The Competitive Spirit

In the business world, firms are always attempting to develop a competitive advantage over their competitors. A competitive advantage suggests that a firm is doing something that is distinctive and cannot be duplicated by others.

With that as background, I observed two events in the last 24 hours that have me thinking about competitive advantage…and worried about our country.

First, I had an engaging and energetic asynchronous discussion with my online class last night. This graduate class consists of a group of K-12 teachers working on the masters in education. Through a discussion board, we were “discussing” the merits of Web 2.0 applications in the classroom, as well as the negative aspects of allowing younger children to go online unsupervised. These two topics generated over 100 postings in two days from ten people! The synopsis from these teachers was that schools were forced to block access to web sites to prevent kids from going to unsavory sites…and that these blockages impacted their ability as teachers to model behavior on the internet or highlight new knowledge from web sites they might have discovered at home – only to find blocked once they returned to the classroom. Some of their frustrations lay in the seemingly arbitrary way that different schools and school boards locked down the web, including no differentiation of rights and privileges between teachers and students and limited policy on getting a website approved.

In fact, most of my graduate students cannot access the social bookmarking site I am using in this class due to its being blocked by the county.

So that was on my mind when I came to work this morning. There, I talked with a colleague who had just completed a Skype call with friends in Asia. They were discussing an innovative program being set up in Bangkok where both teacher and student use of Web 2.0 applications will be the norm. Jeff Utecht of Learning 2.0 is involved, and I have already seen some innovative uses he has made of Ning social networking, Twitter, and digital video. As I listened to my colleague, the excitement he felt was palpable.

A side discussion last night with my students involved Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. Tom recently discussed his latest edition in this MIT video. One of my favorite quotes from his book was:

When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: ‘Finish your dinner—people in China are starving.’ I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: ‘Finish your homework—people in China and India are starving for your job.’

These two events 12 hours apart brought home to me the digital gap emerging with children around the world. Children in this country attend schools that restrict access to the very tools that they will need to be competitive, while children in Asia gain expertise with these very tools. Now granted, the percentage of children in Asia that have access to this wired environment is small, but as that wonderful SlideShow “Shift Happens” noted last year, a small percentage of honors Asian children still outnumber our total school population. As Tom Friedman’s quote suggests, we should be worried about these gifted Asians with high digital literacy skills.

The last 12 hours have brought into focus for me the fact that our diligent efforts to protect our kids in our public schools in many ways simply removes the competitive advantage that they ought to have, growing up in this wonderful nation. As the PBS Special, Growing Up Online, pointed out – the kids know how to take care of themselves and are hungry to use these tools. Our policies across this nation need to relax and give our kids access to the skills they will need to be competitive in a global economy.

5 comments to The Competitive Spirit

  1. Jeff Nugent says:

    Britt…I think you nailed home some key points about restrictions placed on teachers in K-12 settings who are attempting to use technology in meaningful ways,but can’t access the Network.

    Will Richardson made a recent post here: http://weblogg-ed.com/2008/tale-of-two-schools-and-some-questions/
    that dovetails nicely with your observations in your online course. He points out that the experience is diverse and can vary widely from school to school. He cites top level admin. and school-based leadership as key factors about what unfolds at a particular school. I have to say I agree!

    The other thing that I’d throw into the mix here would be that being “connected” and “participating” may well be important for engaging in a global economy, but perhaps even more so for engaged citizenship in a networked culture.

  2. Gabriela says:

    Britt,

    love the quote! As Richardson said there are some differences from school to school. And I add, from country to country. For eg., in Romania, the main issue is not to block the content or access to the information available on the Net but to LEARN teachers how to learn their pupils to be safety online.
    Our kids have more digital skills than teachers or school heads and lots of time the learning process is going in the opposite direction: things like plagiarism, cyberbulling even copyright issue come from the kids.

  3. Britt says:

    Jeff:

    I had seen Will’s posting and agree. I liked even more Laura Deisley’s comment to Will’s posting, where she said:

    “I agree with you that leadership ‘at the top’ is really important; yet, what makes the telling difference … is that it doesn’t stop there. … There is a culture in that place that is owned and nurtured by all the stakeholders, notably the faculty and students. And that shared vision, that SHARED STORY, makes all the difference. Because it is shared it is owned and therefore is sustainable.”

  4. concerned citizen says:

    Tom Friedman reports only one side of the coin, as far aa India and China are concerned. According to Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (who, by the way, doesnt get a mention in Firedman’s “The World is Flat”) 3/4th of Indian population is left out of the fold of globalizaion, which equals nearly 800 million peopel! So, what kind of “progress” and “develoment” is that?

    I would much rather the discourse on Globalization came from economists like Joesph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank), Paul Krugman (Princeton), Pankaj Ghemawat (Harvard)etc. Ted Koppel interviews Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz, who ofcourse doesnt find a mention in Friedman’s book.
    http://select.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/opinion/25friedman-transcript.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

    Two books to read, which offer a counterperspective to Friedman’s “The World is Flat.”

    The Harvard Professor, Pankaj Ghemawat’s latest book, “Redefining Global Strategy,” is more academically inclined. I read an article of his published in the journal, “Foreign Policy”, where he argues that the world is, at best, only semi-globalized. His argument being that Cultural, Administrative, Geographic and Economic aspects of a nation come in the way of total globalization from taking place and cites examples of the same.

    The other small, but interesting book, is by Aronica and Ramdoo, “The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman’s New York Times Bestseller.” It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman’s book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn’t a single table or data footnote in Friedman’s entire book. “Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution,” says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, and they provide a comprehensive, yet concise, framework for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

    You may want to see http://www.mkpress.com/flat
    and watch http://www.mkpress.com/flatoverview.html
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman’s
    “The World is Flat”.

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens! http://www.mkpress.com/ShiftExtreme.html

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation
    http://www.mkpress.com/extreme
    http://www.mkpress.com/Extreme11minWMV.html

  5. Britt says:

    Concerned citizen makes some good points regarding what Friedman leaves out. I remain convinced that his fundamental point regarding the internet shifting the playing field was on target, and that our kids and teachers are having important uses of this key skill blocked while others worldwide are embracing it. A teacher yesterday asked me for a presentation I am doing next week, and I pointed her to Slideshare where the slides are located. She could not see it because her school system blocks SlideShare.

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