The Internet as Blackboard

Uploaded by bigtentevents on 16.04.2012

>>Ahrash Bissell: This session is called "Blackboard." I guess, technology. "The Internet as your
Blackboard." It's in interesting analogy. One of the things I think about as blackboards
is one of the lovely thing about blackboards--they're so incredibly simple. There's blackboard.
There's chalk. Go.
Most of us could pick up a piece of chalk and start iterating on that. We can be creative
on the fly and think about how do we actually convey that which we're trying to do. The
internet is like, exactly the opposite. Here's the internet. Go. I mean, the typical teacher
just freaks out and says, "I don't have any idea what's on here, how to find it, how to
use it.
What are the various applications I need to bring to bear? What are--?" It just isn't,
it's not the same thing at all. And so, while on the one hand, I am certainly a strong advocate
of the potential for digital media, I'm very, very concerned, as Wendy is, that we really
aren't giving people the tools and the supports to actually use it wisely.
I guess I would say where we have arrived at, from my own work and especially that from
MITE, is we're trying to meet people where they are and then, give them value or the
ability to act. And then from that, slowly move them through. So, what I mean by that,
is we try to give them media that fits with their notions of something they can use.
It's valid. It's been approved. It's been vetted. It's in a size that makes it easy
to incorporate in whatever kind of pedagogies they're currently using. And then, once they've
started to get comfortable with that and they can think in that way and bring media into
their classrooms, they can start getting more creative.
And so, it's not the "let's just sweep it all out the door, wholesale replace." It is
very much the "let's infect slowly, let it spread." And maybe it'll spread, not only
within that classroom, but from classroom to classroom, and then more broadly. And I
think I'll stop there.
>>Reihan Salam: I just wanted to note that it's neat that we have Wendy talking about
evil children and we have you talking about infecting young people with technologies.
So, this is a very exciting conversation indeed. Esther, we heard a lot of skepticism, a very
gentle notion that "let's be cautious about how we deploy technology." Whereas, you are
someone who's been using technology for a very long time in the classroom.
You're a legendary teacher of journalism. And these are students who, I imagine, are
very technology-savvy. And I wonder how you feel about throwing kids in head-first to
use these new technologies.
>>Esther Wojcicki: Well, I believe in training the kids. So, Adora talked about the hot stove.
So, I believe in basically letting them touch the hot stove so that they can understand
how to use technology. I'm totally against all those web services that are limiting for
I want them to know how to use the real web, how to search, how to find the information
that they need, how to analyze that information, and basically, how to work in a way that I
would consider intelligent. So, I'll tell you my main point right away. Journalism is
the number one project-based learning today in the schools.
So, we're all talking about what can we do? What's the silver bullet? Well, there is no
silver bullet, I think as Wendy said. There's a multitude of silver bullets that can really
help. And I think journalism is like the number one way that we can help schools as they are
today. We don't have to remake them. We don't have to have charters.
We don't have to do any of those magic bullet things. What we need to do is to empower kids
to be able to search and be able to find information themselves. And I'm just gonna show you some
pictures here. These are pictures of my class. Oh, by the way. I should tell you I teach
at Palo Alto High School. I'm a full-time teacher.
And this program has like, almost 600 kids now electing to take journalism. So, the question
is, what's attracting them all to the program? And so, here you'll see--. Here's an example
of--. This is just one of my sophomore classes. And they have these laptops--Chromebooks.
And they are doing some research.
This is where they're learning, basically, how to search. And this is basically the key.
Kids need to know how to search. They also need to have critical thinking skills. And
so, how do you know that you are getting something that is credible? You cannot rely on anybody
else to help. You have to be able to figure this out by yourself.
So, I teach these skills. And actually, there's lesson plans all over the web for teaching
these skills. I encourage intellectual risk-taking. And so, here's my class. My last class of
the day has 78 kids in them, in the class. And this is just me and 78 kids. And everybody's
like, "How can that be?"
"How can you have 78 kids in one class?" Well, you see them all there. And basically, what
they're doing, they're all in groups. They work collaboratively with each other in groups
on journalistic projects. So, at Palo Alto High School, we have one newspaper--full-sized--three
magazines, one website, two television broadcast programs.
And we also teach video production. So, this gives kids projects to work on that are actually
meaningful for them. And they are completely engaged in what they're doing. It's not just
me telling them what to do. Here's collaboration. That's one of the editors helping each other,
actually while I'm here right now by the way.
They are all in class working. And there is a sub. But the sub is actually doing nothing
the kids are all in charge. They have a sense of community. A tremendous--. They're completely
devoted to producing the product, whatever it is that they're working on. They're very
My goal is really to empower students, to teach them what they need to be able to get
along well in the world. Here, it's student-directed learning and also talking a little bit about
differentiated instruction. Every single one of those 78 kids has a different story to
write. The instruction is differentiated. They want to learn grammar.
They want to learn all the different--how to write better--because they're publishing
it. And their name goes on it. It makes a huge difference. Also, teaching skills for
democracy. We want our kids to participate in a democracy. Well, why not let them do
it when they're starting in school? Creativity. This is just an example of some of the things
they've done here.
Here is an example. It's hard to see. I'm not sure. This is the newspaper. It comes
out every two to three weeks. It's 28 pages in two sections. And here's another example
of the newspaper they've done. So, we just won, just this couple weeks ago, the Gold
Crown for the nation, or one of the Gold Crowns.
There's several that are awarded from Columbia University for online. This is some of the
work their doing. So, people will say, "Well, how much supervision do they need? What are
they doing?" Well, you can see. I supervise a little, but they're really in charge of
their own work. And this is just a spread they did. And here are magazine covers from
one of the magazines.
