By Jean Tower

The theme of the CoSN 2012 Annual Conference was to “reimagine learning” and the keynote speakers and concurrent session presenters all provoked us to do just that. From my conference experience, none was more provocative than the session, “On The Horizon: Harnessing Emerging Technologies In Education,” with Larry Johnson, CEO of New Media Consortium. Dr. Johnson presented in person at the CoSN conference and was virtually linked to both the SXSWedu and SITE conferences. I was fortunate enough to be the moderator of this session, which was forward thinking content and construct.

Larry presented a stimulating vision of what the past decade of horizon reports have told us, and personalized quite a bit with his own personal family story of technology use. I heard two big messages that resonated with me. One was the comment that our strategic thinking is based on a world that no longer exists and it is problematic to change that thinking, though we must.

The second compelling message that I took away was about the evolution of how we view networks. First, networks brought us together and changed us – think television and telephones. Then, the network helped us – think Internet, Google, connecting online. Now, the network is us – think mobile technology, always connected, online lives, immediate responses, and Arab Spring. The network is everywhere and has empowered all of us. The notion of the network being everywhere was demonstrated most impressively by a world map that showed electrical access, compared to a world map showing network access. Network access extends beyond electrical access! In fact, he shared the prediction that by 2014 the number of cell phones will surpass the population of the earth.

What’s Larry’s next step in the evolution? Not only is the network us and everywhere, the network is invisible and taken for granted.

It is time for school strategic planning to include the idea of the invisible, ubiquitous network that is invisible and an assumed part of our world.

Next, were three responders to Larry, from three locations. First, from SXSWedu, Ken Kay responded. Ken is the CEO of Ed Leader 21 and was President of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Ken spoke from a perspective of a key leader who has been involved in thinking about the skills and leadership needed to prepare our children for the future.

Then, from the SITE conference, Miri Shonfeld contributed insights from the perspective of higher education. Miri Shonfeld is Head of TEC Center, Mofet and the Online College, Kibbutzim College, Israel.

Last, back at CoSN, Superintendent Jack Dale reacted. Jack is the Superintendent of Schools in nearby Fairfax County School District, VA.  Jack brought the conversation back to the reality of emerging technologies from a school superintendent’s perspective.

Each of the respondents took something of what Larry shared and provided current and actual scenarios that evoked a sense that the findings of the Horizon reports aren’t removed from reality, and instead describe reality well.

Lastly, audience members asked questions of Larry Johnson and the responders. This part of the presentation also used the live streaming video, and we took questions from people at every location.

The one Q&A that stayed with me most firmly was this: An audience member said that schools are still challenged to provide adequate Internet bandwidth and students now need that access both in and out of school. He asked how schools were to deal with that. Larry basically told us that we are asking the wrong question. We should change the conversation to answer, “What would we do if we had an abundance of Internet bandwidth?” He seemed to be saying that when we have a good answer, that is, a compelling vision and a story to tell around it, that we could then get the resources to be made available, but that first we have to answer with a vision of what we would do with “more than enough” Internet.

In a sense, Larry’s challenge was a central theme to the conference. CoSN asserts that the primary challenge we face to using technology well is not technical, but is essentially human, and that to make that transformation happen requires leadership and vision. I think Dr. Johnson was exhorting us to provide that leadership and vision.

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