Week 8- The Helpfulness of the “Learningweb Revolution”

On the whole, Waks’s project seems too extreme and lacks enough solid grounding in the realities and political contexts of our times.  As such, it would be hard to see how anyone could take it seriously as a model for transforming existing schools.  Nevertheless, several of the perspectives and some of the history and research in Education 2.0 have informed my thinking and professional judgments about how schooling and education in the 21st Century ought to be done.

The Helpfulness of Waks’s Vision of the “learningweb revolution”

One way Waks’s vision has influenced my thinking is his presentation of the scope and magnitude of the social, cultural, and economic sea changes washing across the planet as a result of digital, wireless, and network technologies.  Not that I wasn’t aware of these changes prior to reading Waks.  But the way he compares our times to similar upheavals in society when the shift from agriculture to industry occurred lends perspective to our current moment.  Yet, by highlighting just how different the industrial era is from the digital era, Waks brings into stark relief the tensions and crises the transition is causing across society in our present circumstances.  He also does an effective job of addressing what must change if educators are to adapt the profession to the new world in which we already live and serve the children of a networked, digital age who are completely disaffected from industrial schooling.

Despite some of Waks’s proposals being to “out there” to be taken seriously, he presents glimmers of hope for those of us who are eager to usher in the changes we know are necessary for digitally mediated education.  After all, “paradigm shifts do not take place in a vacuum.  Horace Mann’s ‘common school’ revolution didn’t happen ‘of itself’; it was a direct response by economic and political elites to the social and economic changes ushered in by the automated production in New England factories after 1820”  (Waks, p. 196).  The history of past shifts in education let us know that the shifts are not only possible, but do happen when the political and economic conditions are right.  Today, the economic conditions are ripe for this change.  We just have to be prepared for when the political winds shift.  When they do, many of Waks’s ideas will make for a helpful menu of educational options even if his entire project is ultimately deemed infeasible.

Another way his ideas about the learningweb revolution could be beneficial is for educators who are interested in starting a new school.  For the purposes of such a project, Education 2.0 could be a useful blueprint or menu from which to design a 21st century school for the kinds of learning Waks envisions for the future.  Indeed, the schools Waks’s envisions  seems a suitable space for the “connectivisit” methods to be tested.  As George Siemens defines it,

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.  Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”

Sometimes described as a “new” educational philosophy for the digital age, connectivism describes what I imagine Waks’s open learning centers would be if one actually existed.  However, even for a startup school, all of Waks’s version of Education 2.0 are not.  Still, it does provide a bunch of paradigm-busting educators many choices for how to plan a school that provides a 21st Century education with the tools of the age central to its mission.

Colleagues and Friends (and Schools) That Are/Not Doing IT

Only one of my schools is willing to  include some online professional learning.

While I may not be in a position to implement much within school contexts, I am taking my opportunities where I can grab them.  Currently, one of my schools has agreed to conduct as much of our PD online as possible via Google Classroom.  This is as much about making an opportunity out of a crisis moment given the current Illinois budget fiasco.  But it is also about directly demonstrating to teachers that self-paced, mastery-oriented, just-in-time learning, provided through digital, networked, situated contexts can be powerful paths to learning.  Of course, a parallel goal is for teachers to transfer the same methods through which they learn to their students.  (Indeed, few moments in my PD sessions are as exciting to me as when I hear a teacher say, “This is so cool!  I need to try [insert digitally mediated learning activity here] with my kids.  They would love this!”)   I’m certain there will be bumps and pushback.  But we have to do something to start the ball rolling.  Not to mention how great it feels putting into practice some of the things I’ve learned as a result of my studies at NLU.  It’s also a great feeling working with a school courageous enough to take this plunge!

Still, the above school is far from the norm.  Looking around the CPS schools with which I work, there is much Education 2.0 gets completely right in terms of students’ schooling and learning experiences today.  Reading Waks on the heals of other scholars like boyd (It’s Complicated) and Ito (Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out), it hurts my teacher soul to walk into CPS high schools and see what kids contend with.  Day after day they travel from classroom to classroom doing work that has little to no connection to their lives.  The work is driven by performance oriented educators and policy makers much higher up the hierarchical org chart where all that matters, really, is high test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates.  Worse, most teachers provide few paths that might connect students’ interests to the content they seem to believe is so vital for them to know. When it comes to the educational methods imposed on them, each day students walk into the school and become time travelers for 8 hours a day, warping backwards to the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Tragically, most of their teachers view students on phones as some kind of threat.  Technology — when it is used  — is the gravy on top, not the meat and potatoes of learning.   In light of these conditions, is it that hard to understand students’ apathy towards their own learning?  I only wish I worked with more schools and colleagues where implementing the new paradigm (though not necessarily Waks’s full vision) was happening as a matter of mission.

My Personal Assist

Even though I don’t know of a school or colleagues that are “working toward implementing this new paradigm”, I would pay real money to get a position in just such a school and begin the long, hard, complex work of leveraging students’ digital lives, tapping their interests, experiences, and expectations in order to transform teacher practice and redesigning curriculum.  I would create professional learning opportunities where teachers “must consider how the content and mature organization of knowledge grow out of the practical demands of social life, and how that content is used, tested, and modified in its actual use” (Waks, p. 197).   I would work towards a mastery oriented environment (Waks, p. 206) where play and error take their rightful places as the essential elements of learning that they are.  And the medium and playground for such work — for students and teachers alike — would include and require the networked technologies and personal devices that are a part of everyone’s lives and central to such kinds of 21st Century learning. 

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism:A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved June 8, 2017, from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

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