This is "Viking" and "Verde." "Viking" is the one that's the sport's magazine. "Verde"
is the news magazine. So, what I guess I'm basically trying to say is that we do have
the solutions right here. We just need to empower our students.
>>Reihan Salam: Thanks very much, Esther. And Lisa,--.
And now we have Lisa Babinet of the Waldorf School to offer a somewhat different perspective.
>>Lisa Babinet: Yes. So, hi. I told myself if I was nervous, I was just gonna pretend
I was teaching. So, welcome to Algebra II.
And, I'm waiting. There it is. So, I'm very grateful to have been invited to be part of
this discussion. And the reason I'm here is likely because of recent press the Waldorf
School has been getting.
People around the world are fascinated as to why high-tech professionals in Silicon
Valley, including some folks here at Google, who seem to owe much of their success to the
computer industry, would send their own children to a school that does not use computers. So,
although I'm currently a math teacher at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, which is
one of 160 Waldorf schools in the country, one thousand worldwide, my journey with technology
and education began in the early 1980s, where I taught computer education in grad school
at U Penn.
So, the title of this panel is "The Internet as your Blackboard: Using technology to encourage
lifelong and distance learning." And at Waldorf, we purposely use blackboards as blackboards--slate
[Reihan Salam laughs]
Where teachers make beautiful chalk drawings for the students. These blackboards are an
example of how art is integrated into our rigorous academics, as well as all aspects
of education in a Waldorf school.
And before I go further, I wanna clear up any misconceptions that we, ourselves, are
Luddites, or we think computers are bad. Although, you will not find computers in Waldorf Lower
School classroom. Our high school, right here in Silicon Valley, we carefully integrate
technology in ways we feel are appropriate and enhance learning.
And we've seen examples of that. In addition, our high schoolers are pretty tech-savvy.
And they learn to use computers quickly and with ease. They blog. They create websites.
They publish their music and videos online. They use the web for research. And one even
has a job running a social media site for a local cable radio station.
So why then are we known for, as NBC puts it, eschewing computers? Waldorf Schools have
as their mission and guiding vision to create free-thinking individuals, who are engaged
with the world, have a zest for life, a love of school, and a lifelong commitment to learning.
Interested in the all-around balanced development of children, we see the purpose of education
as broader than just academic, which also includes the artistic, physical, social, cultural,
and interpersonal. In other words, the whole range of capacities needed to lead a successful,
purposeful, and joyful life.
Waldorf education is developmental and constructivist in philosophy. We're not seeking to fill the
children with information that they can feed back to us, but to educate. Coming from the
Latin root of the words "educare," meaning "to bring forth." We are seeking to help the
students build their own way of seeing the world and their own unique understanding of
How many of you studied hyperbolas in Algebra II like that? They are asked to look and observe
and experience the lessons. And the teacher's focus is as much on the child's responses
to and reflections on what is around them than on any right answer.
Waldorf students are taught to question and to wonder, to ponder and postulate. And we
feel these are uniquely human qualities which are best fostered within a human environment
built on interactions with others.
Waldorf Schools are careful in structuring the environment so that wonder and imagination
thrive. Not only are there no screens in our Lower School, but our early childhood classrooms
are filled with natural toys that invite our children into imaginative play and creation.
Children are told stories by their teachers, inviting them to create their own pictures
and imaginings, rather than viewing images created by other people.
Middle and high school students are inspired by studying biographies and finding relevance
in connections to the world. At all ages, the children are steeped in the arts, where
singing, recorder playing, painting, creative movement, and drawing occur daily. In a world
where it's becoming easier to step back from face-to-face interactions, every child shakes
his or her teacher's hand at the beginning and end of each day.
Learning to be part of the community is as much a part of the curriculum as learning
the multiplication tables. Learning that is brought in this playful and emotionally relevant
way is joyful. And joyful learning is deeper, richer, and long-lasting. So, when does love
of learning and lifelong learning begin and how is it fostered?
We are born learning beings. And a state of learning is natural for us. So, when does
this desire fade and why? When I was in graduate school, a professor of mine pointed out that
our schools have systematically taken the joy out of learning, often by reducing the
complexity of the world into small, predigested, easily testable modules, and then presenting
them to children to be acquired at a standardized and rapid rate.
I believe that the two biggest hindrances to promoting lifelong learning in our schools
are one, the imposition of artificial timelines and two, the competition for rewards, such
as grades. There's evidence that many of today's students are focused on jumping through hoops
rather than learning and are not really thinking deeply, but collecting gold stars.
Recent findings have shown that the use of technology can increase this rate of acquisition
of information as well as the impact of different rewards on the student's desire to work. However,
is this the kind of learning we're interested in? Does it foster lifelong learning? Does
it develop the innovators and creative thinkers that our time so desperately needs?
So, for me, the question Waldorf education seeks to address is not merely how can we
use technology to encourage lifelong learning, but how do we create a learning environment
that helps students grow up to be engaged and interested in learning in the world? And
then, what is the ideal role for technology to have in that process?
If we simply add technology to a system that does not develop the capacities needed for
the 21st Century, we're missing a vital opportunity to provide students with an education for
the future. I believe that Waldorf education, with its focus on critical and analytical
thinking, creativity, innovation, high levels of social and emotional intelligences, resilience
and flexibility, is doing just that.
>>Reihan Salam: Thanks very much you guys. So, there's a theme that's been implicit in
the conversation. And it's also a theme that was implicit, I think, in Wendy's remarks
earlier on, which is that you have deep inequalities in education. And these inequalities derive,
to some degree, from the fact that some people have engaged parents.
