Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 3)

PBI_logo

Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) is a school visit process that provides interested constituencies insight into how teaching and learning happen at a school.  PBI is based on the English tradition of school inspection, by which all UK schools receiving public funds are inspected every four years.  The principles of PBI were also the process by which the State of Rhode Island conducted the “state-wide, school accountability system designed to support the implementation of the Board of Regents’ strategic agenda” from 1997 until 2009 (SALT Blueprint).  The process came to Chicago for the first time in 1998 through the Chicago Schools Alliance at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI).   ACT Charter School requested PBI visits as a part of their charter renewals during its years of operation . Since that time, the Network for College Success (NCS) at the University of Chicago has become a PBI center, sponsoring visits as a way for its member CPS high schools to better understand learning and teaching at the school.  After a visit, NCS, rather than asserting control over the school, instead offers assistance (Wilson, 1996) towards its improvement plans based on the resulting PBI report.  (If you are familiar with PBI, jump to implications for connected learning and equity.)

The Protocol

Each 5-day PBI visit follows a rigorous protocol that lays out how the visit is conducted. Protocol guidelines determine:

  • The size and composition of the visit team
  • The conduct of team members while in the school
  • Focus questions that guide and limit the scope of the team’s inquiry
  • The nature of the evidence the team collects
  • The structure of the team’s written report
  • The process for how the report is written
  • Tests for each conclusion in the report
  • Tests of the report itself

Team Composition

Each team in purposefully composed for the school requesting the visit and requires a complex balancing of criteria.  The protocol sets requirements regarding the number of administrators, special education teachers, grade-level and subject area teachers.  Further, at least 50% of the team must be practicing teachers.  On top of these requirement, NCS seeks to balance teams in regard to gender and race to match that of the student population of the visited school. Finally, each team is composed of educators currently working in or with CPS schools. After each visit, that team is disbanded.  Thus, each visit is conducted with a completely new, unique team, thereby making it impossible to develop a “professionalized corps of inspectors”.   While assembling a team primarily from working, school-based educators arguably makes for the most daunting logistic of any visit, nearly all team members who experience a PBI visit report that it is one of, if not the most, powerful professional learning experiences they have had.

The Focus Questions

Three nested questions provide the focus for each visit: 1) How well do students at [school name] learn?  2) How well do teachers at [school name] teach for learning?  3) How well does the administration at [school name] support teaching and learning?  The nested structure of the questions with student learning at the center of the inquiry anticipates related conclusions in teaching and support.  While these questions seem generic, that is, in fact, what gives the visit process and resulting report their credibility.  Teams do not go into schools with rubrics and checklists.  In such a context, the use of such tools are far too random and subjective and thus suggest that if teams don’t find what is on the rubric or checklist that the school must not be “good” or “effective”.  Instead, team members observe the school through the frames of these questions and collect the evidence that provides answers, applying their professional judgement to that evidence to determine whether and how well students learn, teachers teach, and administrators support teaching and learning.

5 Days in the School

TAW_video_screencap
Tom Wilson explains PBI.  Click to play.

Team members spend their first day (Monday) shadowing a student through their full schedule to get the students’ perspective and experience being a learner at the school.  Throughout the day team members observe their students’ learning in each class, talk with them as well as other students they encounter.  Everything they observe throughout the day must focus on evidence of student learning and to draw on their professional judgement to determine whether and what their student learned that day.  On the second day (Tuesday) team members fan out to observe every teacher in the building and collect evidence to answer how well teachers teach.  In addition to observations, team members converse with teachers during their preps or lunch periods to get the teachers’ perspectives about what it is like teaching at the school as well as their thoughts about their students and administrative support for teaching.   The team spends the third day (Wednesday) meeting various school constituencies.  By meeting with the principal, the assistant principals, counsellors, parents, students, LSC members, community partners, security, lunch staff, the team determines how well the school supports teaching and learning.  Each meeting lasts at least an hour.  As a result of the Wednesday meetings, team members begin to see connections between and among the evidence they collected during their first two days in the school.  The first half of the fourth day (Thursday) is for conducting “special inquiries”.  By this time, team members have a high level of certainty about what they want to say in the report.  So the time in the school is about collecting the final evidence and determine whether it strongly affirms or challenges the existing evidence and the conclusions they believe are the most important for the school to hear about learning, teaching, and support. All inquires and evidence collection must be completed before noon on Thursday, after which the team is sequestered in the team room for the remainder of the visit to deliberate and write the PBI report.

