Week 2- “Education & Change” and the American High School

Introduction

Two ideas in this week’s reading particularly stuck with me, not because the notions are necessarily new, but because of how they were elaborated, placed in the context of our course work, and how they then framed my reflections on my high school experiences.  These ideas certainly, then, have implications for our work as professional educators as well.  Those ideas are schools as places of initiation and education as a “process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations” (p. 12).  However, the notion of education as transmitter becomes a different matter altogether as Waks makes the distinction between education and schooling, at which point one sees schooling as transmitting itself across generations en lieu of education — or at the very least, alongside it.  

My High School According to Waks

The high school I attended consistently ranked among the top public districts in the state.  In

IHHS Crest
Image: RHSAPTS

the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was the epitome of the suburban district delivering a “conventional curriculum-based schooling” (p.11) for the mostly college-bound upper middle-class students it served.  About a dozen years out from the first rumblings of the Internet (back when it was a proper noun), the faculty and curriculum of my high school absolutely set a path for a “‘particular way of becoming a person-in-society'”(p. 12) .  It transmitted the college prep culture across the generations from the Postwar/GI Bill years of the Greatest Generation through  the Vietnam years of the Baby Boomers to those of us in Generation X.   However, the society my high school sought to initiate me into would no longer exist by the time I graduated from college.

Summer term of the Western State Normal School (1912)
Image: By Western State Normal School (Kalamazoo, Mich.), via Wikimedia Commons

The predictable and orderly “rules of governing…that build up around all of the significant aspects of life in society” (p. 28)  my high school teachers were preparing us for were not those of the social, networked, collaborative, knowledge economy in which we currently live.  As an educator, I can look back now and see quite clearly the assumptions our teachers made about who we would be as adults reflected in what they taught us and how they taught it to us.  They initiated us to be professionals and business people, specifically working in New York City, mostly in high rises, offices and cubicles.  Aside from the occasional think/pair/share exercise, I can’t recall a single small-group-activity-to-large-group-shareout I ever experienced in four years of high school classroom learning.  Yet I do remember an entire lesson dedicated to learning how to do the “subway fold” with a newspaper.  (This is a particular kind of large-scale origami that with a specific set of folds, flips and turns allows one to read a broadsheet newspaper on a crowded train without the paper ever taking up more space than a trade paperback.  I even remember the class being instructed to turn to the business section to start the fold and then our teacher coming to each of our desks to watch us demonstrate the fold as an individual performance assessment.)  Talk about initiation.

My high school was also the perfect example of mass schooling that habituated us “to the norms of industrial life rather than academic learning” (p. 40).  The only exceptions to that would be my “egg-crated” French classes and “extracurricular” theater program. I can point to real learning from those experiences. Still, if I had to estimate, I’d say my high school learning consisted of 25% education and 75% schooling.  It really wasn’t until college that I can begin identifying multiple courses that exposed me to much more new knowledge and understandings than I can count — even if it was done within a hierarchical model.  But from my high school experiences, I can write well and I can still speak, read, and write French.  I can present in front of audiences of all sizes.  I can fold a newspaper like nobody’s business.  But math stumps me both conceptually and practically.  When it came to math I wish I had been allowed to “build up [an] active capability sufficient to perform with enjoyment in activities and share in their values” — and for me, this entailed different methods than were consistently employed throughout my K-12 experience.  Given my deep fascination with language, what if I had been encouraged to explore math as another language with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax rather than as mere formulae known by “rote learning unconnected to performance” (p. 30)?  I imagine I would have had a very different experience of math then and far less anxiety about it today.

Waks’s 7 characteristics of the hierarchical/industrial/factory model (p. 38) map directly to my high school.  So too were we examples of Sizer’s point that the architecture and grammar of contemporary schooling have changed so little in the past 100+ years and we were so stuck in that way of schooling that college as the next step after high school wasn’t even conceived of as optional (p. 39).  In my family, the question was never, “Are you going to college after high school?”  In my family, the questions were, “Which four-year college will you attend?” and “Will you attend close to home and commute, or will you go away to college and live on campus?”  As a teenager, I was barely even aware of my astounding economic luck to have those as my options, never mind understand the underlying assumptions.