And so, to some degree, an institution like Teach for America and also the deployment
of educational technology, it's fundamentally about scale. It's the idea of how do we bring
a somewhat higher quality of education to a larger number of people because, of course,
not everyone has very engaged teachers.
And also, there are many students who are not in environments where every student is
coming from this nourishing home environment that can contribute to learning. So, Ahrash,
I wonder, your organization partners with a very large number of schools and school
districts across the country.
And my impression is that you're interested in precisely this question of scale and you're
trying to thread that needle. So, can you talk to me a bit about that and how you meet
the needs of different schools in very different environments and contexts?
>>Ahrash Bissell: Sure. So, just because something's on the internet does not, for most schools,
mean much of anything. [laughs] They simply don't have access. They don't have access,
again, for technical reasons, political reasons, liability reasons. There's any number of reasons.
So, we have to reach out and build relationships with these schools.
And the starting point of the relationship is we understand that you would like to engage
in what you believe is possible. And we would like to help you get there. But your needs
may or may not be unique and we need to have a series of conversations. We need to just
hold your hand a little bit all the way through.
And so, what we see is that every single institution has different points of contacts. Sometimes,
it's a teacher, who's just insisted, right? "I really need to change my classroom. I need
to do things better. There's this media out there. I need to use it." And the school makes
accommodations, we'll work at that level.
Sometimes, it's a principal. Sometimes, it's an administrator. Sometimes, it's the whole
state Department of Education. And they all have their own notions of what's holding them
back. And so, that's why it's great to imagine broad policy sweeps that might, for example,
eliminate state textbook adoptions, which everybody agrees is a big problem.
And somehow, magically, open that Pandora's box and suddenly everybody can use whatever
they see fit. But the reality is those kinds of broad sweeps are so distant from the person
on the ground who is really trying to solve a specific problem, often just tomorrow, that
we've found you've just gotta go in.
You've gotta create those personal connections. You have to build that relationship where
they believe there's an organization. Their people are trying to solve those problems
with them. And then, we make progress. And it takes time. I mean, it's often years of
conversation before finally, enough barriers have been removed that they feel like they
can step into that space and make some decisions and feel empowered as students, parents, whatever.
>>Esther Wojcicki: Can I respond to that?
>>Reihan Salam: Please.
>>Esther Wojcicki: So, I've done a lot of teacher training, professional development.
And I've also worked with Ahrash on open educational resources, which is what he's working on.
And what I've discovered is that you can have two days of professional development, three
days a week of professional development.
And the question is, what percentage of people that were in that workshop will carry that
to their classroom? You'll be shocked. Ten percent. No matter what you do. So, how do
you change it? And it's just basically what you were saying. Turns out, the key is coaching.
And you were saying relationships. Well, it's coaching.
So, if you have a coach, then the adoption rate goes to 90 percent. So, the question
is, how can we coach? 'Cause there's so many people that need it. But yet, there's not
enough coaches. So, what I've been working on and trying to see if it works, is online
coaching. Does online coaching work? And so, I was just talking with the new teacher center
in Santa Cruz.
They had coached about 25 thousand teachers a year. And it turns out that online coaching
seems to work. So, you can put together a group of people that have been in a seminar
together, or professional development, and then put them in a group or maybe do it with
Google Groups, or Hangouts. And then, once a week, get those people together.
And so, that would make a difference. And so the question is like, why isn't American
education changing? Well, because we keep doing the same thing--professional development--that
just doesn't work.
>>Reihan Salam: One of the enduring anxieties in these education debates and to turn to
this idea of inequality is we wanna close gaps. We wanna close an achievement gap. Although,
one of the things that's striking about that idea is that well, wait a second.
But also, when you have students who are coming from these backgrounds where they're getting
a lot of intellectual enrichment at home, etcetera., don't we also want those students
to advance? And, of course, that in turn means that we're gonna exacerbate these gaps. So,
I wonder, as someone who's teaching a lot of students who are coming from affluent families
in this very elite context, where kids are accomplishing extraordinary things, how do
you feel about that?
I mean, do you feel as though that's something to be concerned about, the fact that your
students are not only, have terrific resources and terrific teaching, but also are learning
from each other in ways that are actually making them really race ahead of a lot of
other students who are in decidedly imperfect environments, in both home environments and
educational environments?
>>Esther Wojcicki: Well, I think the key to getting all those low-performing kids to perform
at a higher level is engagement. The question is, how do you engage them? And the number
one way to engage them--all teenagers, no matter low or high income--is give them some
independence. Independence is the number one drive for teenagers, 13 to 18.
That's why their parents usually have all kinds of problems with them, right? They wanna
do it by themselves all the time. So, the more that you can encourage independence,
the more that you can encourage collaboration between those teens, the more they're gonna
learn, because that's basically what they're looking for.
They wanna be recognized for what they're doing. They wanna have the right to do stuff
on their own. So, and here's the other thing that's a problem. The lower the income, the
lower the performance rate, the more structured the program is, the more scripted the teachers
are, and, of course, the less the students are learning.
'Cause they're learning from a scripted teacher who's supposed to be on page 57 on October
3rd. And how can you get any creativity in that? You can't. So, what you need to do is
give those kids, empower them. The teacher has to share some of the teacher's power with
the students. What do you actually wanna read?
Is it gonna be one of those classics, which you never read? Read the Cliff Notes online
and try to write a five-paragraph essay that you don't wanna write. Or, is it gonna be
something you actually want to read?
So yesterday, I took my kids across the street to the bookstore--Town and Country, which
I'm lucky it's right across the street--so they could pick a book that they actually
wanted to read. So, I don't have to worry about them. I'm not forcing, of course, I
do force them to read some things, poor things.