When the first draft of the report is completed by the end of the day on Friday, the team has spent a significant amount of time in the school.  On average, a PBI team is convened at a school approximately 60 hours.  A team of 12 will spend nearly 125 person hours directly observing the classrooms at a given school with a goal of visiting every teacher’s classroom at least once. Teams average around 60 person hours in one-on-one or small group conversations with a school’s students, faculty, administrators, parents, and staff.  They will also spend several hours observing school meetings if school and team schedules allow it. Teams convene meetings that total around 25 to 30 hours to ask questions of students, teachers, the leadership team, the principal, and senior school administrators.  In addition to the time they spend interacting with the school, a full visit team meets privately in the team room for anywhere from 30-40 hours spanning the five days of the visit. During most of this time, teams are in intense discussions to thoroughly consider the evidence they have collected and to build the conclusions, commendations and recommendations presented in the report.

After each day’s evidence collection, team members return to the team room and review their notes from the day.  Every team member shares the evidence they collected to answer the focus question for that day.  They share what they believe is the most important information first.  They finish by asking a question about the school they think they need to attend to during the next day based on what the present day’s evidence seems to suggest is important to learn.  Finally, the team spends some time considering what they heard in the debriefing of the day, what patterns they heard, and common themes.  These questions and common themes are captured in team notes and drive the inquiry forward.

Professional Judgement, Deliberated Consensus, & Dynamic Evidence

Several elements about the PBI protocol make it a compelling process, not to mention unusual, in this age of data-driven decision-making.  What is unique is the emphasis placed on the roles of professional judgement, deliberated consensus and the dynamic nature of evidence.  A PBI visit is different from the kinds of “data dives” so many schools do these days.  The differences are primarily a result of the process the team follows and the evidence it collects, both of which take a significant amount of time relative to spending a couple of hours in a faculty meeting looking primarily at charts, graphs, and numbers and trying to divine from them any specifics about learning and teaching.

elements_of_PBI-8bitDuring the 3.5 days the team is in the school collecting evidence, each team member draws on their professional judgement to determine which pieces of evidence are the most important for the team to hear in light of the previously collected evidence and team discussions about it. They consider if and how that evidence answers the questions raised from what was shared the day before.  Each day, the questions team members ask and the themes they identify in the shared evidence pushes the team farther and provides direction for the next day’s observations.  While the team is open to all evidence they encounter, what they have collected also suggest the kinds of evidence they look for as they move forward.

By about the third day of the visit, the team starts to identify themes they believe are the most important for the school to hear.  These themes become candidates for conclusions in the report.  Thus, what the team believes is the most important findings for the school to hear evolves over time:  The evidence they collect each day and the questions that fuel further inquiry are informed by their professional judgements — both individual and corporate — which in turn are informed by each day’s deliberations. The evidence becomes dynamic as the team deliberates about the meaning of the evidence they find.   What the team believes is the most important conclusions to write about learning, teaching, and support on Monday are usually not the same by Thursday.

The PBI Report

Each PBI visit results in a report that is written by and tested for full team consensus.  The report is the collective voice of the team.  Each report includes the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Profile of the School
  • Portrait of the School at the Time of the Visit
  • Findings on Student Learning
  • Findings on Teaching for Learning
  • Findings on School Support for Learning and Teaching
  • Final Advice
  • Catalpa Endorsement
  • Report Appendix

