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.

Week 7- Clash of Paradigms

The clash of paradigms described by Dr. Leonard Waks and Sir Kenneth Robinson is a struggle between preserving the hierarchical industrial model of education by reforming schooling on the one side, and deploying digital and network technologies to transform education by evolving schools into open educational centers of learning on the other. 

Essential Elements

While there are common elements between these paradigms, there are some significant differences.  The industrial model of schools is characterized by hierarchical structures, standardization, and age-grouping for the purposes of initiating young people into the adult world of factory work.  Some of the assumptions here include the legitimacy of the diploma system to deliver desirable employment and social allocation, the concept of “the dropout” as socially deleterious and collecting diplomas from high school, college, and graduate school is socially desirable.  Another assumption is that  only certified teachers ought to deliver the content they are credentialed to teach through standardized curricula.

In contrast, the Education 2.0 educational model is based on individualized learning, collaboration, and teaching and learning with digital tools and open, networked resources.  Schools are conceived of as open education centers making wide use of Open Education Resources and seek to initiate young people into the adult world by connecting them to it through situated learning experiences.  Advocates view teachers and students alike as participants in and contributors to the learningweb, through which they are initiated to take their place in the  knowledge economy.  Education 2.0 advocates also make some assumptions.  The first is that students can guide their own learning journeys.  The second is that non-certified persons can be co-equal educators of self-directed students simply by virtue of their content knowledge and experience.  The third has to do with what often appears to be a privileging of technological means to learning ends.  Granted, this last one is not necessarily what Ed 2.0 adopters believe.  Nevertheless, when the use of learningweb technologies is a central component of the paradigm, the message quickly gets elided that what matters is quality instruction regardless of whether or not technology is involved.

Hesitations & Keeping Within Known Boundaries

Reasons abound for why individuals and entire systems remain within the old paradigm and be reluctant to adopt the new paradigm.  One reason for remaining likely has to do with the rhetoric surrounding education.  “Reform” is a difficult concept to oppose.  So conceiving of oneself as a reformer provides an attractive and powerful identity.  Who can’t get behind reforming schools, especially when the schools have been framed as failures?  As Sir Kenneth Robinson notes, “People say we have to raise standards as if this is a breakthrough….  Yes, we should.  Why should you lower them?”  Ideas such as this are so positive they are easy to espouse and feel good about embracing.  Another reason for keeping within the old paradigm is that most teachers likely see themselves as part of a long tradition of “passing on our cultural genes” and sending young people to meet the future (Robinson).  Consciously or unconsciously, they position themselves as the next generation of educators, previous generations of which have heretofore sent their students successfully into the future.  Yet lest I sound as if I’m damning with faint praise, I want to be fair.  Most educators do not maintain the same perspective as we’ve been privileged to attain by virtue of our interrogating and wrestling with the big picture.  Most teachers are too bogged down in the day-to-day dynamics (read: survival) that “school reform” has wrought.

Indeed, hesitation to adopt the new paradigm could very well have to do with a much more down-to-earth reason:  The amount of newness Education 2.0 and the learningweb require.  When we stop to consider it, what element of our profession is not effected by digital and networked technologies?  To truly, meaningfully onboard we need new theories, new equipment, new procedures and policies, new strategies and methodologies, new pedagogical and content knowledge, new relationships with all stakeholders, new workflows, just to name a few.   Addressing even one of these can be costly and time-consuming.  Becoming overwhelmed happens quickly and thoroughly.  Fight, flight, or freeze responses are only natural and manifest as choosing to keep on with what is familiar and doing what one has been doing.  

Worthy of Preserving

One of the elements of the old paradigm I believe ought to be preserved has to do with the use of professional, licensed teachers who have completed accredited teacher education programs and not gone through so-called “alternative certification”.  While accredited programs in the US are not perfect and can stand to be improved, graduates still leave with far more pedagogical, developmental, and methodological knowledge than their “alt cert” counterparts.  They provide the pedagogical elements that form the base of teacher practice. Individuals armed with only content knowledge and practical experience in a particular field do not possess such a base.  That is not to say that there is no place for community artists and entrepreneurs in our schools.  But the idealized “open staffing”, as Waks describes it, is a potential Pandora’s box of outsourcing that could gut the local teacher corps, not to mention how it will likely expose students to all kinds of unqualified individuals now enrobed in the title of “teacher”.  Talk about a legitimacy crisis. 