[Reihan Salam laughs]
But at least they have a choice once in a while.
>>Reihan Salam: So, it's not "Lord of the Flies" in your classroom?
>>Esther Wojcicki: No. But it is "1984," and that's the next book. And we have a lot to
relate to in that. But anyway, give them some opportunity to do some things on their own.
And so, they get to read in groups. You pick a book that you wanna read together with your
friend or a couple friends. And then, that makes it much more exciting.
So, the kids coming from the schools where they're totally controlled, and that school,
the one in--
>>Lisa Babinet: Philadelphia.
>>Esther Wojcicki: Philadelphia, School of the Future. Well, first, the teachers probably
have not been told how to really use the technology. They haven't actually had professional development
to really help. And then also, those kids are getting a scripted curriculum again. So,
there's not a lot of freedom in what they're doing.
If they were, if they had picked what they're doing and worked in groups, they would not
be all on Facebook and doing all these other things.
>>Reihan Salam: Lisa, I think--.
>>Lisa Babinet: I was gonna pick up on a theme I hear because with the teacher education
and the mentoring and coaching, there's a theme of the relationship--
>>Esther Wojcicki: Right.
>>Lisa Babinet: between the teacher and the student. And that's part of what Waldorf schools
are built on--that relationship. That's what we heard in Teach for America with these outstanding
teachers. That was the relationship between the teacher and the student, the relationship
between the mentor and the new teacher.
And that's one of my concerns. When we move into technology, and using technology for
learning, I heard in Maine, they're bringing iPads for kindergärtners to learn their letters.
And that's at a time where that relationship--what the teacher can see that you do, I can see
that you need independence here , or you can help with this.
That relationship is so fundamental. And as Jennifer talked about, the lurches we've had
in education, often they come in, surpass what the teacher knows, what the teacher needs
with the relationship with the students, and foists on them a new program or a new kind
of technology that you now have to use, whether it's an alignment with a wonderful curriculum
you've designed around journalism or something else or not.
So, I really agree. We have to be very careful and keep that relationship at the center.
>>Reihan Salam: Lisa, one thing I wanna push back on slightly, though, is at one point
in your talk, you referenced the idea of education as breaking down education into units that
are small, predigested, and easily testable.
And it reminded me--and not to trivialize it--but it reminded me about some of the discussions
we have around organic and local food versus industrial agriculture. And, of course, the
rejoinder from the defenders of industrial agriculture is always that, "Look, this is
how we're able to meet the needs of a very, very large number of people."
So, one way to think about Waldorf education is that it's very bespoke and it's something
that requires a tremendous amount of training. And it's something that isn't necessarily
going to be accessible to a very large population. So, what is your reaction to that? I mean,
do you see Waldorf as introducing principles that are incipiently universal and that could
inform all kinds of educators? Or, do you see it as something that is necessarily a
>>Lisa Babinet: No. I see it as absolutely something can inform all kinds of educators.
There's Teacher Training Institute for Waldorf in the public school, where there's Waldorf
approaches that are adopted with great success, especially with the young child and the early
childhood where there's more of a play-based Kindergarten and more enriching of the imagination,
rather than thrusting the children into academics too much, too early, where that love of learning
and that desire of learning--.
>>Reihan Salam: But Lisa, one of the reasons why you go to small, predigested, and easily-testable,
is the--. Partly, it's an anxiety about accountability. So, we've all talked about professional development.
And when you were talking about professional development, OK.
So, ten percent are using what they learn and 90 percent aren't. So, granted, you could
use coaching. You could have continued engagement. But then, you also have some people who are
just incorrigible, right?
>>Lisa Babinet: Right.
>>Reihan Salam: And some people who actually--
are--. So, literally, to take the time out. And incorrigible is a strong way and perhaps
a needlessly negative way of putting it. One way of thinking about it is that, "Look. I
make this commitment, but then, if I don't feel valued in the context of my school, if
I don't have good school leadership--."
Or, and there are some people who really are incorrigible, where it's like, "Look, there
are other things I might wanna do with my time." And I'm not being rigorously evaluated
every day. I am placed in front of these students. No one knows what I'm doing. I have this lack
of accountability. And so, with teachers who are really passionate about their teaching,
they're obviously gonna pour 120 percent of themselves into doing that.
But, of course, that's not gonna be true of everyone, particularly when you have literally
millions of teachers in context where you don't have very active, vocal parents. So,
even when you're talking about going from the ten percent to, say, the 70 percent of
teachers who would actually go the extra mile if you had the coaching, you're still going
to have some of these teachers who, even with the coaching available, if they're not actually
required to do that--which I think is where the testing comes in to see that there's some
accountability. How do you guys feel about that? Any reactions?
>>Lisa Babinet: Well, what concerns me is if we look at our learning goals, if we look
at what it is we really want to teach, what do you want the children to be able to do,
and we're only testing on what is easily measurable.
So, we're testing them on standardized tests of information in small pieces, but how can
you test on your ability to create a wonderful newspaper and take in all kinds of ideas and
put it together? That's much too complex to test on a grand scale.
>>Reihan Salam: Well, Ahrash, you're in this terrain where you're working with a lot of
distress, public schools that are constrained by resources and much else. But where--? I
think that actually this desire to get results--and granted, it is narrow in this way and it is
narrowing in some of the ways that Lisa is mentioning--but I think that you see these
imperatives to some degree on the part of the school districts and also trying to enforce
this accountability.
So, what's your take on this? 'Cause it seems to me that you're trying to carve out this
middle path.