Of these sections, each visit team writes the Profile, Portrait, Findings, and Final Advice.  The Profile is drafted by the team chair before the visit begins.  It included the history of the school and its community, drawn from the chair’s own research, public documents, and formal interviews with the school principal.  It is shared with the principal for any factual corrections.  The team also has an opportunity to make any revisions they feel are necessary.  The Portrait, while one of the first parts of the report is one of the last parts written after most of the conclusion writing is complete.  It serves as an overview, or a snapshot of the state of the school at the time of the visit. Conclusions the team writes based on the three focus questions constitute each of the Findings sections.  Teams write 3 to 7 conclusions each for Student Learning, Teaching for Learning and School Support for Learning and Teaching. Each conclusion is coded from a list of evidence sources and must include a minimum of two different sources.  In addition to the conclusions for the latter two Findings, teams may include Commendations for areas where teachers and the school excel.  They also write brief Recommendations based on the conclusions in the visit report.  Final Advice is just that: The last chance for the team to speak to the school community, rally them to the work ahead, and give the school a sense of what the team believes, only in the broadest sense, what the school’s next steps should be.

After the team adjourns on Friday night, the chair works with both a PBI master chair and copy editor to make sure the report is soundly written grammatically, stylistically, and effectively communicates the team’s intent.  Then, within two weeks of the end of the visit, the chair and as many team members as possible, return to the school and read a working draft of the report to the entire faculty and staff.

Endorsement occurs after a Catalpa representative has a post-visit conversations with the team chair and the school principal to confirm procedures to ensure the legitimacy of the report were followed. [Link to Catalpa Procedures page]  With the attachment of the written Endorsement to the report, the final draft is finalized, copyrighted, and becomes the property of the school.  Copies are sent to the school and NCS with a third retained by Catalpa.

What PBI Suggests About Learning Technologies Use in CPS High Schools

The details of what can be shared here are limited by confidentiality agreements each team member signs in order to serve on a PBI team.  Therefore, the nature of the evidence shared here is generalized.

CPS-Logo_Blue_288x153Nothing in the PBI visit protocol explicitly requires teams to consider a school’s use of information and communication technologies (ICT).  Nor should it since conclusions about ICT are easily validated within the bounds of the three focus questions.  Indeed, in the past few years some teams have decided to include technology use as evidence examples of broader conclusions about learning and teaching.  On one level, this is encouraging, especially since nearly all schools at the time of their visit demonstrated typical ICT use. That is teaching characterized by an overwhelming use of traditional, teacher-centered, textbook-based instructional methods even though “contemporary educational programs recommend the integration of ICT’s in teaching and learning” (Barak, 2014).  Only one team of those on which I have been a part has written entire conclusions specifically about technology use in the school that one would recognize as informed by ISTE standards [link].  Even in this instance, the conclusions specifically about ICT use made it into the report only because a single team member with deep knowledge and current beliefs about the role ICT need now play — made a very strong case and successfully swayed the team.  Among his arguments was that conclusions about ICT use had to be a priority since the school being visited had a curricular focus on technology.  Thus the faculty and staff needed to hear what the team thought about its use of technology for learning, teaching and support.  Given that the PBI protocol requires true consensus, eery team member had to agree both that the conclusion was important enough to write and that they had the evidence to write it. Nevertheless, this teacher was selected specifically to reflect the programming of a technology-focused school.  To have such  highly knowledgeable, ISTE-steeped teacher on visit teams for schools that do not have a technology focus is not the norm.

school_SNS_bulletin_board-02122018
School bulletin board for responsible use of social media

This raises an issue about intentional composition of PBI teams.   Excepting the example above, conclusions in previous reports that even mentioned technology treated it in their reports as so many teachers do in the classroom — as a mere add-on.  Yet this may not be because previous teams didn’t deem ICT use important per se, but because to date, teams have not had the current and requisite knowledge or beliefs about pan-curricular, ICT-based teaching and learning sufficient enough to make such conclusions a regular part of visit reports even if such conclusions were warranted.  Song et al. in their study of the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance reference the work of Baldwin et al, noting “the close relationship between prior knowledge and interest from the viewpoint of adult education….  They state that ‘as people get older and increasingly specialized, interest and knowledge may come to correspond closely” (2016).  Team members with more prior knowledge and interest in the uses of ICT for teaching and learning across the curriculum would “set larger and more consistent goal structures” and “behave in a more goal-oriented way” (2016).  The implications of intentionally selecting educators with such specialist interests to serve as PBI team members would have significant implications for team inquiries into ICT-based teaching and learning.  Not the least of which is raising ICT use to the level of stand-alone conclusions in their own right, thereby putting technology skills and knowledge on a par with students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically.  Such an elevation is necessary for any school that intends to be a 21st Century institution or one that positively impacts educational equity.  Then, to round out the nested focus questions then, the same must also be said about technology conclusions about teachers’ use of ICT to facilitate learning and administrators’ expectations, messaging, and professional learning supports.

