Reflections on Michael Fullan's "Stratosphere"

I just completed a stint as a "fellow" at a conference for The Schlechty Center. As part of the conference we read Michael Fullan's Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge. In the book, Fullan  "takes a close look at the fast-paced world of emerging technologies and argues that the inevitable influence of technology on teaching and learning must not be resisted, but rather embraced and applied in meaningful ways to positively impact school classrooms." (from

It was a great read full of thought provoking ideas. Rather than rant on and on about it, I thought I would simply share my favorite quotes from the book. There are a lot, so I've bold faced my favorites. Enjoy!

I call this triad “the stratosphere.” It includes technology with its huge, ever expanding storehouses of information, but also opportunities to learn differently, what I call pedagogy; and it incorporates change knowledge—what we should do with all this information to change things, presumably for the better.

In effect, stratosphere says that a great piece of technology is like a living being because of the way we experience it.

Change will become more enjoyable when it proffers experiences that are engaging, precise, and specific; high yield (good benefit relative to effort); higher order (stretching humans in creativity, problem solving, and innovation); and collaborative for individual and collective benefit.

I hold out four criteria for integrating technology and pedagogy to produce exciting, innovative learning experiences for all students—something desperately needed to bring education into the 21st century. These new developments must be i) irresistibly engaging (for students and for teachers); ii) elegantly efficient and easy to use; iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and iv) steeped in real-life problem solving.

In education we have just about reached the end of squeezing good out of an outdated school system.

Stratosphere is about opening our eyes to both the dark side of technology and to its virtually unlimited enlightenment side—no powerful tool is ever neutral in its use.

The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention— the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress.

Don’t focus on technology—focus on its use.

Technology wants what life wants: • Increasing efficiency • Increasing opportunity • Increasing emergence • Increasing complexity • Increasing diversity • Increasing specialization • Increasing ubiquity • Increasing freedom • Increasing mutualism • Increasing beauty • Increasing sentience • Increasing structure • Increasing evolvability

The digital life of students is largely outside schools, and it is a fairly undisciplined world

Children today hate school, he says, because they learn very differently than the way school teaches them.

We should not discount technology; rather, it is that we need to be aware of its dangerous downside in order to reduce its addictive power and maximize its prodigious upside. The basic question is, who is in charge here—human or machine?

There is only one thing worse than being bored and that is being responsible for teaching the bored under conditions that restrict what you can do.

What the skinny will have to capture in education is two big things: engagement and efficiency (high yield).

Short exercises that focus on students’ thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in and about school can lead to large gains in student achievement

Once students felt that the adults involved were interested in who they were, their willingness to make a positive contribution rose.

It is not extrinsic incentives, recognition, or even positive feedback that matters the most but rather progress in the work and managers who create the conditions that make progress more likely.

If people are involved in meaningful work, and if they feel capable, and if they are helped to make even small progress, they become more motivated and ready for the next challenges. Effective organizations foster conditions for these positive progress loops to prevail.

Wagner considers motivation as the source of all good learning and unpacks it by concluding that intrinsic motivation is fueled by play (experimenting), purpose (wanting to make a difference), and passion (devoting yourself to something you find deeply meaningful).

“Increasingly in the 21st century,” argues Wagner, “what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know. The interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that all students must master today.

Students will not have a good day at school when every second teacher is frustrated and every third teacher would rather be somewhere else.

Prensky has 10 other measures that take minimal effort on the part of teachers, but have great potential positive impact on children’s education: 1. Doing less “telling” while allowing students to research the answers to guiding questions on their own 2. Always connecting what is taught with real-world outcomes 3. Helping students distinguish the unchanging “verbs” (skills) of education from the rapidly changing “nouns” (tools) 4. Treating students as learning partners 5. Employing students’ own tools (particularly video and cellphones) for learning 6. Using more peer-to-peer teaching 7. Off ering students far more choices, rather than mandating what all must read or do 8. Allowing students to be the primary users (and maintainers) of classroom technology 9. Sharing success via short videos posted on sites such as YouTube or TeacherTube 10. Regularly connecting students with the world via free, secure tools such as Skype and ePals

The integration of technology and pedagogy to maximize learning must meet four criteria. It must be irresistibly engaging; elegantly efficient (challenging but easy to use); technologically ubiquitous; and steeped in real-life problem solving.

Making digital devices available and helping teachers and students use them is the easy part—but it isn’t pedagogy.

The school assesses how much accelerated learning is occurring as a result of the technology. It does so according to three measures: Does the technology in question enable the student to Meet (M) the success criteria? Does it help the student get there Faster (F)? And does it assist the student in achieving Higher (H) levels of learning than he or she would without using the particular technology? Read more at location 61
even the most sophisticated technology still needs to be guided by strong pedagogy.

Technological prowess by itself doesn’t make you much smarter (although it may appear to).

The biggest obstacles to change are inertia, skepticism, and indifference.

The key to developing services or products that sell is that the innovation must focus on the customer, not the device

The teacher as change agent is crucial, or we will get aimless multi-tasking.

Technology and pedagogy must be integrated around the roles of both students and teachers.

Great teachers and other leaders respect others before the latter have earned it.

Speaking of role flipping, students will be great technology teachers for the adults—what a fantastic resource to help bond the new partnership.

Pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge operating in concert will become a powerhouse of learning. Once this happens, technology, we can be sure, will pay more than its share. It will become a dynamic player shaping the future.

Make it all about learning.

Technology is not a panacea. Not all technology is good for pedagogy. And great pedagogy can and will exist without technology. We have, however, greatly miscast and underutilized technology’s power. When we enlist technology in the service of exploratory learning for all, watch out!

All quotes from: Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge. Don Mills, Ont.: Pearson, 2013.


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