INTRODUCTION: SETTING THE STAGE. (Footnotes deleted for this WP blog)

This book explores areas of weakness in our schools, provides examples of what needs to be changed, and gives examples of how this change can occur. It discusses the historical basis of the current system, political obstacles to change, and examples of re-structuring instructional delivery systems (how we teach) that incorporate the new technology. It also provides examples of changes to the system that incorporate the learning styles and educational needs of 21st Century digital learners.

The widespread adoption of the internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, do business, and consume information. Despite these sweeping changes, our education system has yet to identify and create new methods for educational delivery capable of taking advantage of the wealth of options the internet and virtual space provide.

Digitally literate learners are forcing the creation of new operating systems for the acquisition and application of knowledge. Schools are frozen in the past and in their current structure cannot meet the needs of 21st Century learners. They are serving learners of all ages in the same tired, traditional way carried forward from the industrial revolution and the factory system.

Technology has changed the way things work and the potential of what is available: Web 2.0, YouTube, free open source courses, Wikipedia, avatars, multi-player immersive gaming environments, Twitter, Facebook and… These developments are forcing the redefinition of classroom environments and transforming learner management models.

American institutions are not prepared for the transition. Generational differences that divide the past from this new present are so extreme that those with pre-digital, pre-Information Age mindsets must replace their outmoded literacy with new information, or fail. If enough fail, America will not generate the educated populous necessary for economic growth, progress, and leadership. America will fail to be competitive and well-educated enough to enjoy the benefits of a world it was pivotal in creating.

Why does this matter? America is not 308,000,000/1. (The needs of the many overshadowing the needs of each one) The success or failure, the productivity and ingenuity, the rights and responsibilities of one individual, each individual, regardless of the total majority of souls, is what makes America strong. The rights of the one are guaranteed by the Constitution and our rule of law. The preservation of these rights bless America and make the American Dream possible. When the education system does not guarantee the rights of each learner to a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, fact-based educational foundation, the result marks the end of the American Dream.

The educational systems of the industrial age focus on compliance and factual recall. In its prime, the educational system provided producers, consumers, and for the advancement of science. It is a system that emphasizes the production of workers with left-brain knowledge. The SAT (Standardized Achievement Test) exams in use nationally measure this part of brain development. Now, due to technology and the global marketplace, we need right-brain development. We need creative artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers … big picture thinkers; people who find ways around the constraints of systems that lock us into a particular mindset. We need people capable of bridging the technological and cultural aspects of our modern global economy with balanced left-and right-brain intelligence.

To make significant contributions, many of our most influential leaders in science and technology had to drop out of factory system schools that did not meet their needs. The educational system no longer needs to train students for a broad range of jobs better accomplished by computers. We are living in a digital world while our schools are still training factory fodder better suited to the passing age of industry.

Change doesn’t come quickly or easily to those entrenched in educational systems and ways of life they have navigated comfortably for years. Within the past decade the foundations they have based their lives and careers upon – perhaps even how they define themselves as individuals – are being yanked out from under them. They are training students for a world they once knew. Though many don’t know it, they are not preparing students to survive in the 21st Century. They proceed by circling the desks and petrifying remnants of the past. Some are scared and angry knowing there are forces out there that to them seem dangerous and anti-social. They will have to be re-educated or bypassed.

Think of a typical isolated classroom in the contained, controlled environment of a school building wherein students are locked away from the community due to the assumption that this is the best way to educate them. The building is hit by lightning. Suddenly everything explodes into myriads of fragments, each carrying coded bits of knowledge layered on top of and threaded through our traditional face-to-face experiences. Students are propelled into a virtual world that is not confined by political borders, intellectual territories, or structures like grade levels, seat time, bus schedules, disciplinary problems, teacher limitations, isolated disciplines, or class size. It is a place where the rules, structures, and petrifaction of the factory system no longer dominate. Where school buildings are not more important than children and learning is an empowering process. Where the sanctity and sharing of knowledge trumps the need to maintain a lecturer’s authority. Where students are taught how to seek, evaluate and contribute information hand-in-hand with fellow students and master educators instead of just learning facts.

The reality is that most people, including the great majority of educators, would like to believe that the opening up and access to a vast limitless universe where no one controls information, where human interactions are significantly redefined, and where access to a new seemingly unlimited resource called virtual space, can be ignored. They are barely aware that the universe of virtual space is already populated with thousands of virtual worlds, some larger than cities like San Francisco. They reject the fact that the future of every aspect of our culture – medicine, corporations, schools, parenting, home computers, the military, politics, and human relations – is becoming dependent on the use of this new resource.

Virtual Space is no longer confined to science fiction. It has now become an integral part of science fact.

              This book is not an introduction to Virtual Worlds; rather it is about learning opportunities presented by the utilization of virtual environments – not as tools, but as resources – as a significant part of necessary educational reform. You can use a search engine and the sources noted in this book to learn more about virtual world applications. You will discover that in the USA there are hundreds of programs operating and under development at this time.

The use of virtual space as a resource to enhance learning is structured quite differently than the plethora of online education programs (digital or virtual schools) currently in place. In an increasing number of states, online education is used to by-pass interdisciplinary, comprehensive, fact-based education, and the Americanization of our children. In some cases, these online schools are a vehicle for corporations to access public education dollars for profit, not for students. After several years of operation, many online universities are now under public scrutiny. In states like New York, Florida, Ohio, Utah, Arizona, Texas, California, and Wisconsin, policies have been put in place that are part of a greed-driven agenda to access public education dollars for personal profit, regardless of the damage done to children and to our nation. Online education is becoming a big business.

There is a growing body of information that online education, as currently implemented, is not effective education in the comprehensive use of the word as identified in this book. Rather, it is an inadequate form of teaching that does not provide students with the tools they need to contribute to themselves and to society. Utilization of virtual world platforms to enrich learning experiences and the acquisition of knowledge is very different than access to PowerPoints and online versions of traditional classroom materials that characterize much of online education.

This book advocates the use of the internet as an educational resource for enhancing teacher effectiveness and education, not as a way of accessing tax dollars for personal or corporate profit. Online education, through virtual world resources and emergent technologies, should make the academic environment more stimulating, more collaborative, more immersive, and significantly more – not less – rigorous.

Our world has changed. It is no longer a question of “When?” It is happening now and our schools have fallen behind. Digital natives are populating our schools. Technology is seamlessly integrated into their daily world. Cell phones are standard gear, even in third world countries. Powerful links to information and resources are commonplace. In the face of these evolutionary changes, the structure of our schools is outmoded and rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Our nation is strong. We have the resources to keep abreast of change. We need leadership from educators who embrace the new technology. Change always includes an element of discomfort and controversy. Controversy is beneficial if it gets people thinking and discussing (or cussing) ideas that are not in the current mainstream. This book presents viewpoints that can be used in a nationwide dialogue about the future of our schools and our country.

Now you can see why this book has received such high marks from parents and educators.  Order Vital Lies at:   downloads available now. Print version available by February 15, 2013