PBI, Connected Learning, and Equity

NCS_approachWhy does NCS exert so much energy to sponsor, support, and in some instances, cajole their member schools into hosting PBI visits?  Because PBI is a unique and powerful reflective opportunity to support continuous school improvement. As such, the best teams will uncover issues of equity in their learning about the visit school and raise it to the level of a conclusion in a report.  It is worth emphasizing that all NCS schools are CPS schools. As such, NCS member schools serve mostly urban students of color, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. NCS is an equity organization that works from the understanding that education is a social justice issue, where the future success of our society’s most vulnerable citizens is directly linked to quality education.  Thus, to host a PBI visit has potential benefits for school equity when the school uses the resulting report as a basis for setting priorities and improvement goals that positively impact educational outcomes for the public school students of Chicago.

connected_learning_graphic
Elements of Connected Learning

As I wrote in parts one and two of this blog post, when schools make learning connected learning, they positively impact equity.   The correlations between socio-economic class, race, and teacher beliefs, and the kinds of opportunities students have to experience connected learning through ICT-based instruction have implications for how NCS selects educators for PBI visits.  In order to impact matters of equity linked to connected learning and ICT-based learning, PBI teams should be more intentionally comprised to include computing teachers (as opposed to computer teachers) [anchor tag to point in previous post] .  As noted in the example above, when teams have members who can employ their technological and pedagogical professional judgements to evidence collection and team deliberated consensus, they will include more specific conclusions about technology use in PBI reports.

PBI has been been a mechanism for schools to have discussions about matters of equity all along.  Whether it is about which students in a school take full advantage of available learning opportunities and programs or do not, how the curriculum does or does not prepare students for their post-secondary future, how faculty and staff beliefs expand or curtails students’ access to quality learning, or how support structures make access to programs available to all members of the learning community or privilege certain parts  over others.  ICT-based instruction plays a significant role in students’ development of the growth mindsets necessary for the lifelong learning, just-in-time learning, creative abilities, and collaborative abilities required to thrive in a 21st Century post-secondary world.  PBI visits and reports, therefore, need to be able to raise such issues for a school as a part of their post-visit discussions and improvement plans regarding student, teacher, and school uses of technology.

Team Composition for the 21st Century

tpack_model
More than just content knowledge and how to teach it: The intricate interplay of teachers’ knowledge domains in the digital age.

Understanding ICT-based learning and instruction as an equity issue means it must be an explicit part of school transformation efforts.  Inasmuch as PBI visits are a part of such transformation efforts, then it is also vital to keep elements of connected learning with ICT-based, student-centered learning and teaching on the front burner of future PBI visits.  Intentional team composition is a means towards this end.  It calls for finding educators who understand the critical role learning with technology now plays.  “A range of other scholars have argued that knowledge about technology cannot be treated as context-free, and that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content”  (What is TPACK?, 2012).   Where “good [inquiry] requires specific knowledge about the teaching of those disciplines….  [S]ubject specialization helps [team members] make judgements about the quality of teaching” (Wilson, 1996).  Since most schools do not effectively use ICT for teaching and learning when it is widely acknowledged how vital it is to do so, PBI practice would be strengthened and visit schools better served if the criteria for purposeful PBI team construction included educators with deep TPACK knowledge and positive belief sets about ICT use who can understand contemporary classrooms through a sort of “TPACK lens” .  As ICT-knowledgeable team members collect and interpret evidence about ICT-based learning and instruction and cast their professional judgements about the evidence, they would bring their technological knowledge as well as their pedagogical and content knowledge to the team deliberations and report conclusions.