>>Ahrash Bissell: Yeah. So, unfortunately, the truth of it is that if you don't know
how you're doing, you can't improve. And so, the reality is that every time there's some
kind of a change, especially at the national level, they say, "We gotta change all the
tests, change all the assessments. We're measuring the wrong thing. Let's use an entirely different
set of metrics."
But you're, as Lisa says, you're never gonna design a test that shows you perfectly that
this student is gonna become a lifelong learner, right? And if you're a teacher and you're
under the gun to perform under some level and it's a system that maybe experiences a
fair bit of turn, so you don't have the deep relationships with those who can cover for
any kind of experiments or errors that you might make.
The only record of your performance is that which is measurable. And it makes perfect
sense. If you're only hitting 70 percent and you're told that's not good enough, you're
gonna do whatever it takes to get that number to go up. And frequently, that means other
things--. You don't know if they're going away.
Maybe they are. Maybe they aren't. It's just, it's a very difficult situation. So, nobody
wants to lose the accountability, but right now, we really haven't, as a society, we have
not identified what is the space for acceptable failure. And is that perhaps just as useful
for learning? So, if the teachers and the students try something together and it totally
fails, does that mean no learning happened?
Or, does that just mean they didn't accomplish this one metric, but all these other wonderful
things occurred? In many ways it is like the burning yourself on the stove, right? I mean,
that's a failure in some ways. If they didn't trust you, it's hot. Believe me. There's flame.
That's how it works. Sometimes, they need to fail, to take your advice, to listen to
>>Reihan Salam: So, you say risk aversion is a big problem--
>>Ahrash Bissell: Yes.
>>Reihan Salam: for teachers and for students to some degree.
>>Ahrash Bissell: Yes.
>>Reihan Salam: So, Esther, tell me. So, tell me if I'm getting this right. So basically,
what you're saying is that journalism itself is a school for critical thinking skills and
the idea of giving students independent projects and expecting more from students, regardless
of the student's background, is going to be important to cultivate the kind of qualities
that Lisa has identified.
Yet, you seem very comfortable with--. There seems to be--. So, it seems to me as though
you guys both have this shared impulse in terms of what you want out of your students.
Yet, you have different views regarding the extent to which technology helps that process
along or to the extent in which it hinders that process along.
So, tell me a little bit about what you see as flawed in the Waldorf vision, as Lisa has
laid it out, with regard to technology, if anything.
>>Esther Wojcicki: So, I like what the philosophy of Waldorf Schools is, basically, because
it's a lot about relationships. And I think teaching is about relationships. How the teacher
relates to the student is really important.
And what the teacher does to create a sense of community is very important. Waldorf Schools
does a great job on that. And I think that public schools can also do the same thing
with that. However, I also create a sense of community by using technology and computers.
So, for example, my students turn in all their work on Google Docs.
And then, they share it with me and share it with a peer. Well, like on that newspaper
that you saw, all the work is turned in online. All the editors see the work. I mean, I couldn't
do it if I had all those paper--.
>>Reihan Salam: Are you comfortable with younger children using technology in these ways to
collaborate as well? Because it seems that one of Lisa's concerns is introducing technology
so early on that is actually might disrupt some of those--.
>>Esther Wojcicki: So, I think I'm comfortable with it starting at about grades three or
four, where they actually can learn to type and learn to write. So, I've taught my own
grandchildren how to do that. And it's been pretty effective. As a matter of fact, it
was so effective that he started to write a book. And we had to drag him off the computer
because all he wanted to do was write a book with his friends. He was writing it and he
wanted me to help him find a publisher.
So, it does work really well. I think what technology does is enables these kids to share
online. And if you give them a way to do it that is educational and productive, then they're
gonna be excited about it.
And that's why I think it also would work well in low-performing schools. And I do have
some low performing students that come into my ninth grade class. And they do amazingly
well during the course of the year when you put them in projects where they want to be
with their friends and want to have--. I mean, my expectations are pretty high, but if they
want to achieve those goals, they pretty much do it.
I mean, I think the key, really, is to get their attention. And I think that's missing
in most public schools. It's more of a "you have to do this." You're forced to do it.
And if you don't, you're gonna get a bad grade. I don't use the grade as a, that same way.
>>Reihan Salam: And Lisa, any thoughts?
>>Lisa Babinet: Well, I have thoughts also when we look at a young child. If you look
at what they're not doing because they're spending so much time interacting with technology,
the Kaiser Family Foundation said students, children between eight and eighteen spend
an average of eight, seven hours a day with technology.
Eight, if you account for multitasking. And when children are young and they're building
their bodies and their brains, there's a lot that's to be said for free play, where they
build executive function and be able to make decision and imagination, and even their bodies.
At Waldorf, we teach them to knit by using their hands--what it helps with the integration
of their brains.
So, there's a lot of activities that a young child that's important for their development
for them to be involved in. And the concern is too much time in front of a screen, takes
away from other things that they should be doing to help them grow up to be healthy,
robust, balanced.
>>Reihan Salam: One of the things we addressed in the panel and theoretically is this idea
of lifelong learning. And I wonder, because it seems--. Esther, it seems that you're trying
to cultivate certain skills that students, because they're gonna encounter novel situations
that you're not gonna see, but you want to give them some set of skills so they can encounter
them and succeed and integrate new information, etc.
Ahrash, I wonder, I mean, you're an educator in part, but you're also a parent. And I wonder
about your concerns, your anxieties regarding providing your children with the right skill
set. And also, how they might use technological tools and what are the habits that you want
them to cultivate as they come to use new technological tools and how that will shape
them as lifelong learners.