The Sticky Framing Question

I keep returning to the question of the ways in which my high school was a success or a failure in terms of Waks’s beliefs.  In terms of how it functioned as an institution that “introduce[d] order and predictability [and] consist[ed] of rules governing the practices that build up around all of the significant aspects of life in society” (p. 28) — such as life and society still were in the early 1980’s — I would say it was successful.  Where it failed was in the administration’s and faculty’s ability to see what was coming just five years down the pike, adapt to it, and prepare us accordingly as best they could.  Admittedly, a nearly impossible order given the architecture of schooling.   So they schooled all of us such that we could attend college and then take our place in a stable, lifelong, white-collar career with a single company that would then provide the benefits we need through retirement — just as our parents and grandparents had experienced.  It makes me laugh even to type that today.  For Gen X, those work and societal scenarios were already obsolete by the time we graduated college.  And that meant years of struggle, doubt, and misbelief about our own success when, by the age of 28, we were already on to our second or third job placement.  Sadly, those outdated notions were only reinforced by the older generations who questioned our ability to hold a job and admonished us to “settle down” and “make a decision” about what to do with our lives.  My high school and the educators who staffed it did not recognize that “social, political, religious and economic institutions work together in an interdependent institutional order” and that several of those were about to change “in fundamental ways [and that education] must adapt” (p. 28).  That was so at the dawn of the information age and it is so again as a Civilization 2.0 reveals itself through a truly global, collaborative society connected through the digital, networked devices that  billions of people carry in their pockets.  Nearly every institution has been impacted by the internet and information and communication technology — particularly our social, political and economic institutions.  Yet our educational institutions have been slow “to give”.

Conclusion

Reflecting on this week’s readings through these framing questions has left me a bit dispirited.  Heidi Hayes Jacobs is fond of asking teachers, “What year are you preparing your students for?”  From my high school experiences as a student and the evidence I see as a teacher and consultant now 30 years on, the answer —  at least in urban schools — more often than not is indeed the 1990’s. Society has changed several times over in the years since I was in high school, and yet too many of our schools chug along in the same, centuries-old, outmoded paradigm.  Still, Waks helps us remain optimistic. “Mass secondary education is an accident that turned into an institution.  As we re-imagine education in the Internet age, remember that today’s system is an unshapely human invention that today’s humans can replace by another invention better suited for our times” (p.21).  That’s encouraging, even if it is a long road ahead.


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


Link to Framing Questions

Week 1-Connectivism & ISTE Standards

Here’s to the start of the summer term and a new class, TIE 542 – Digital Tools for Teaching, Learning and Assessment!  While there is no formal requirement to keep a blog for the class, I’ve found the practice quite useful in clarifying and solidifying my thinking in previous classes.  So I will continue the practice and link back to it from the class discussion boards.  Here we go!

Technology Use in My School & District

As a consultant working with a handful of CPS high schools, I witness several different kinds of

Graphic credit: Clix

technology use at different levels. As a district, I believe CPS would like to be “technology forward”.  This can be seen in their adoption of Google Apps for Education and installing wireless networks in nearly all schools. But there are obstacles — some of which are out of their hands, such as limited monetary resources for hardware, software, and professional development. Then there are those that are self-inflicted — such as deactivating all GAFE sharing functions with anyone outside the cps.edu domain.

Yet there are disparities at the school level. Some schools, such as the magnets and the selective enrollment campuses, have far more technology on-site with more teachers more willing to use it. Neighborhood schools have far fewer resources.

Finally, I’d say the greatest incongruity lies at the teacher level, which is where the rubber meets the road no matter the school. At this level I’ve seen the SAMR gamut run from teachers who only use overhead projectors and confiscate students’ cellphones to those who use Google Docs for student collaboration to those who require students use multiple apps on their phones to participate in a plethora of class activities in a given period.  Still, I’d say that in the schools I visit, more students do not use technology in meaningful, relevant ways than do.  Sadly.

School or District’s Adoption of Technology Standards

For the past four years my work is mainly with administrators and instructional leadership teams so it’s difficult for me to say the extent to which CPS teachers hew to a set of standard specifically for technology.  However, I have heard teachers and ILT members talk about the technology strands embedded in the Common Core.  And strangely enough — especially given how we obsess over standards — when I ask the administrators and curriculum leaders with whom I work what technology standards teachers use to structure their curriculum, they look at me in puzzlement and ask me what I mean.

Update: After two days, one of my principals connected me to the school’s computer science teacher.  She in turn sent me the standards she uses in class — the ISTE Standards and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) [Interim] CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards.  Still, I wonder why admin and curriculum leaders don’t know what standards are being used even if they don’t know them in detail.  I guess I’ve just experienced connectivism in a real world application!

Learning Theories

When I took LSE 500 this winter, I was re-acquainted with “the big 3”: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructionism. It had been a long time since pondering these theories and I have to say, I missed them.  I remember my undergrad professors being amazed at how interested I was in these theories.  As one said to me, “Doug, this is the stuff most teaching candidates suffer through to get to the good stuff!”  But as a global thinker I was fascinated by the theory and still am.  As a practitioner, though, I also need to be pragmatic. So I use the elements of theory that work on the ground and let the rest be interesting abstractions for the pondering. Still, back in January, it was great to dive in again with so many more years of experience to see again why and how the practical works as it does. While I find behaviorist and cognitivist theory interesting, I am a constructivist in both my teaching of adolescents and adults. I find I respond far better to constructivist methods as a learner as well. 

