Italo Calvino, Technology, and the US DOE: 6 Moves for the Current Millennium

Happy New Year! I hope that 2016 is an enlightening and inspiring year for you.

I remember reading Italo Calvino’s   Six Memos for the Next Millennium at cafes and along Ipanema beach in ipanemaRio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Reading it in 2003 the millennium had already started and Calvino’s swansong was nearly two decades old.  But “Six Memos” resonated with me in a way that transcended Calvino’s focus on literacy criticism  and theory, “(the work was an )investigation into the literary values that he wished to bequeath to future generations.” In short, I felt the world and education profession had passed through a gateway.  What did we bring with us as a guide in the new era?

Calvino prepared a series of lectures in 1985. Five of them were planned in Italy. He intended to complete the sixth while in the United States. However, prior to his departure, Calvino died, his sixth lecture was unfinished. The title of the compilation indicating six memos was retained, although the book contains only five.

The topics/values which Calvino highlights  in his lecture series are:

  1. Lightness
  2. Quickness
  3. Exactitude
  4. Visibility
  5. Multiplicity
  6. Consistency (never finished)

Below is a rare interview with Calvino recorded just before his death and broadcast on BBC TV just after his death.

So, it is now 2016 and we are well into the new millennium. What is the current status of education in your world? How do you, your students, and your colleagues use technology as a tool for teaching and learning?And lastly, what can Calvino offer us as we frame education and ed technology in this millennium?

Calvino talks about the new novel and the need for change in the literary craft. I contend that the qualities Calvino identifies in Six Memos for the Next Millennium are useful and relevant guides for us in education.  A new craft for teaching and learning is needed so that when you see a classroom today, it should not be a replication of the 1980s or 1990s.  One of the key factors in education’s evolution is the ubiquity and potential of technology.


 Six Uses of Technology 

Education Week’s recent Spotlight “Leaders in Technology and Innovation” contained a range of insights and case studies regarding the implementation and current use of ed tech.  A point that stood out in the publication echoed adad-and-kid-barter-tech common sentiment among educators expressing the limits of technology in teaching and learning.  Taken from an evaluation of a 1:1 initiative in Charlotte, NC, the program noted that  “on average, students and teachers used the laptops for one lesson per day, often for ‘superficial’ academic purposes, with Internet browsing the primary form of use.”

This observation is a legitimate concern.  Such use is a limitation to education in this millennium. Certainly there must be more to do with technology. especially in a 1:1 setting.  But what else can be done?

To begin answering this question, I have returned to Calvino for inspiration.  Below you will find a use of ed tech matched with one of the qualities found in Six Memos for the Next Millennium.  Combined they represent changes in education that are facilitated by technology. With the start of the new year, there is no better time to try one, or more, with your students.

  1. Video Conference and Chat with Students Beyond the School (Lightness) “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”
    • Why do it? Collaboration, engaging with students on a global scale, and communication skills
    • Try this: 
  2. Use Social Media for Formative Assessments (Quickness) “Quickness of style and thought means above all agility, mobility, and ease, all qualities that go with writing where it is natural to digress, to jump from one subject to another, to lose the thread a hundred times and find it again after a hundred more twists and turns.”
    • Why do it? Authentic setting, full class participation, learning beyond class time
    • Try this:
  3. Students Create a Portfolio (Exactitude) “To my mind exactitude means three things above all: (1) a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question; (2) an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images;(3) a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination”
    • Why do it?  Used to collect, organize, reflect upon, and share student work – digital presence
    • Try this:     OR 
  4. Creating Media (Visibility) “…the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colours from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images.”
    • Why do it? Student generated information is part of this millennium.  Not just written papers…
    • Try thisInfographics, video, images, screencasts, podcasts… subscribe to this: 
  5. Require Students to Apply Knowledge to Contemporary Issues (Multiplicity) “…the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various “codes” into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world.”
    • Why do it? Taking informed action and/or using knowledge to impact a student’s worldview makes learning relevant.
    • Try this: 
  6. Modify/Develop Online Resources (Consistency) 
    • Why do it? Students engage with already created resources and contribute/edit the source with what they know.
    • Try this: Students can fact check, suggest modifications, and provide updates to existing information.

Implementing any of these in your classroom will move the experiences of your students into the 21st century.  But this list of 6 is by no means the final word.  To explore more options, and an even greater vision, let’s finish with the US DOE’s recent 100 plus page “memo.”


Introducing the US DOE 2016 National Education Technology Plan

Give this document a read.  I am confident that it will inspire, inform, provide context and possibilities.  Moreover, the number of resources and models will surprise you.  Checkout the vision of the plan:

“The National Education Technology Plan is the flagship educational technology policy document for the United States. The 2016 Plan, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, articulates a
vision of equity, active use, and collaborative leadership to make everywhere, all-the-time learning possible. While acknowledging the continuing need to provide greater equity of access to technology itself, the plan goes further to call upon all involved in American education to ensure equity of access to transformational learning experiences enabled by technology.”

For the sake of this blog, it is section 2 of the plan that is most relevant. It is titled,  “Teaching With Technology”  Goal: Educators will be supported by technology that connects them to people, data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that can empower and inspire them to provide more effective teaching for all learners.

Start there as a very practical in-road to changing teaching and learning in your school using ed tech.  Even better -for inspiration and an overview of the section – start with the short video below .

What Now…

Let’s finish with this Calvino quote.  I love it because it reinforces the need for change and the new.  Indeed, the wheel of education does deserve to be reinvented.

“Whenever humanity seems coWriter Italo Calvino in a Cafendemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of present and future…”

The heaviness of teacher centered and teacher directed learning anchors education to the previous millennium. How light will you become in 2016?


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