While there is no requirement that we need to keep a blog for this course, I have gotten used to doing so in order to keep a record of my own learning. Consequently, entries here may be sporadic.
The first week’s discussion prompt
“What do you think Dr. Waks’s purposes and intentions are in his book, Education 2.0? Are you sympathetic to those purposes? Do you have any skepticism about his approach or where you think he’ll be going in the book? Are you excited to read this book? Why or why not?”
To begin, the full title of this text is very alluring: Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution
and the Transformation of the School. Even the graphic on the cover draws one in in unexpected ways. Featuring a flat screen computer monitor with a mortar board perched on a top corner with a digital wire frame model of a hand extending from it. At a quick glance it’s easy to interpret that model hand as grasping a human hand and drawing it in towards the monitor/the digital world. But in fact, it’s extending a diploma, which even in its outward motion, still simultaneously draws one into the digital realm of the monitor as the method of attaining the credential. It’s quite a subtle, yet powerful visual representation of the title, and likely the themes contained therein.
As someone who has “a thing” for theory in so far as it has practical applications, the fact that the very first person Dr. Waks acknowledges is John Dewey (along with several other philosophers and theoreticians) is a good sign in my book. I learn best by starting with a global view and then scoping down to see how the big picture applies to the real world. To start with these big picture thinkers is encouraging. That said, it could also signal that the text will be mostly theory with little suggested action. Looking at the table of contents, only the last chapter, “What Needs to Be Done?”, contains a verb in the chapter title. This gives me some pause given the book title includes the word “transformation”. So, I will predict that it is the readers who will have to do the lion’s share of developing the actions needed to bring about the changes implied or suggested in the text. I find it interesting too that I’m reading the acknowledgements of a text with a Web 2.0 eye — as a kind of descriptive narrative of the author’s collaborative network. Connected learning and the 4 C’s in analog form.
Insofar as Waks lays out his proposition “that the Internet and its new social tools have much to contribute to such new social models of learn and living,” I am sympathetic. He rightly and succinctly sums up the extent to which schools have ineffectively employed computers for education and only as add-ons for furthering the industrial model of schooling. Already by the bottom of page xi I’m considering all the ways I’ve been complicit while believing I was doing something cutting edge (at least as far as my technology use when I was teaching — which last was in 2006).
As a coach and consultant, however, I’ve been using Web 2.0 technologies for professional learning much more. But after three classes in the LTE program I realize that even that work has not pushed the envelope sufficiently. I’m finding a high degree of relevance when Waks writes, “Researchers will conduct assessment studies pitting high-tech and no-tech instructional methods against one another in a horserace — with inconclusive results. These responses inevitably miss what is most important about the new technologies — that they are already [emphasis added] facets of new ways of life with their own distinctive processes and ends” (p. xii).
One of the challenges I regularly face as a coach and consultant is getting both administrators and teachers to actually integrate ICT methods into their priorities and practices. For the more resistant, they live in that “horserace”. The difference is that to them the results are conclusive and no-tech or low-tech wins the race. For many of the teachers I work with they either have no interest in digital learning or they believe they don’t have the time to become expert enough in it in order to teach with it. Yet the refrain I keep singing is that the technology is already here and impacting all our lives. Not just the lives of teens. So why are we not using it to teach students who are completely connected the other 16 hours a day they are not in school? Why are we not teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, creative users of that technology as well? Consequently, I felt validated reading the above passage and am quite sympathetic to Waks’s message and mission.
Chapter One: Young People
My “leisure” reading this summer was dominated by danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens. So I found chapter one, “Young People”, to be quite resonant.
“[T]eens are true adults whose development is artificially inhibited by constraining institutions, especially schools. Freed from these constraints, teens are highly capable — in some ways more so than adults” (p. 6). As a high school teacher who has taught mainly 9th graders throughout my career, I’m always amazed at exactly what teenagers can do when we adults set up just enough of a scaffold and then get the hell out of their way and watch. I’m never completely prepared for their boundless creativity, flashes of profound insight and wisdom, and righteous yearning for justice. With 5 decades+ on this earth, I know what horrors humans are capable of. Yet I still shake my head in disbelief when I see or hear something terrible a person or group of people have done. I’ve wondered if that is because I’ve never quite grown out of my own teen mindsets. I wonder if that’s why I believe “teens are awesome, because (some of us at least) still have little bits of innocence from our childhood combined with maturity as we turn into adults” (p. 6).
Finally, Waks articulates something that I have long believed and could not fully formulate, which is Rawls’s “Aristotelian principle”. It hurts my soul as a human being and makes me scream “Malpractice!” as an educator when I walk into a classroom and see students copying information from a textbook into a packet; then to see the teacher walk the room at the end of the period checking for completion of said packet and calling it learning. This is so far below what humans need to thrive because “other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity” (p. 9).
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
With all of these experiences in my own practices, I am quite sympathetic to Waks’s intention and purposes. From my learnings so far in the LTE program, I absolutely believe in his purposes, his mission. I believe getting educators to incorporate the technologies that are relevant to the lives and experiences of 21st century children is a key to rejuvenating student interest and excitement about learning. And it would certainly seem as if this is Waks’s project. If pushed to articulate where I’m skeptical, I would say it’s around the combination of what may be a significant amount of theory, combined with his stating that this is not about “fixing, reforming, or improving today’s schools, but at laying out a new blueprint for an educational transformation — a shift to a new paradigm for new kinds of educational organizations.” I’m not skeptical about the need for such work. I’m skeptical because it seems to call for a razing of very old, entrenched institutions and very deep-seated societal beliefs about those institutions. And while I may be someone who can get on board with blowing it all up and starting from scratch, societies do not respond quickly to the kinds of paradigm shifts Waks is calling for. What I sense from Dr. Waks so far — and I share — is a sense of urgency to bring about this paradigm shift. What I fear is that it might take generations to happen to the extent we need it to. That said, I think it is no accident that chapter one as a whole is about young people (not “children”, by the way). As such, it implicitly makes young people the foundation, the center, the reasons for the next 14 chapters to follow. That not only excites me. It makes me hopeful that if society can see and believe that this project is about young people and their future, as well as our collective future, then we might be able to make this paradigm shift sooner rather than later.
Dr. Leonard Waks talks about MOOCs