Ignoring Realities

Scott Sternall articulated a sentiment in his commentary on the boards this week.  “I wish Breck, Bonk, and even Waks would be honest with their evaluation of why their system has flaws.”  There is a whiff of intellectual dishonesty to the mission of Education 2.0 revolutionaries — at least as they articulate it in our readings thus far.  As I mentioned back in week 1, societies typically do not shift paradigms quickly.  Institutions like schools, with roots that go to the core of societal beliefs, are not easily changed.  We all know this.  So when the treatise is written as if all we need to do is throw open the doors of our schools, invite the expert community in, slap a mobile device in every child’s hand, point them towards the internet, clap them on the shoulder and education is now reformed is disingenuous nearly to the point that the project cannot be taken seriously.  This is a shame because several ideas here have merit, such as the demise of the factory school, the diploma crisis, and the many affordances of the learningweb and how schools, educators, students, and parents ought to be taking advantage of its affordances to once again make teaching and learning the joyous adventures they can and should be.  Even Waks’s final chapter, “What Needs to Be Done”, is entitled to suggest he will finally give us some nuts and bolts for specifically how to bring his vision to fruition.  Instead, after 211 pages, he delivers an anemic and gratuitous final 10 pages of little more than common sense advice for incorporating Education 2.0 elements into the factory school paradigm.  Who knew paradigmatic shift could be ushered in so easily?

Paradigm Clash in CPS

The schools I work with generally keep their heads in the sand when it comes to the broader educational technology culture.  The extent to which Web 2.0 and Education 2.0 are brought into the classroom is really up to individual teachers.  While a few teachers allow students to use their phones with formative assessment tools like Kahoot!, all of the technology use I see is at the substitution and augmentation levels of the SAMR model of technology integrationImage-Teacher_Created_ResourcesNone of the schools I work with evince a school-wide ICT policy or ICT culture.  I still see far, far too many signs like those on the left in halls and classrooms.  The schools I work with have mostly high performing teachers who “get it”  So when the district gutted time for professional development and common planning, teachers were highly upset about how the cuts would undermine their planning efforts and instruction.  Yet even as I suggested, demonstrated, and mapped out how the collaboration features in GAFE (which all CPS teachers have access to) could be used for asynchronous planning and how with them we could still accomplish most of our goals, I met fierce pushback from teachers saying they were not working on their own time and “for free”.  Frustratingly, such mindsets show how completely embedded they still are in the factory school model and school reform thinking.

Education 2.0 in My Consulting Practice

As an education consultant, much of my work is defined by technology  Leveraging Web 2.0 as much as possible is how I remain present with and connected to my teachers and administrators.  Zoom video meetings, Google Classroom, pushing asynchronous work, using cloud-based apps, built-in collaboration features in Google Docs for curriculum mapping, advocating for and hosting Twitter chats, demonstrating the use of social media as learning tools, using Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Google+ as ways to extend my PLN and PLN’s of teachers I work with are all ways I’ve extended the new paradigm into my work and that of the teachers I work with.  Lest I sound like the model “Coach 2.0”, however, I still have a long way to go in incorporating these tools more seamlessly and automatically.

In general, the Education 2.0 paradigm provides many opportunities to use technology to transform what I do as an ed consultant.  Mostly those opportunities have to do with my work.  Increasingly, though, as I get used to a new app or process, I am able to draw individual teachers and administrators into the same process.  It’s a little sly, admittedly.  Sneaky even.  Sneaky like a fox!


