The calls to action are coming fast and furious:

Will Richardson is calling for political action, harnessing the power of the read/write web to impact educational policy.

To me, there are three questions. First, what, exactly, does this community as a whole believe about these changes and these tools and their impact on teaching and learning? Second, how do we cogently communicate that belief in a way that educates and moves others to action? Is it to create “An Inconvenient Truth” of our own, perhaps? (I’m serious.) Something that contextualizes and makes plain the complexity and the urgency of the moment? And finally, who are the various decision makers, candidates, business people and others who need to hear this message to most effectively move it forward? (Anyone know anyone in any of the nascent presidential campaign machines?)

David Warlick is calling for a new story.

  • What we need, is a new vision about education, one that reflects our increasingly digital and networked information environment, with new notions of the basic information skills — literacy,
  • That reflects a future of vast opportunities, and untold challenges, for which we are preparing our children — where their economic activities will be based far more on their inventiveness, than their ability to perform tasks and retain knowledge,
  • That reflects a new breed of children, with amazing new learning skills, who are adept at technology, but who desperately need us to teach them how to work the information.

To build that vision, WE need to be telling a new story, one that so compels on an intellectual and emotional level, that it shatters the old stories of seats in rows, nine-pound textbooks, lectures day-in and day-out, and the notion that we can measure success with a bubble sheet.

And Scott McLeod is calling for a BHAG to go along with that new story.

I think we also need a BHAG: a big, hairy, audacious goal. A tangible, concrete target that lets us know when we’ve reached some crucial point. A new story (or three or four…) is a necessary component, but I don’t think it will be sufficient in and of itself. I think we need a new story and a BHAG, because the BHAG will help drive action and allocation of resources. A new story tells us what the issues are but it doesn’t necessarily help people know what to do. The BHAG helps people understand where we might go and how to get there. Together a new story and a BHAG will help educators, and parents, and community members, and politicans create the will and the action to move us forward.

Scott goes on to suggest a BHAG: ubiquitous high-speed wireless internet access paired with a wireless-enabled laptop for every student and educator. Right on target in terms of getting kids into the read/write web world, but access seems to me to be a necessary condition, not a sufficient one. Expression—going beyond access—strikes me as the "new story" that needs to be told; because it’s about the communication more than it’s about the technology. I’m struggling to parse priorities here, and maybe it doesn’t matter which comes first. Both need to happen.

Will wonders if the Web 2.0 story needs its own Oscar-worthy documentary, something in the vein of An Inconvenient Truth that’s compelling to a mainstream audience. He may be on to something—a recent New Yorker article argues that documentaries are the new medium du jour if you want to influence social policy. David suggests some essential characteristics for telling the story:

The story must be as free from education jargon as it is from technology jargon. The story is about people, how they do things and afford to do things (market), what the care about (values), and what we can point to that everyone (kids, teachers, administrators, parents, legislators, government ministers, and presidents) can all identify with. Wes says it has to be about relationships and connections. Yes!

I’d like to add that I think it’s equally essential that the message be reflected in the medium. Not to say that documentary films, peer-reviewed journals, etc. aren’t effective . But if we’re truly telling a new story, we need to tell it in a new 21st century way by stretching our hypernarrative muscles ina new genre. We know the story is already happening widely, albeit scattered in pockets of brilliant light and buzzing activity. Our task is to find a way to pull it all together into a message that’s instantly understandable, widely accessible, and deeply resonant. Express the expression, you might say. An analogy that comes to mind is the influence of Ansel Adams’ photography on the designation of Kings Canyon and Sequioa as national parks. So if a picture is worth the requisite thousand words, what new picture can we devise to tell the story of a thousand tags?

I’ll throw this unformed idea into the fray: We need a new meme to frame the new story. The 21st century story is already being told in hundreds of classrooms by thousands of students and teachers, by thousands of bloggers, by thousands of co-equal authors. An intentional meme could connect the infinite variety of those in-progress experiences and serve as an organic and organizing point—for further teaching and learning, for discussion, for lobbying, for spreading the idea.

Reference the meme and you’re glimpsing and adding to a slice of a living museum of ideas, collaborations, and relationships—a memeseum. Track the meme on Technorati and you get an idea of what a thousand tags looks like—the recent "5things" wave is a good example. David says the story should be short and have a moral. Another way to say that might be "short and sticky."

Here’s a challenge for you gifted tinkerers out there: Invent a compelling and beautiful way to graphically represent the evolution of a new tag. Maybe something like the stunning graphics generated by Chris Coyne’s Context Free Design Grammar. . . but instead of context-free, using a richly contextual grammar. While we’re at it, let’s make it into a widget that can be embedded in every sidebar to spin out a mad melange of information: a combination hit counter, lavalamp, map, you-name-it.

Since we’ve stumbled along this far, I’ll take a shot at coining a tag for this newly-minted meme: learningpenny. The possible clever connotations are virtually infinite. Really.

So what to do with this learningpenny meme? All you learners out there, take a whack at some version of this question, whether as the basis for a blog post, a classroom project, a creative project, or whatever else you have up your read/write sleeve:

What is learning in the 21st century?

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