Similar understandings and belief sets in PBI chairs would also strengthen visit practice.  Knowledge about ICT and connected learning would allow chairs to raise appropriate questions for the team, guide collection of useful evidence, and effectively facilitate team discussions such that visit reports include findings and conclusions about how well students learn with, teachers teach with, and administrators support uses of digital, networked technologies.

PBI As Mechanism For Changing Teacher Beliefs

PBI visits are powerful because they are conducted by professional peers.  PBI teams are not, as mentioned above, a professionalized corps of outsiders coming in to pass judgement on a school community’s effectiveness and to deliver a “gotcha!”.  PBI teams are working educators, fellow teachers and administrators from Chicago Public Schools.  They are allies working in support of common efforts to improve teaching and learning for the children of Chicago.  As such, the conclusions teams choose to write and the words they choose to write them means reports have a sometimes uncomfortably unavoidable credibility to the faculty and staff of host schools.  By including conclusions about how well the learning community is or is not using technology can set the stage for changing teacher beliefs about their own abilities and those of their students.  It is yet another opportunity for “perceived social influence from referent others [to have] a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology”  (Gu et al, 2011).  PBI team members — that is CPS colleagues — and their collective voice in the body of a report are the “referent others” who exert “social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (2011).

Conclusion

One of the mottos that guides PBI teams is “Know what you see.  Don’t see what you know.”  It reminds team members that when examining evidence and deliberating in the team room, they cannot be led by what they do at their school or by whether or not a particular program or framework “should” be deployed as it is at the visit school.  It reinforces that they must bring their professional judgement to bear only on what they see and hear during the week of the visit and what that tells the team about teaching and learning at the visit school.  Yet it is fascinating how new learning changes what one notices.  How in light of that learning that one discerns things that were never noticed before.  Two years ago, I did not know about ISTE with its Essential Conditions  and technology standards for educators, students, parents, and coaches .  Or about the Connected Learning Research Network with connected learning as a social constructivist path toward redefining school for the 21st Century and a digitally networked era.  Or about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the links between technology, lifelong learning, and citizenship.  These are just a few of the organizations, concepts, or frameworks that in this digital, networked era so clearly connect the social justice and equity agendas of schools to the use of technology generally and technology-infused learning throughout the curriculum specifically.  Those connections have particular implications in schools that seek to serve poor children of color.

For years as an educator, a PBI team member, and as a PBI visit chair, I regarded technology use during PBI visits no differently than the educators I was leading on a team.  I still cannot lead PBI visits with a particular agenda.  Yet at a time when digital technology and media comprise an entirely new literacy that will determine the kinds of work students will be able to do as adults, it is vital that schools understand how well they are educating their students in its use.  With the considerable flexibility the PBI protocol allows, the times warrant more conscious and conscientious inclusion of knowledgeable and experienced computing educators on PBI teams and the ICT-learning-related conclusions for visit schools that will result.

HM Senior Chief Inspector Bill Maxwell talks about OFSTED school inspection.

See the first two parts of this series:

Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 1)

Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 2)


Sources:

Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8

Catalpa Ltd. (2018, April 2). Retrieved from catalpa.org

Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.

SALT Blueprint.pdf. (n.d.).

Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self-regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning32(1), 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12117

Koehler, M. (2012, September 24). What is TPACK? Retrieved April 4, 2018, from www.tpack.org

Wilson, T. (1996). Reaching For A Better Standard. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wilson, Thomas. (2016). The Design and Conduct of  Rigorous And Useful  Practice-Based Inquiry® Visits to Schools: A Comprehensive Handbook for The Network for College Success  (at the University of Chicago) Handbook 2. The Chair Handbook. Catalpa, Ltd.

Wilson, Thomas. (2017, April 10). Template for Preparing Initial Version of Report.

 

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.

For further viewing: