The Long-Awaited Oxford Debate

The second keynote address at the conference was an 'Oxford-style' debate about the question below. I have summarized the main points by each contributor below.

It was moderated by Robert Seigel from NPR's All Things Considered.

Video archive here from ISTE Vision

Four panelists, 2 for and 2 against (5 minutes each)

Q: Are bricks and mortar schools detrimental to the future of education?


Assembly line/factory jobs are declining. Instead, children must compete in a global world with higher order thinking skills. Modern day schools haven't really changed over the past few decades. Defining a school by a bricks and mortar 'boundary' cuts off children and is detrimental to the future of education. This assumes that every learner in the building learns the same way and has the same needs. In the current global economy, we must educated every child with smaller budgets. Moving away from brick and mortar schools will meet this challenge and allow students to access materials and ideas from all over the world. Bricks and mortar schools limit socialization. Students must be able to communicate and collaborate locally and globally. This communication can be face to face and asynchronous without the need for bricks and mortar schools.

While our world has changed, our schools have not.

-Michael Horn


Bricks and mortar schools are necessary. We must 'get together' to learn something. Many of our schools are run down, shabby, and under-served. Buildings can become great tools for learning. Don't just 'throw out' our schools. They are the vessels for the wishes of our democracy. They hold together communities and provide services for those who cannot get them anywhere else. Families can interact, get health services, and use resources like computers. Schools are a "house of learning;" a place where we 'get together' to learn.

--Brad Jupp (only 4 months on the job! Superintendent from Denver, union leader, teacher)


We use technology to support medieval practices like NCLB. A classroom is not a box containing a group of small desks and one big desk. Schools contain science labs, dancing, arts and other extracurricular activities.

Technology can allow for bad teaching done on the cheap. Online learning does not provide a holistic learning experience. In an online course, individualization is not customizing a multiple-choice test.

When talking about socialization in schools, the # 1 infraction in school is talking. If no talking occurs in an online environment, where is the socialization?

Laptop programs decentralizes knowledge. Teaching roles crumbled when teachers saw what their students could do.

IWB require a classroom!

Gary Stager, PhD. -- visiting professor at Pepperdine University)
Full text here:


We need a new envisioning of what bricks and mortar schools could be. Closing the gap in resources and opportunities for students. We must use a combination of face to face and online. It's not black and white.

What about the child who has a single parent or can't access the digital/online learning? A brick and mortar school serves the community, not just the students. Our students aren't 'self-directed' by birth, they require teachers to guide them. When students are socially connected to their schools, they have more success. Online learning is often missing this connection. This is why a hybrid model best serves students as opposed to completely asynchronous learning.

We need socialization because of 'social capital.' Students should be connected globally and locally through PBL. Bricks and mortar should still exist with an online option.

-- Cheryl Lemke (CEO Metiri Group)


Marshall Thompson

We must learn to live your life in an international community. We don't need a place for teachers, we can now have teachers from around the world teaching students from all over the world simultaneously. Bricks and mortar is not what facilitates learning, it limits learning to 8 hours a day.

Erik Bakke (student from West Springfield HS in VA)

I feel excitement walking into the building, even if the building itself is not perfect and is in disrepair. Teachers are adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of our students. Bricks and mortar schools create strong connections to our local community. We all have one need that we share--the need to work in groups and as a team. School provides a place for this. On the topic of socialization, the dedication of our teachers and their love for what they do rubs off on students and motivates students. Through the enthusiasm of teachers and faculty that we learn to love academics and are prepared for our life.


Gary Stager, PhD.

Many kids haven't had a chance to have a discussion with an adult or any kind of discussion. We have a 'bankruptcy of our imaginations.'

Cheryl Lemke

We need online education. We need to reinvent or schools. If we don't have bricks and mortar schools, we will 'lose a generation' in our communities. These students depend on their community school for opportunities and services.

There is common ground on both sides. We need the personal connection, but technology will help enhance teaching.

Audience question:

Lawsuits when using Web 2.0 technologies?

Parents must know it's being used and that there is a set of expectations. Lawsuits can exist inside and outside the classroom, so what's the big deal?


After the audience voted using the Turning Technologies clickers, it was resolved that the large majority of the audience felt that bricks and mortar schools are NOT detrimental to the future of education.

I felt, coming into the debate, that schools need to physically exist to serve their communities. However, these schools also need to make learning opportunities available to students that expose them to and help them interact with people outside their community. They need to be active members in the global community to be successful in today's marketplace and to be good global citizens. This is exactly what Cheryl Lemke was proposing - a hybrid model.

If you have comments or anything you'd like to add, please add them below!


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