with him his entire life.

The idea of moving pictures marveled people in these early days! Today we can be momentarily entertained by movies such as this, but not unexpectedly, we expect more from a movie today.

Just as we expect more from our movies and our entertainment, I think our students expect (or at least should expect) more from their classroom experiences today. On a very simple level, how is a poster board different than Glogster or Museum Box? How is an encyclopedia different than wikipedia?

But so often when we make such comparisons, there is the notion of ‘out with the old and in with the new’… this very notion seems to set people off about how we can’t replace the classics or ‘I can do that without technology’. Both of these views miss the point.

We may not be captivated by the ‘damsel in distress’ movies of the past, but we can marvel at the comedic social commentary of Charlie Chaplin; We can study and learn from the the visual story telling of Orson Wells.

We can find value in old black and white films and likewise we can find value in using some important lessons learned in education. We can appreciate quality and learn from what works… BUT… we can’t pretend that times haven’t changed. We can’t hold on to a black and white world.

In one of the most compelling podcasts I’ve heard in a while, Michael Wesch says:

In these rooms… that we are teaching there is literally something in the air that is changing the game completely, and that something in the air is nothing less than 1.5 billion people connecting all around the world… we need to learn how to educate in this media-scape.

If you look at all futurists, all predictions, they all agree on one trend, and that is that we are moving towards… Ubiquitous networks, ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous information, at unlimited speed, about everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices.

…and meanwhile… scantrons are still happening in our schools where we are testing people for whether or not they are knowledgeable. What I am going to argue is that we have to move from being knowledgeable to actually creating students that are knowledge-able, that is able to critique and analyze and find and share and evaluate information.

It is less about leaving old ways in the dust and more about using the resources available to us. We have always wanted students to think for themselves, to be able to critique and analyze and evaluate what they’ve learned… we just have to do so using a current model. Wesch continues with a question, and his 3-part answer:

How can we create students who can create meaningful connections?

  1. Engage in real problems that actually matter to students,
  2. Do it with students, and
  3. Do this recognizing and harnessing the existing media environment… (including libraries!)

It goes back to this simple realization:


How many channels of information do our students experience outside of our classes? How many in our classes?

We can still watch an old black and white movie, but we don’t go out and buy a black & white tv that limits our ability to see what is available to us in colour. Yet we place unnecessary limits on what can happen in our schools and classrooms, “we need to learn how to educate in this media-scape”.

8 comments on “Black and White Education

  1. Another problem inherent in this is that educators don’t want to be told that what they are doing is “wrong” (outdated, antiquated, redundant, obselete), especially if they have had success with it in their practice. I think that when trying to elicit change, it has to be less of a black & white approach, and more of a grey approach – less of the “what you’re doing doesn’t work anymore” and more of the “if you try this, not only will your life be easier and the kids will love it, but they will actually take charge of their own learning!”.

    Yes, it’s a bit of a sales pitch… especially for educators that are more established or reluctant to utilize technology.

    And the flip side of that of course is, if you are an educator, and are not open to change, then you are in the wrong profession! Change is absolutely vital in our practice. I think the key is to make the change less drastic and scary. Some of the very best educators out there are not technologically savvy (and are maybe even technologically-resistant!) but I am positive that if they were on board with the changes you speak of Dave, even more amazing things would be happening in classrooms today. The question is, how to get them there?

  2. Kia ora David!

    I go with your idea of let’s go with the new but not discard the old because of it. You’re right about the tendency to chuck out ALL the old. I call it the bath the baby and the bathwater.

    And you’re right to state that there’s nothing new in the approaches. Technologies have always been advancing. It’s just that technology is advancing at an extremely swift(er) rate to day. Also, society has lived through an age of use-once-throw-away. I think that a bit of this has tainted the way society now looks on any technology that’s been around a while, including some that’s on the web.

    This has particularly been accelerated by
    the way the audio and video industries have changed – that within less than a hundred years have seen, as you ably describe, changes that are huge – never mind the film in full technicolour.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  3. I’d like to add to a specific part of Elaan’s post above. Elaan states, “Change is absolutely vital in our practice.” YES! I think of change as not only vital but actually the cornerstone of educational practice. Why are we here if our students are the same when we say goodbye? Learning = change, does it not?

    ‘Out with the old’ does not mean discarding our well developed pedagogy but, instead, it means tossing out dated and obsolete methods that no longer relate or effectively reach the students we teach.

    What is really interesting is seeing teachers using iPhones, text, and facebook in their personal lives. They have Macbooks, surf the net for ideas, and email colleagues. Yet none of these technologies are used in their regular classroom practice (with the exception of research on the net). Why are so many still limited to stand and deliver, test, repeat when that concept is so utterly ineffective and BORING to us?

    Once again David, thanks for the brain food!

  4. I was recently at a school plan review meeting. The staff at this school was working on a rubric that measured the progress of students’ ability to think critically. The rubric was the result of the district telling them last year that they couldn’t make critical thinking a goal unless they could datafy it. Oh the humanity. Anyways…on the whiteboard was a cornerstone statement that the staff lived by:

    Do not ask a question who’s answer can be looked up.


  5. Manage the march of technology in the classroom carefully. Making the exciting world of information available to students means making everything available to them. The young aren’t necessarily disciplined enough to stay on-task, indeed, they have been carefully trained to seek entertainment.

    There is a lot of talk about this in Norway at the moment due to the sudden increase of 1:1 schools. My blog has some overview of the debates (in English).

  6. I had a great talk with one student in class the other day – trying to convince her that school was less about the content she was learning and more about the skills, such as critical thinking!

    It’s a tough sell because the idea gets lost in the actual “doing” within a school. But like the students, and as professional educators, we need to see the value in the lessons we teach. Sometimes it’s as simple as explaining “why” before we teach something new.

    I am however a HUGE fan of integration. Break down those walls! All classes should overlap, and all subjects should be fair game! Your History teacher should also be your English and your Ethics teacher.

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