RSA ANIMATE and Sir Kenneth Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms [Video file]. (2010, October). Retrieved October 31, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms/discussion

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

Week 6- School Complexity

 

What makes schools complex?  At the risk of sounding crass, they are comprised of  and surrounded by human beings.  Human beings of all ages, types, and backgrounds; each with their own needs, ideas, expectations, styles, and plans of action for what they think should and shouldn’t be happening in schools.  Human beings engaged in what they all know to be the high-stakes endeavor of educating young people to take their places in the adult world as informed, equipped, engaged citizens.

Systems of Systems

A primary factor of what makes schools so complex is that not only are they systems, but they are systems of systems where each  “is a set of interacting parts behaving as a whole and distinguishable from an environment by identifiable boundaries” (Waks p. 148).  Consider for a moment all the nested sub-systems within a school: Classrooms, departments, course teams, grade-levels, faculties, administrators, students, clubs, and parent groups just to name a few.  Beyond the system that is the school are other systems with which the school is situated and interacts, such as the local school district, the community, constituencies within the community, and grantors.  Then there are the systems beyond this which also impact the school, including state boards of education and other funding agencies.  Beyond the state, still, are federal departments and agencies.

Each of these systems having to do with education act as a whole, separate and distinct from its environment and each other.  Each is composed of its own interacting parts, or agents, which when they follow similar rules or strategies, become a diverse type of agent.  Let’s take just two subjects as an example.  ELA teachers interact with each other and their students in similar ways with regard to their content and instruction.  Math teachers do so as well.  But more often than not, the interactions with the respective content (as opposed to interactions focusing on students) determines the kinds of interactions that occur between “ELA agents” and “math agents”.  These content-based interactions make for differences in how the human agents interact with each other and with the content setting up a level of diverse agency between ELA and math departments.  Waks notes that a system’s function is based on the nature of the agents and how they are arranged.  As the agents interact within the system, they determine the structure of the system  (p. 148), hence the differences we often see between departments, subject matter and how each is taught and learned.  Each system in and of itself has the potential for very intricate and complicated interactions.  Nest these systems within systems as schools are and the complexity that arises is not surprising in the least.

School Complexity
Source: Kolbe and Steele, 2015
Human Systems vs. Industrial Systems

Inasmuch as education still functions within the industrial paradigm, so-called reformers privilege business models of efficiency, applying them to schools as just another type of factory. Such “reform” efforts, therefore, are predicated on the mistaken belief that the functions within schools can be easily modified — as if the agents within the system are inanimate objects moving along an assembly line passively waiting to be acted upon.  Unlike such objects, however, humans are agents whose strong interactions regularly and repeatedly influence future events.  Not only are the people in schools and all the other nested systems agents, but they are diverse agents, and thus more likely to generate strong interactions when they engage with each other.  Plus, “the stronger the interactions, the more difficult it is to interpret, predict, or control the system”  (Waks, p. 148).  Not to mention that “[i]n complex adaptive systems agents seek to adapt to changing conditions in the system or environment to achieve their goals.  Complex human systems are all inherently adaptive”  (Waks, p. 149).  So the more other external systems or internal agents  push to reform the school, the more human agents within the school will adapt to those changes — either positively or negatively as seen from a reform perspective.  As the above graphic illustrates, with all the strong interactions taking place between the diverse agents, school systems are exquisitely complex!  Therefore, if we, as a society, are at all serious about our educational change efforts, we need to design those efforts with plans and timeframes that honor the needs and dynamics of the adaptive human elements through which these systems function.

Over-Simplification: “In two Years We’ll Be On To Something Else”