>>Ahrash Bissell: So, I'm a parent of younger kids, which means that by and large, they're
just not on the machines yet.
>>Reihan Salam: Well, that's actually telling in itself that--.
>>Ahrash Bissell: Well, exactly. And we test every now and then and "are you really interested
in this game?" or "do you think this is good program for learning?" Something or the other.
And so far, my kids, anyway, haven't seen the strong gravity to the machine. But I think,
certainly in my head, I'm imagining that we're heading toward a world where there's gonna
be this transition.
And maybe we're already doing this, where at first you start off with trusted channels.
And you try to set things up that way. And that's very much how the parental controls
and others on the internet are set up, so you can determine which sites are OK and which
aren't. And then, as they grow more mature, you just try to let go of the reins a bit
You trust them and you educate them. "Well, you can go here and you may end up in some
places that are less friendly than others and you'll just have to sort it out." I would
say one of the things that's gonna muck all that up is the ever-growing socialization
of the internet. So, it's quite difficult now for somebody to do anything on the internet
where data is not being sent to any number of sites, most of which you have no idea you're
even leveraging that information, and connections being made to other things that you might
And I think this is actually a very interesting space for especially classrooms, but also
parents at home, where you start thinking about, "Wow. Is there a safe place to play
on the internet? Is there a safe space where you can let them go, let them make some errors?"
That sort of thing. And trust that there isn't any long-term consequence.
I think that's becoming less and less credible over time. And yeah. It's one of those things
that I think we're all grappling with, 'cause everybody loves the social media elements,
but maybe you don't love it as was raised earlier. Twenty years later, you look back
and [laughs] you realize, "Gee, this information never goes away." Connections that I had no
intention of having be made, were made. And what do you do about it?
>>Reihan Salam: So, just a question for the three of you before we go to the audience.
Do you feel envious of so-called digital natives who've grown up completely immersed in these
technologies? Or, do you feel fortunate to have grown up and have been educated before
these technologies were totally pervasive?
>>Esther Wojcicki: Hmm. Interesting.
>>Ahrash Bissell: A little of both for me. I mean, there's no question there's a certain
magic still to poppling up your mobile phone and being able to do some of the things you
can do so incredibly easily, which is like, "Wow. What a crazy world that that kind of
thing is possible."
But at the same time, I mean there's an enormous amount of pleasure to getting somewhere and
realizing that your cell phone doesn't work and looking around seeing that it's actually
quite a nice day. And just like, unplugging. And so, I just think we're--.
Maybe it's just an inevitable challenge that it's not like there's not like there's gonna
be any resolution to that. You just have to be attentive to the fact that there's gonna
be pluses and minuses throughout.
>>Lisa Babinet: I would like to say I really appreciate technology 'cause there were days
when it was really tough to get that information. And I mean, for me, it's really huge. You
had to go to the library.
You had to look it all up. There were all these things. I just remember years ago that
I used to have to type it all up on a manual typewriter, then erase it with--I don't know--with
these special erasers. And I used to do it on these dittos. They used to make my hands
all purple. And I would go to the xerox, you know?
[Lisa Babinet laughs]
And I'd be there in the morning going like this the whole time. And then, I would like,
have to staple it all together. And I mean, it was really, what a thing. And now, I just
send a link to my students. [laughs] What a deal.
>>Reihan Salam: Do you worry that that incurs some level of carelessness? I mean, do you
worry that younger students don't--. Because, you know, the kind of fastidiousness it required
to do research in that era.
But do you think might have actually cultivated some useful, valuable skills and qualities?
>>Esther Wojcicki: Well, I think that they probably don't appreciate the simplicity of
what they're doing and how simple it is for them to get this information and then to write
their papers. It's so easy to get resources and to cite your resources. Anyway, I--.
>>Reihan Salam: Do you feel like it's lead to better work? I mean, do you think that
they fact that they actually have access to, because you've been teaching for some time.
I wonder, I mean, that the availability of these tools, the relative ease of doing substantive
research, are they actually doing the research, given that it's as easy as it is?
>>Esther Wojcicki: Oh yeah. They're doing--. Well, at least my students are doing the research.
They have to cite three different sources. And they have to document--.
>>Reihan Salam: So, the quality of the work--
>>Esther Wojcicki: Is higher.
>>Reihan Salam: that they're giving is higher. That's very interesting. Lisa?
>>Lisa Babinet: I would like to answer several things. First of all, on that quality of research,
Gary Small, who wrote the "iBrain," talks about when you move around with hyperlink
and stuff, you don't necessarily go deeper in your thinking. So, there is quality work
in some areas, but I am concerned about the ability, like you said, to stick with it and
to really--instead of jumping around from one thing to the other.
And the impact of brain development of thinking that way as opposed to being offline and being
able to go deep in a conversation of the topic. And to answer your first question about whether
or not I feel envious or such, I feel both, but there's a third one--I feel embarrassed
when I have to ask my teenage son to figure out some things.
So, there is this appreciation for being able--. Someone has a question at home, "Oh, when
did this happen?" And we can immediately find the answer and the information. And as someone
who loves learning and loves to know, it's a huge gift and I'm grateful for all that
we have available to us. And I'm also wishing it was easier for me.
>>Reihan Salam: Any questions from the audience?
Someone back there?
>>male #1: I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on censorship of health education regarding
technology, particularly I'm interested to know your thoughts on closed systems versus
open systems.
For example, there's an application called Tawkon, which allows users to see their real-time
radiation exposure. While this app is available on Android, it has been banned from the Apple
App Store because according to Apple, it would create consumer confusion. And although Apple
does allow apps geared toward six-month children, even though there are numerous studies showing
that children absorb much more radiation from cell phones than adults.
