In his opening chapter to The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman (2007) states that every person must ask the question, “Where do I as an individual fit into the global competition and opportunities of the day, and how can I, on my own, collaborate with others globally?” (p.11). I agree with Friedman that this is a valid and important question, and while I must ask this question of myself, as an educator, this question becomes more wide-reaching. I must not only ask about myself as an individual, but more importantly, how am I preparing my young students to collaborate with others globally?
Reflecting on this week’s theme, The Changing Nature of the Web: Open, Social, and Participatory, I am cognizant of the impact technological advances have had on my teaching practices and student learning. Eight years ago, technology in my Kindergarten classroom was extremely limited. My co-teacher and I had personal computers, and our 26 students had access to two classroom computers. Computer use in the classroom was an “extra,” as students set the timer for their brief turn, which was only held during less structured times of the day. Visits to a common computer lab were limited to two thirty-minute class periods each week. Instruction in the lab consisted of a short group lesson on software use, and then students were given individual practice time. Fast forward to my first grade classroom today, and it is a vastly different scene. Technology, in terms of computer use and Internet access, is an integral part of the learning process. What was formerly an “extra” has become a necessity. With the computer lab long gone, students use a variety of free online resources and programs which serve to enhance the curriculum as they work on computers in our classroom throughout the entire school day. Furthermore, they are not only working as individuals, but collaboratively with other first and second grade students as they research, write, and share information. Perhaps this is the first step to enable students to better collaborate globally, and certainly we could be doing a better job of reaching beyond our classroom, school, and community, further extending our learning opportunities at even such an early age.
In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman argues that technological advances are shrinking or flattening the world as individuals are able to connect around the globe. Through his world travels and experiences he draws the conclusion that we have entered the era of Globalization 3.0, in which individuals have the opportunity to compete and collaborate globally. He believes that this flattening brings greater opportunity for individuals worldwide to work, compete, and collaborate on a more level playing field (Friedman, 2007, p.11). Richard Florida’s article, “The World Is Spiky,” acknowledges Friedman’s argument in which technology serves as a leveling effect to geographic location. However, as he examines the economic landscape of the world, looking specifically at the rapid growth of various cities, he has determined that the world is spiky, rather than flat (Florida, 2005, p.48). While I recognize the leveling effects described by Friedman, Florida’s article in particular resonates with me as he considers the modern economy and sources of innovation. As Florida (2005) describes the peaks, or spikes of his landscape, they are sources of innovation, which continue to grow, connect, and attract (p.48). The hills are represented by industrial and service centers, supporting the spikes in their growth, and finally the valleys are indicative of places with limited connection to the global economy (Florida, 2005, p.48). In Florida’s view, those who are sources of innovation have the means to continue to rise and develop, while those precariously situated in the middle may quickly ascend and descend. However, it is those located in the valleys that are at risk or in a state of decline as they are disconnected to the spiky centers of growth and innovation.
Combining Friedman and Florida’s perspectives, in light of my view of technological advances in the classroom, I return to my question of how to best prepare students to collaborate globally. Just a few years ago, simply integrating technology into the classroom, providing students with exposure and basic skill practice, seemed to be the guiding focus. Today, however, the goal is much different, as technology is interwoven into every aspect of instruction and practice. Often, today’s challenge stands in direct opposition to that of my early years of teaching, as I now strive to find the balance of utilizing technology, while supporting other developmentally appropriate practices. Although this is just one example of the rapid growth of technology, it serves to clearly illustrate the pace and necessity of change.
Friedman (2007) is correct as he determines the great challenge of our time to be absorbing changes in ways that do not overwhelm people or leave them behind (p.50), and this too must remain at the forefront of our thinking as educators. However, we must not only absorb change, we must embrace it, remaining mindful that we are preparing students for an ever-changing world. We must continue to examine, question, adapt, and advance. What opportunities are we, or are we not, providing each of our students? What tools are necessary, and how are we ensuring that all students have access to these tools? Are we supporting and scaffolding individuals to become innovators and creators? With these questions in mind, as educational leaders, we can continue to discuss possible solutions, improve instructional practices, and prepare students for a global society. As we look at the flattening of the world through the advancement of technology, and spikes created by innovation, we are truly faced with a great challenge, grow like a spike or languish like a valley.
Florida, R. (2005, October). The world is spiky. The Atlantic Monthly, 48-51.
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat. New York, NY: Picador.