Over-simplification, treating schools and the human beings in them like factories churning out widgets, results from an inherent lack of understanding about or disregard for complex systems and how they operate.   Such misunderstanding and disregard can be seen in efforts built on the erroneous belief that change in and of a complex system can be fast-tracked, orderly, and controlled.  Thus, over-simplification is dangerous in that it will compromise the health and function of the system by collapsing complexity, treating all agents as if they were homogenous instead of diverse.  In the case of schools, over-simplification is what leads to the never-ending cycle of initiatives, looking for the silver bullet solution that will catalyze the alchemy of school improvement.  When the solution fails or when the next, seemingly more efficient, and “better” solution comes along, the school drops the previous initiative like a hot potato — or worse, lets it fade away without any formal closure or messaging about how it will or won’t continue to live in the life of the school — and lurches towards the new solution.  As new initiatives repeatedly cycle through, agents — teachers and students in particular — experience what is commonly referred to as “initiative fatigue”.  At that point, would-be reformers start to experience resistance, ennui, or outright refusal from faculty and staff to implement initiatives.  When one hears sentiments such as, “In a year or two we’ll be on to something else, so why bother changing what I do?” it is a clear indication that cynicism has taken hold.  Its own particular cancer, cynicism can spread rapidly throughout a system.  With a cynical faculty, the work of change is tripled.  For now not only do change-agents need to effect the desired, root pedagogical change, but they also have to convince the cynics and transform them back into an interactive rather than inert or resistant agent.

De-Professionalization

Another problem with over-simplification has to do with the de-professionalization that has been wrought on the teaching community, and K-12 teachers in particular.  Most often, schools experience an over-simplified reform initiative hierarchically.  That is, it’s coming from another system above them — either from their administrators, the district, the state, or the federal government — and not as a phase transition emerging from the school’s own edges of chaos.  Such top-down actions feel like they are being imposed on the community by those with little-to-no knowledge of it.  It is condescending and implies that the outsider knows better than the highly educated, credentialed, practitioner working in the community.  At this point, school personnel are little more than the unionized line workers carrying out the orders of their direct reports as opposed to being the rightful decision-makers in the field as the academics and practitioners they are.

Complexity Theory In The Service of School Change

Complexity theory, in a way, is therapeutic.  When we stop to consider all the moving parts, all the interactions, all the places the work can stall or encounter unexpected outcomes, can it be overwhelming?  Sure.  But at the same time, it acknowledges the elephant in the room that few want to recognize.  That is, schools are complicated environments with lots of moving parts that are impossible to control completely.  The work of school change and educational reform is hard by nature and by its nature the work of change is slow.  Complexity theory blows up the overly simplified organizational flow chart view of schools and recognizes they “are not uniform…. Needs at various levels get misaligned…. [R]esults can be almost impossible to predict…[and] inherent unpredictability is an essential characteristic of complex systems. The education system, characterized by the interdependence of many moving parts, the nestedness and interconnections of subsystems, and competition for limited resources, is inherently messy”  (Steele, emphasis added).  Perhaps by messaging the intricate complexity of change instead of the urgency to do something — anything — quickly, we can undertake change with a paradoxically more peaceful approach.  Perhaps what we need in order to feel fulfilled about such complicated undertakings, as opposed to feeling anxious, is to recognize the fact that the work will never be quick and simple.  It will always be slow, unpredictable, uneven, interdependent, and messy; which, after all, any work worth doing, is.



Complexity Labs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2017, from http://complexitylabs.io/about/

Steele, C. S. (2015, September 8). The Complexity of School Change [Blog post]. Retrieved October 21, 2017, from http://blog.uvm.edu/cessphd/2015/09/08/the-complexity-of-school-change/

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

Week 5- Cunningham v. Waks

This week’s readings got a change-up.  In addition to our assigned chapters from Education 2.0, we also had to read Dr. Cunningham’s critique of the text in Educational Theory, Dr. Waks’s response to Cunningham, and Cunningham’s follow-up to Waks.

The Issue in Question

One point that has been knocking around in my head from Dr. Cunningham’s critique has to do with Waks’s assertion that Education 2.0 should be guided primarily by student interest.  In this regard, Cunningham is suspicious of what he reads as Waks’s relying on the “invisible hand” and the potential deepening of inequity in our already greatly inequitable society.

