The End of the Beginning

By Jeff Gerlach

Click to hear full speach

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Winston Churchill

To put it into context, Churchill delivered this speech in November of 1942, in the midst of World War II. D-Day had just been executed in June of that year, Allied victory was achieved at the second battle of El Alamein mere days before, and the battle of Stalingrad was ongoing; but would eventually tip in the Allies favor. The Allies had begun the process of reclaiming Europe from Nazi occupation; no doubt they saw victory on the horizon. There was just cause to be excited, yet there was more to be done. There were still battles to fight, territories to reclaim, and peoples to liberate. Great things had been accomplished, but the ultimate goal still laid ahead.

Although the weight and gravity of my work is decidedly less than his, today I liken myself to Churchill and his words. I take great pride in the work I’ve done the past few years. Over the course of my participation in the MAET program, it’s been a real hands on learning experience as I’ve implemented many strategies in step with my own teaching. In the beginning, I saw it as ‘killing two birds with one stone’ opportunity; taking care of my assignments for MAET by weaving them into my lesson plans. Yet as time progressed, I outgrew the task orientated mind-state. The details of the assignments have faded and the lessons have been given. Yet the takeaway is the bevy of ideas, both stolen and original, that I’ve assimilated into my own teaching. My view of the world has changed as I have learned to harness the educational potential of old, new, and forthcoming technologies.

Like Churchill, I recognize that this is a time for celebration. Some of the things that my colleagues and I have created are truly cutting edge things. Online learning modules, self-sustaining technology adoption proposals, adapting memes to teach concepts, subverting genres, making strange things look familiar, making familiar things look strange, and pioneering new literacies for the digital age are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m proud of my progression and I’m proud of the great things that I’ve done in my classroom. When I reflect upon this point in time years from now, I know that the landmark events of my future were made possible in part by my participation in MAET.

But what happens when I leave the safe utopian confines of the program? (interestingly enough, I’ve never once stepped foot in a bricks and mortar classroom!) I envision that it could be very easy to become isolated. The challenge that awaits, is real transformative technology application on a mainstream level. Simply doing great things on my own island will do nothing to grow the community around me. Standing idly by, watching technologies continue to be used on the periphery of instruction, would negate all the hard work I’ve done thus far. The future of online learning is still largely undecided, it is partly my responsibility to give shape to this area of education.

I intend to be a leader in educational technology, but most of all I intend to help enhance learning. I would love to be a technology interventionist for a school/district. To reach this goal I will continue to work with colleagues, both individually and group settings, to enhance learning through the thoughtful application of technologies in the classroom. I envision taking greater action toward common problems of practice in our building, seeking to address them via means that are effective and practical while minimizing student and teacher agitation. The latter of which is extremely essential. One of the biggest hinderances to technology adoptions, in my opinion, is the lack of support that is given to educators to apply the tools to the curriculum. I want to be the intermediary that will work with teachers to unlock the pedagogical potential of technologies and closely monitor student interaction with technology to help them build upon their prior knowledge in this area. Technology doesn’t sell or teach itself and no technology is superior to the skills of the individual educator. The impact of technology is directly tied to how well it complements highly effective instruction. Instructional style and goals will dictate my recommendations in this partnership. Learning and people drive instruction, technology is merely an assistant in this beautiful partnership.

I would also love the opportunity to focus on a specific area of interest of mine; online learning. I’m intrigued with the possibilities that learning online can afford students and teachers. I envision virtual classrooms where students are able to learn with one another across continents, creeds, and capabilities. Learning online can remove many of the traditional boundaries of the educational system; affording opportunities to the handicapped, remotely located, and the culturally isolated. Yet above all else it takes place in a forum where the world learns from one another, allowing students to be students of the world.

I’m excited about the active role that students can take in shaping ideas and creating original and remixed works of art that engage higher order thinking skills. Perhaps most of all, I want to help define and teach the new literacies that are unique to online reading, specifically cognitive flex theory. The strongest learning online occurs through serendipitous exploration, wherein the goal of learning is constantly evolving from one article/video/meme/info-graphic to the next. This mode of learning stands in virtual opposition to traditional standard based learning where learning objectives are concrete and learning paths to those objectives are far more limiting for students. I believe strongly in serendipitous learning because I believe it offers complete differentiation and is inherently student driven. I feel that my ideas, and passion for them, will allow me to be helpful in defining best practice in this area.

Life-long learning is by definition an open ended endeavor. When Churchill spoke about “the end,” I think he too saw it as a moving target. For there were still battles to be fought after El Alamein, and even after taking Berlin, Europe needed rebuilding. There’s always more to be done. Completing the MAET program is a landmark moment for me professionally. It has helped to equip me with the tools to become a leader in educational technology. Now, at the end of the beginning, I will keep leaping toward the endless end.