Etonian Moments

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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The Thames in London Just returning from across the pond, having spent a few beautiful spring days in the shadow of Windsor Castle on the banks of Thames, I’m struck by the moment in education and innovation. I had the great fortune of serving as a keynoter at the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools (OESIS) London event, which was hosted by Eton College. In addition, Michael Nachbar, the head of the fast-growing and intriguing Global Online Academy (GOA), and I co-facilitated a town meeting on “Future-Ready Schools” with education leaders from the US and Europe. Sitting at a dinner hosted by the impressive Head Master of Eton College, Tony Little, and Sanje Ratnavale, the President of the OESIS Group, which is fast becoming a go to resource for independent school online and blended learning innovation, I couldn’t help but take in the surroundings and the moment. We were sitting in Eton College’s grand and almost regal College Hall, which is an anchor setting for this institution founded in 1440 by King Henry the VI (read more about the deep tradition of Eton College here). The Head Master welcomed the many American guestsDining Hall at Eton College by reminding them that Eton was quite balanced when it came to America, especially given that two of its graduates lead the fight against the American rebels as British Generals, while two of the signatories of our Declaration of Independence were Etonians as well. He went on to note that today’s leaders at Eton are committed to embracing and leveraging the innovations of the day in both online and blended learning—indeed, they recently launched the Eton College Online initiative and joined the Global Online Academy—but to do it in a way that stays true to their deep commitment to tradition and more personalized learning. Coming in the wake of recent massive scaling of online education by the likes of Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and many more “elite” universities, and the almost two decades of work by scores of others from across the education spectrum, we have to just say it. Anyone who tries to claim that online and blended learning are fads needs to stop. Just stop. Thankfully we are beginning to move beyond the hyperbole and hysteria that seemed to frame these innovations for far too long. More conversation is happening now about how we honor the past as we move to the future, embrace our rich traditions, but not ignore tools, techniques, and new engagement strategies that can help more and more students—especially students from increasingly diverse backgrounds with increasingly diverse learning needs—make the most of their education opportunities. The more resonant and thoughtful voices today are not saying that deep personal relationships with students and face-to-face strategies don’t matter. In fact the data from numerous innovative projects show the value to using all of the arrows in our education quiver. We’re hearing less of the “burn the village to save the village” or “there is no way that can be quality” commentary and more of the “can we learn how best to integrate or innovate with these tools” and “can we ask empirical questions about what works, for whom, and in what way” questions. What I hope is that more of these Etonian moments are happening for different education sectors, different educational institutions, and different educators and students. And as they do, we can move more boldly in to what I hope is an exciting age of learning together, using the best of the academy’s critical thinking, creativity, and courageous energy to help more students learn well and finish strong.