“Waks’s conception of teaching with new technologies is radical, but substantially incomplete. What’s more, he advocates embracing student choice about what to learn in a way that would likely exacerbate social inequalities…. While it is true that some extraordinary young people are able — without the guidance of a set curriculum and without explicit teaching — to organize their activities in ways that extend their interests and lead to growth (and marketable skills), many are drawn, instead, to dissipative distractions and mindless entertainment….  It seems that the ‘natural learning’ he adores may really only apply  to the upper classes.  If we allow student choice to determine what students learn in school, aren’t we inevitably resigning ourselves to reproducing the huge and growing social inequalities our society faces today?”  (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014)

 

Two Caveats

First, I should note that my reading of Education 2.0 to date is up through chapter 11.  So if Waks addresses particular items between chapters 12 and 15 that are raised here, what I have written here should be taken accordingly.  Second, I have made some assumptions about Dr. Cunningham’s critique.  One assumption is about what he means by “natural learning” only applying to the upper classes.  If by “only applying” he means “having easy and regular access to technology” that the economically disadvantaged do not always have, then his point about reproducing inequality has merit.  Certainly, there are brilliant young people who are also socioeconomically disadvantaged who could educate themselves and build marketable skills based on their own choices if they have the same technological affordances and educational supports as the wealthy.  Yet there are related social obstacles poor students of color face, in particular, which I will briefly explore below.  The other assumption is that he did not mean upper class children are more capable of working in progressive, self-directed learning environments whereas lower class children require “structure”, “discipline”, and “limited choices” in order to learn.

Agreement with Cunningham

I agree with Cunningham, that it is far more likely that a learning model based on student-determined education with the learningweb as a central mechanism for that education would reinforce societal inequalities.  Technological and educational affordances would be likely to follow the lines of social capital into which students are born.  Let’s even assume for the moment the oft-touted hierarchy-flattening, democratic tendencies of the internet to be real for all who access it — a very large assumption.  There’s still no guarantee that poor students of color will have the same self-guided learning experiences in light of the social obstacles many face even beyond those of technological accessibility and personal “grit” to learn.  For instance, many students work during traditional after-school hours to help provide for their families.  If they are not in a traditional school setting, might their families consider their online learning time negotiable and thus available as time for producing income?  Also, poor students of color often face negative peer pressure when they are seen to actively or enthusiastically pursue learning.  They are derided as an “Oreo” or a “sellout” or trying to “be white” — a kind of peer pressure wealthy students do not encounter to the same degree or with the same resonance.  To what extent would such race-shaming from friends and family members dissuade black and brown students from putting their hearts and souls into learning compared to their racial and socioeconomic counterparts?  Additionally, many poor African-American and Hispanic families represent generations of limited formal education.  Not only that, but the limited school experiences of family elders were often in hostile learning environments and negatively frame their adult perceptions of their children’s school experiences.  Many parents and grandparents in said families do understand that education is crucial.  Yet they lack the time, mindsets, and skills to adequately support the cognitive and academic behaviors their students need to develop in order to be successful.  In most cases, these parents and guardians depend quite heavily on teachers, formal school structures, and their children’s own (developing, inconsistent, and often unregulated) self-discipline in order to inculcate those skills in their children.  Given such complicated dynamics, what might the self-guided learning experience be for a young person in West Garfield Park who comes from just such a family, compared to a student from Lake Forest, both of whose parents have master’s degrees?

Lacking the social supports described above combined with inconsistent access to state of the art technology that money affords, I have every confidence that the hypothetical student from West Garfield Park will be sucked into far more “dissipative distractions” — whether those distractions are caused by online content, undeveloped academic skills, or technology and accessibility obstacles.  Sadly, when faced with such struggles — struggles that the hypothetical Lake Forest counterpart mostly will not face in either quantity or degree —  they will be far less likely to experience “the joy of self-directed learning that accompanies an uncharted excursion on the learning web”  (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014) consistently enough to actually attain a useful education.  Furthermore, how will they connect with others outside their social milieu and strengthen their connections and accrue their own social capital — social capital and connections their wealthy counterpart is born into?

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Absolutely, Waks should not have avoided addressing issues of inequality that are likely to result from Education 2.0.  In fact, I’d consider not explicitly addressing it a major weakness of his project in its current articulation, particularly in this age marked by the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter.  As is evident in Education 2.0, Cunningham’s critique, and Waks’s rebuttal, Waks does believe there are still important roles for teachers and schools to play.  As such, he could have avoided this very legitimate critique had he included more details, more specifics of how the roles he reserves for the schools (mentoring, learning guidance and support, facilitating community connections, open-networked learning centers, etc.)  would dovetail with students’ self-selected, online learning (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014).  For instance, in what proportions do students learn on their own versus in the learning centers?  How much time is devoted to the various activities reserved for the learning centers?  How is it apportioned?  Who makes those decisions?  And vitally, how will the school side of the equation both guard against and disrupt the entrenched inequities of our highly inequitable society?  Answers to such questions might have spared him this particular focus of Cunningham’s critique.  

credit: Wikimedia

By not answering such questions, Waks also left himself open to Cunningham’s insertion of the invisible hand as part of the mechanism for Education 2.0.  And with it the associated inferences that said hand is invisible because there is no such thing and that free markets by themselves do not always act in the interest of the greater good.  While there are some very exciting elements  in Education 2.0 — likely even predictive — there is also a utopic air to the project which unfortunately allows room for the more pragmatic educator take it less seriously.  Besides, utopias have a way of turning dystopic when all the actors in the complex system begin to act in unforeseen ways.  Clearly, the inclusion of an entire chapter about complexity theory was not enough to shield Waks from the criticism that he’s leaving far too much open to chance and the likelihood that inequities will persist.

Conclusion

By directly addressing equity as a part of the project, Waks could have presented a stronger argument for the positive disruptive effect Education 2.0 could have both in evolving education and improving our society.  Instead, the project is vulnerable to accusations of relying on too many complex systems that will only reinforce inequities and not overturn them.  Worse yet, these complex systems are types of free markets:  Those of education, of the wilds of the internet, of student interests, and of the caprices of young people in the process of growing their pre-frontal cortices.

Cunningham, C. (2014). Book Reviews. Educational Theory, 64(4), 409.

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

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Week 4- The Internet and Education

In the vast majority of the schools I work with or have taught in, it is definitely not the case that the internet has transformed K-12 education in ways that were unprecedented by giving everyone access to all the knowledge of the world.  Neither, has it, in my experience, pushed classroom learning away from content and basic skills or enabled more authentic, situated learning.  To date, I have only ever been in two classrooms out of the dozens of CPS schools I’ve worked with, visited, or toured where I saw practices that even remotely approach this description.  Even then, the sophisticated use of BYOD and blended instructional methods were still teacher-driven and focused on content and skills.  I must admit, my own classroom was not one of the two, knowing what I know now — though no doubt I would have said otherwise when last I had my own classroom in 2008.

Dynamics At Play

There were a number of dynamics at play in the early days of the internet that I believe short-circuited this utopic vision from becoming even a partial reality.  To be sure, “there is an essential lesson we must take to heart if we are to construct a new informational paradigm for education — that Internet architecture by design undermines hierarchy and liberates the end users at their powerful personal computers and mobile Internet devices….  The machine is really a giant centrifuge, forcing power outward from hierarchical systems to computer end users, individually and collectively forming a networked global society”  (pp. 68-69).  In as much as this is true, the industrial model of schooling has a vested interest in preventing this educational nirvana from being realized.  Still, there are some other specific dynamics I see as interfering.

High Stakes Testing and School Reform

The early 1990’s were the point where high-stakes testing and school reform were shifting into high gear.  As Waks has noted, these have the effect of solidifying the industrial model of schooling.  So even as some educators wanted to innovate as part of a “reform” agenda on one hand, they were bound even more closely to the industrial model on the other via the use of test scores to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their reform methods.

Cost and the Digital Divide

Then as today, costs for digital hardware and some software are prohibitively expensive and out of the financial ranges of most schools.  Beyond a few labs, hardware carts, and faculty laptops,  schools lack the funding to put a device in the hands of every student. While doing so is far from guaranteeing high level learning via such devices, digital instruction and learning without them is impossible.

