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Vision of Schooling in 'Information Age' Sought

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Orlando, Fla.

Rejecting most current education reforms as mere tinkering at the margins of an antiquated enterprise, a group of educational technologists has set out to define a vision of effective schooling for the "information age.''

Led by James Mecklenburger, a former educational-technology expert for the National School Boards Association, a group of several hundred educators and technologists met here this month to develop a preliminary model for effective schooling in the "global village.''

The three-day meeting was designed to set the stage for a national conference in Atlanta next spring, at which educators will fashion a design for schools that they believe will better prepare students to function in the world of international computer networks and instantaneous communication.

The goal of the enterprise, Mr. Mecklenburger said, is to abandon the current thrust of reform. That approach, he contended, is largely based on the idea that change within the existing structure of the public school system will produce effective learning in a technologically advanced society.

But, he argued, words such as "reform'' and "restructuring'' have become so commonplace in the national debate about effective schooling that their meaning has become devalued.

Instead, Mr. Mecklenburger is working on a project called Global Village Schools, which is seeking to abandon traditional models in order to prepare students for the electronically linked worldwide society first envisioned by the philosopher Marshall McLuhan in the 1960's.

The project is a joint venture of the Mecklenburger Group, the University of Oklahoma Continuing Education Community Programs, and the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology.

Materials announcing the Atlanta conference also stressed the importance of preparing for the interconnected world predicted by the late Mr. McLuhan: "We live in the future we were promised. Today, 'someday' is here--except in most of our schools.''

Round-the-Clock Learners

Although the vision of how a global-village school would be organized and operate remained murky at the end of the meeting here, Mr. Mecklenburger and his associates have hammered out 12 principles to which such schools would subscribe.

The principles include:

  • Creating "round-the-clock communities of learners'' in which a single physical location may not define where schooling takes place. Rather, learning could go on in the home, the library, or anywhere else through the use of electronic networks.
  • Creating communities of students and teachers who reject the traditional "three R's'' in favor of the "seven C's''--comprehension, creativity, calculation, collaboration, competition, contribution, and communication.
  • Encouraging adults to act as co-explorers in learning.

Still, delegates to the conference found it difficult to define a concrete vision of how to put such principles into practice.

"We spent time defining schools; maybe we should have been defining this organization,'' one participant said at the end of two days of discussion.

But speakers here, many of whom are engaged in long-term and radical educational reforms, encouraged participants to stick with their task for the long haul.

Cole Walker, the chief executive officer of New Century Schools, an Atlanta-based consulting firm, noted that new educational approaches are being attempted by schools across the nation.

What is missing, he said, is a comprehensive national vision and the leadership to make such a vision a reality.

"Most everything you want to do is being done somewhere,'' Mr. Walker observed. "It's a matter of pulling it all together.''

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