Flat or Spiky?

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.

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6 Responses to Flat or Spiky?

  1. bwatwood says:

    Nice post, Katie. You have articulated that education leaders today need to integrate technology into the learning rather than see it as an add-on. Having watched my grandchildren effortlessly use my iPad, I am struck by just how exciting these times are in elementary education. Your basic question is spot on – how do we as leaders prepare the next generation? Perhaps some of the answers will surface in this class as we explore leadership and technology!

  2. sympa2013 says:

    Thank you for your great post. I think that computer lab hours must increase in schools globally. Making technology a part of every course, will make the learning experience more interesting to students. For example, utilizing computers and iPads to explain math or science lessons, helps students grasp complex and difficult concepts easily and prepares them to use the newest technological advances in the same time. As a result, students will be prepared to excel in their future. As you have mentioned, “What was formerly an extra has become a necessity”. Educators must continuously find stimulating techniques to include technology in their schoolrooms
    Additionally, I agree with you that we must not only absorb change but we must embrace it. As a mother of a two year old boy, I am preparing him to the latest technologies and web-based tools that will help him once he starts his school. Currently, my son can use the computer, iPad and my iPhone perfectly. He can call his grandmothers through Skype and send some funny faces through Whats up application. He can even use YouTube to put his favorite playlists. Instead of wasting time on TV, he prefers to utilize the iPad to learn and trace alphabets and numbers. The learning process is becoming much easier than before due to the numerous technological advances. It is crucial for educational leaders to embrace technology to youth generation. Instead of spending time to impound technological devices in classrooms, teachers need to find ways to use those devices for educational purposes.

  3. Katie, great post. I agree that educators must incorporate technology into the classroom, regardless of the level or school location. Personally, I believe that poorer individuals should have just as much or more access to institutionally provided technology that their wealthier counterparts. Wealthier Children in the modern world are playing with tablets, ipads, and iphones. Poorer children must have access to this technology in order to level the field, and schools and governments must be the providers.

  4. Katie,

    The first question to me isn’t how we should prepare these kids but what are preparing them for. As a senior Wall Street executive I hire dozen of fresh college grads each year. The come from schools all over the country but we do hire a disproportionate number of Ivy League graduates. Times have changed dramatically with regard to how we find our finalists and how they are able to potentially fit into some of the highest paying jobs in the United States marketplace. Twenty years ago probably 90% of the applicants I would interview were direct referrals from someone else that was either in the industry or a trusted alumnus from one of the premier schools in the country. The challenge wasn’t finding kids that were dialed into the relationship skills that we desired but finding kids that had those desirable characteristics and could still navigate the technological pace that Wall Street operated on.
    Fast forward to today and the likely hood is that 70% of the applicants that we hire become known to us via a networking method that didn’t exist in the past (linkedin, etc,). The real challenge today is to find kids that have real people relationship skills. They all fit seamlessly into our challenging technological environment but very few of them have the people skills that we are looking for. I think the proliferation of social media interaction choices is killing the basic interaction that taught many of our kids to relate to other people face to face. I know that you are coming at your posted position from the viewpoint of technology due to the subject matter of our class, but as difficult of a job as teaching is, we must not overlook opportunities to teach people skills. I have had others tell me that future generations will be more comfortable with distance interactions as time goes on, but I can tell you from experience that when one sits down with their advisor to discuss their multimillion dollar portfolio the still look for strong interpersonal relationship skills and a sense of empathy that is often lacking in the youth that is groiwng up in a technology flatten world. God, I sound like an old guy, but that’s the way I have seen it going.

  5. maxima06 says:

    Hello Katie,
    You mentioned that a major challenge with technology is to not overwhelm or leave people behind. As an educator I am faced with many students and families who are being left further behind with the invention of any additional technology. They are still without the basic computer systems or technology.

  6. elstoneric says:

    Great Post Katie!!

    You mention great points on keeping technology current and accesible for our students. I believe educators have to stay on the forefront with technology and have a pulse of what industries are using to ensure that students are prepared for the 21st century workforce. Technology can be intimidating for some mature educator, but it can make instruction fun and engage students in a classroom. Technology should make instruction and work easier for teachers while creating a learning environment that excites and builds a student centered classroom. Even though so folks aren’t a fan of iPads in classroom, I have became a fan as I watched my 2 year old mastered its use and he is always eager to learn new subjects. It hit home for me when Florida mentioned that some area have limited access to technology and I see that daily in my school district. We have to challenge communities, parents and our students to explore. As educators we need to embrace and expect students to innovate and understand the science of problem solving through a global lens.

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