The high associated costs in the early days drove the digital divide separating the digital haves from the digital have-nots — whether a family or a school district.  Costs for hardware, commercial software, and basic internet service, never mind even more expensive high-speed options, all contributed to setting up this initial divide.  When thinking in terms of academic allocation and legitimacy, as Waks does, one can see a digital analog being set up by the initial and consequent digital divides.  People with access to the internet have a far wider allocation to the new social and network structures of the digital age.  So even as the internet can be a disruptor of the allocations made by the industrial society and its schools, the economic realities of the industrial society transferred its allocations to the early digital/information/knowledge society via the digital divide.

Roll of Professional Learning and Educator Mindsets

Professional learning for both teachers and administrators has a profound impact on the extent to which information and communication technology gets implemented in a given school.  Peggy Ertmer and Anne Ottenbriet-Leftwich have researched (PDF) technology change in schools and have found that in schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all had six characteristics in common:

  1. They were well equipped for ICT.
  2. Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.
  3. Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.
  4. The school provided support.
  5. Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.
  6. The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets.

They have found that both teachers and administrators need quality, differentiated professional development that addresses their educational belief systems as well as the learning needed for any given digital tools.  In fact, Ertmer and Ottenbriet-Leftwich found that substantive and lasting change around digital methods will not occur with out the former in particular.  They also found that school culture is a major driver of change.  In schools were the administrators believe incorporating digital learning is a vital aspect to teaching and learning, teachers are more likely to include them in their practices.  Even where administrators had laissez-faire attitudes about technology, those schools did not make any meaningful shifts to include digital instructional practices.

When we think about Ertmer and Ottenbriet-Leftwich’s research and acknowledge the paucity of time, money, and attention given to substantive, quality, professional learning for most US teachers, it is no surprise that schools are not making the shifts they need to make to bring teaching and learning into the digital age.

Affordances of Web 2.0 and a Wishlist

Still, 2017 is not 1997.  As Waks notes, Web 1.0 was about desktop hardware, dial-up connections, and downloaded applications.  The internet was essentially an application in as much as it could only be accessed via the Netscape browser.  However, Web 2.0 is mobile, apps and data live in “the cloud”, the browser and the internet have become an operating system in and of themselves through which we can work, play and interact with nearly anyone on the planet via millions of digital networks (p. 81).  Even though the world has shifted to this more interactive and participatory model of Web 2.0, I wonder if many educators and parents are not thinking about it in Web 1.0 terms, even as many of them make use of the networked technologies in their personal lives.

What do I wish were different?  To start, I wish that with the affordances of lower costs and greater access to what danah boyd calls “networked publics”,  adults will realize what young people have.  Namely, that Web 2.0 is indeed all about connecting people, not computers (p. 81).  That it is defined by social and commercial factors and not technology (p. 82).  I would like educators and parents to allow kids to engage more in the behaviors identified by Mimi Ito as hanging out, messing around, and geeking out in these digital spaces.  I would like to see teachers push their own use past administrative mere tasks with email and online gradebooks and into more instructional practices.  I would like to see students, educators, and parents all “make [their] web experience more interactive and engaging…with creative ideas” (p. 82) and realize that the digital sphere is not something separate from “real life”, but just another “social and commercial milieu, not [emphasis added] the underlying technologies” (p. 82).  Finally (for now) I’d like teachers specifically to take hold of the “bisociation” Waks cites Arthur Koestler as describing (p. 86).  Such “bisociation” in the era of the mash-up and  Open Educational Resources provides a great frame for pushing teachers out of their isolation and towards more collaborative work.  I’m imagining “bisociated” lesson plans, unit plans, and curricula.  Perhaps even a time where the term “cross-curricular” planning fades away to be replaced by “bisociated planning”.  A time when teachers creating user-generated content on web sites and wikis like Teachers Pay Teachers or the Smithsonian Learning Lab is de rigueur and not reserved for the “tech geeks” among us.

And, I see this all coming to pass.  In the next 10 years?  Perhaps.  But given the tremendous impact and change the internet has wrought on global society, I don’t think even education can insulate itself from the changes for long.


For more, check out these other media sources.

Alan Kay on Arthur Koestler and “bisociation”.

Mimi Ito on connected learning

An excellent interview with danah boyd on On Being.


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