>>Reihan Salam: Does anyone have any thoughts?
>>Ahrash: Sure. So, in some ways, I guess raise that question up to another level, this
is really a question, again, about where do we place the responsibility or the trust for
determining who gets to decide? So, is it the decision of the government to determine
what's flowing through the internet, or who gets access?
Or, is it the decision of the companies that provide the lines, or is it the decision of
the teachers, or, right? And so, I feel that if you really dig deeply on any of these,
and this example is a perfectly good one, you really have to ultimately get down to
the end user.
In some level, we gotta have systems, which means open systems, where we just acknowledge
implicitly that even though it's messy, and even though there's lots of opportunity for
people to be confused, go the wrong way, do whatever it is, the decision needs to ultimately
rest with those people.
Now, if they wanna delegate responsibility, which is kind of in some ways what we do as
kids with our parents, or with parents with the teachers of our kids, that's fine. But
that's the way, I think, it absolutely must go. And so, I would agree. This is the big
debate as more and more of software is being accessed through apps, which are fundamentally
closed systems.
They depend very much on the system that's delivering them. It's looking quite different
from the internet, which is fundamentally an open system where nobody's getting to make
that decision. Yeah.
>>Reihan Salam: Anyone else? There's someone in the front row here.
>>Ahrash Bissell: There's a bunch of hands here. Hello.
>>female #1: Hey. Thank you. Hi, my name is Parry Aftab and I run WiredSafety. And Esther,
I wonder where you've been my whole life.
When the question came as to whether you're dealing with urban or rural schools, and how
that affects schools in comparison, so schools like Palo Alto High School, and you said that
it really doesn't make a difference.
I absolutely agree with you because what you've done is make education relevant. So, it's
about empowerment. It's about everything else. And you're dealing with relevancy, too. The
technology can facilitate that. But all of this about good teaching is making it relevant
to the students--empowering them with respect for what they think, what they want.
You do that, you'll inflame kids in the lowest economic income areas in urban schools that
have all kinds of metal detectors when you walk in. You let them know that what they
think is relevant, works. And that's why I think that this program absolutely works.
So, thank you.
>>Esther Wojcicki: Yes.
>>Reihan Salam: Flattery will get you everywhere, but so we have another question?
>>Esther Wojcicki: Yes, thank you.
>>Lisa Babinet: There's a book, there's an old book--
>>Reihan Salam: I have a mic.
>>female #2: Thank you.
>>Reihan Salam: There's a mic over here.
>>female #2: I had a question. I seem to sense a theme about less, I guess, curriculum standards
on a timeline, which I think is really interesting. I just had a question about do you feel there
are things that students should know on a certain time aside from like, reading and
writing? What are the new standards for today from people who don't like standards very
>>Lisa Babinet: I think one of the things that's really important that should be integrated
is what Esther talked about. And I think a new standard and the new curriculum we need
to be teaching is how to find the truth and know what's the truth, how to go online and
search the web and be able to tell where is this coming from? Where is this information?
Who's putting it out? What's behind the information? We didn't need to be taught that when I was
in school, but that's very essential for this generation.
>>Esther Wojcicki: Yeah. Every student in this country should be getting that kind of
instruction. It's really important.
>>Reihan Salam: There's a gentleman over here.
>>male #2: Hi. Thank you very much. My name is Gary Fowlie. I work for the United Nations
and I represent the [clears throat] United Nations agency that manages information communication
technology issues, deal with satellite orbits and that sort of thing.
So, I expected I would be intervening today and maybe commenting on some of the issues,
like cyber security. But after listening to Esther and Lisa, I think maybe relating a
story of my suspension in freshman year might be more relevant.
Because I have two fundamental beliefs. One, that I believe journalism is history on the
run and our first cut at history. And good on you for teaching children those skills.
And two, I believe that teachers really are, teaching is really the most noble of professions,
although we unfortunately--
we pay you like paupers, but that's a whole other story. Why I wanna tell you about my
suspension is because I think we might learn about--. I sense a bit of a divide between
the two of you. In my freshman year, we had a French teacher who called a friend of mine
in my class a trollop. And I [clears throat]--.
The context, I won't give you the rest of it. She probably, you know, maybe deserved
a bit of that. But I automatically responded and used the "F" word to tell him where to
go. So, I was immediately marched up to the Vice Principal's office. The Vice Principal
seemed somewhat impressed by the fact that I knew what trollop meant.
But nonetheless, I was suspended for three days. And I was not permitted to go back into
that French class. Although, I was allowed to write the final exam. And I needed to do
that. I'm Canadian by birth and one had to pass their French exam. So, the solution was
my mother sent me to my grandmother's best friend, who had retired as a teacher of algebra
and Latin.
This is Farnell. So, I'll call this the Farnell Principle of Technology. In freshman French,
one had to learn how to conjugate the past tense. And there are a group of verbs, for
those of you who don't know French, that have to use "to be," the verb "to be," "etre" to
be conjugated. These are all mostly action verbs.
This is formal and then the rest of them are conjugated with "to have." Mrs. Farnell looked
at me and said, "So, have you got a pet?" "Yes." "Got a pet? What's his name?" His name
was Buddy, a dog. She drew a doghouse. That dog was born in that doghouse. He died in
that doghouse. He climbed on top of that doghouse. He fell off.
She used all the verbs that needed to be conjugated with "to be." Now, she had a pen and a pencil.
I can imagine what she could've done with technology and relating not just--. I could
relate it to my dog, Buddy, but you might've had a bird. She could've done this with a
whole class. Why that lesson stuck with me and the potential of technology was, well,
40 years later, I left Microsoft.
I'm going to work to take a one-year contract in Geneva with this agency. Of course, I'm
considered fluent in French. I was supposed to be fluent in French, but Je parle français comme
une vache canadienne , which means I speak French like a Canadian cow.
So, I took a lesson. I had to take lessons. And of course, we had to review conjugating
verbs. As soon as the concept of conjugating in the past came up, I was, flashback. Mrs.
Farnell and what she could've done. The teacher tried to explain this. So, we had one of those
electronic blackboards. So, I got up and did the lesson.
And it just made me realize what you were talking about, was the passion of Mrs. Farnell
as a teacher to engage my interest as a student in a subject that I really didn't care about,
to teach me a lesson. And she did that--. I mean, well, one, she could teach algebra
and Latin, so she must have had some skill.
But that's what technology does. It engages the, it should engage the teacher. It should
engage the student. And the two of them, there's a match. I don't think it's either/or. And
I think we have to find a way to bridge that gap. And technology is where it's at and yes,
I think open systems works.
>>Reihan Salam: We might have time for one more question.
>>male #3: Hi. I'm Larry Magid. I'm with Connect Safely. I also write for the San Jose Mercury
News and broadcast with CBS News. So, very much appreciate, Esther, your comments about
And thank you very much for saying that. I think that both Esther and Lisa, even though
you come from different perspectives, both talked about critical thinking. And I really
think that there needs to be a lot more discussion about that, not only in terms of learning,
but in terms of safety. And Collier and I work with Connect Safely, which is an internet
safety organization.
And how we absorb and analyze the information around us. So, what Google has done is it's
made it very easy to acquire information. But interpreting that information, making
meaning for that information, being able to use and synthesize that information, determine
which of it is relevant to our task and which isn't.
That, so far, as far as I know, has not been successfully automated. There are some efforts
in that direction, but it still takes a human being. And I'm wondering if you could comment--any
of you--about how we can really get that critical thinking skill embedded, not just in the students
who are fortunate enough to be in Palo Alto or at a Waldorf school, but students throughout
the country.
>>Reihan Salam: Any thoughts?
Esther, perhaps we can start with you?
>>Esther Wojcicki: Yeah. So, I think there are lessons that, actually, I'm trying to
create that would help students understand how to have more, to be more critical thinkers
basically, when they're getting results of their searches. And one of the things that
I think is important is, as I mentioned, I think all teachers, it should be a required
course for all students.
And it will empower them and it will also make it harder for people to do all these
crazy things that they do on the internet. There are some courses out there right now
that a lot of teachers are not using them. I think the problem is that people ask, "So,
where does it belong in the curriculum?" And so, they don't exactly know where to put it.
And so, I thought, "Well, how about social studies?" "Well, social studies, well, we
don't know." And English teachers, I've tried really hard with English teachers, but as
I mentioned before, they just wanna teach literature and then five-paragraph essay.
And then grammar and then they don't see a place to put it. So, we need to--.
We can't have another course. The curriculum's already packed. So, it has to fit in there
somewhere. And it's not that hard to do. It's just that where we do it, it has to be done
for all kids. And I think it is part of the course standards of kids do need to learn
this. I think it's policy problem at the moment. How do we get it into the curriculum?
>>Lisa Babinet: Exactly, policy. And I think having freedom at a Waldorf school, that's
one of our school-wide goals in the high school. And when we sit together as a faculty, every
teacher in every department can see where they can integrate it into what they're doing.
But it's identified as a learning goal. And then the teacher sees, "OK. Now that I know
this is what I wanna teach, how can I design activities to help the students attain these
skills? And also, how will I know they're attained? What kind of assessment would show
me?" And it may not be a test. It could be a presentation.
It could a conversation. But opening up the picture of how do you know what they've learned.
And I think in our history in education, it's been a very narrow way we could tell what
students have learned. And what we're trying to teach them now for the future needs a much
wider view of being able to assess what students have been able to do.
>>Ahrash Bissell: Yes. Yeah, I agree with that. So, I don't agree it should be a separate
course. I think what we actually heard from both Esther and Lisa previously, is that one
of the best ways to teach reading, or math, or that sort of thing is in context. And your
comment to that engagement. Those are critical skills.
So, students don't necessarily wanna learn them. And sometimes, you're gonna have to
force them. I guess to answer that part of the question. But, to the best of your ability,
if you can embed that and critical thinking and any other critical literacies that we
care to throw into the pot, in context, you're gonna be way better off. And, yeah.
>>Reihan Salam: Just one last thought. I mean, generally speaking, when we have debates about
education policy, we talk about equity, we talk about access, and we tend to think about
it in terms of enabling people to be participants in the market, enabling people to become upwardly
mobile, thinking about it as investments in human capital as such.
But one thing that occurs to me, and particularly with your remarks, Esther, is that, to some
extant, we're educating people to have more pleasurable and more interesting lives. Because
when you think about it, if you have--. Think about how much information and fun is now
cheap or free because of internet-enabled technologies.
And then, when you think about someone who has a native curiosity versus someone in whom
that curiosity was not cultivated actively while that person was being educated, think
about the gap in life experience and just the kind of daily pleasure that one derives
from that kind of learning. So, it's interesting because, again, we think about this all in
terms of public policy and "how much will you pay in taxes?" given this set of skills.
But actually, just that gap, the pleasure gap, between those who are curious and can
exploit all of this knowledge versus those who don't, seems to me to be another thing
that we should think about at the very least, in the back of our heads. Well, thanks so
much everyone. We now have a lunch break and we're gonna reconvene at two o'clock.