For more, watch Carol Dweck on Teaching Channel

Connectivism

Siemens was an interesting read. I would agree that there are elements that make sense for the digital world in which we live.  Being able to work collaboratively, recognize and access networks to augment individual or group knowhow is a useful human, social analog to the digital/mobile/social media parallel.  Indeed, we do live in a time when knowing when and where to access information can be more important, more useful than having a panoply of content and skill sets stored in one’s brain.  In a sense, I can see connectivism as a container for the  4 C’s.  However, in suggesting that “knowing” in the digital age is a simple matter of accessing information, connectivism (or at least Siemens’s paper) sidesteps the role of understanding.  Knowing is not synonymous with accessing information which is how the term is being used — at least in this paper.   Possessing information does little good without some cognitive processing about what to do with it, which, whether done individually or with a group, still must occur within the individual on some level.  Perhaps this is what Siemens means when he talks about one’s ability to perceive connections?  

I would agree, too, that there are some kinds of knowledge that can be offloaded.  Knowing state capitals, for instance.  However, just because some knowledge or tasks can be offloaded does not mean they should be.  For instance, there are benefits to learning one’s multiplication tables or how to write in cursive that go beyond the mere tasks at hand.

Conclusion

In their paper, “Connectivism as a Digital Age Learning Theory”, Duke, Harper, and Johnston state, “If a person with limited core knowledge accesses Internet information beyond his or her ability to understand, then that knowledge is useless. In other words a structured study using the existing learning theories is required in order to acquire the core knowledge for a specific field.  While the theory presented by George Siemens and Stephen Downes is important and valid, it is a tool to be used in the learning process for instruction or curriculum rather than a standalone learning theory.”  This captures my thinking about connectivism, at least as I’m thinking about it now based on this week’s reading.  I look forward to learning more about it as the weeks go on.

 

Week 7-Gamification

When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested.  But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective.  So that is my selected adventure this week.

The quick Answer to One Framing Question

The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative.  Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students?  This one I can answer quickly.  No.  There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface.   That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.

Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century?  As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex.  As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests.  When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms.   But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much!  But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences.  The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above).  Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts.  Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning.  That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.

Constructivism and Game Theory
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information.  I am a constructivist.  So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly.  My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me.  Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development.  Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps.  With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther.  Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.

Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory.   As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain.  Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual.  Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content.  All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me.   Except now I don’t only understand the content.  By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself.  Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory.  These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.

A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions

As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither.  The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century.  What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school.  In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology.  Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game?  Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur.  So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:

  • What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction?  A given set of students?  Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
  • When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
  • When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum

Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur.  These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”.  It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections.  Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning.  Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.

Gamifying Professional Learning

What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students.  As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar.  Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them.  We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive.  So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this.  Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing.  I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting!  On my goal list for next year:  implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.

Digital badges for both student and teachers.  Video: HASTAC

Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI

 

A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”.  If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here.  A game is a diversion or something trivial.  Something that can be taken less seriously.  Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high.  Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators.  So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us.  I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process.  Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!

Entry #1: Thinking on Hoadley & Salmon & Kelly Ch. 1.

January 13, 2017

The inaugural entry!

And since it is the inaugural entry, I thought I’d play around with Padlet as an adjunct space for additional metacognitive nuggets.  Check it out for a “context” video as well as a quick visual on how different the technology — and thus, no doubt, the thinking —  of grad school is since last I was here.  I’m not sure if these items exactly count as metacognition.  But they’re at least a little fun to ponder!

Through both readings I found my thinking and learning being stimulated and reinforced by emotional responses, contextual relationships, and connections to previous experiences.  

I became a bit nostalgic reading again about Vygotsky & Dewey & Thorndike.  I was a bit of a geek when it came to the philosophy of education in my very first undergrad ed course.  It’s been so long since I’ve read them and yet they still hold up.  While I can very easily dive into details when the time calls for it, global thinking is my default mode.  I can see the big picture and then zoom into the details when the time comes.  Knowing this, I ought to remember to hold these scholars much closer than I usually do when I get bogged down in the weeds of daily practice.  Their thinking fascinates and humbles me.  So brilliant.  Their big ideas and big picture perspectives provide me useful paths through those weeds.

From this higher perspective, I saw pretty quickly what I believe are a few connections this course will make.  An attempt at a quick summary:

As Hoadley summarized Vygotsky, et al., technology is an artifact of culture.  We live at a time that is defined by the development and ubiquity of computer technology.  Computers, mobile, social media are having a huge impact on our culture.  As such, these tools of the culture are changing the way we think, learn and interact.

The concept of the adaptive expert, on the other hand, is a useful one on the road towards making a shift in how we teach using these technologies, especially contrasted with that of the relative expert.  I see so many teachers and administrators either actively resist or benignly — if it is possible any more to describe it as such — neglect the incorporation of digital and mobile technologies.  I have seen students penalized for merely possessing a cell phone.  So in order to engage students who, outside of school, are so immersed in these technologies of (their) digital culture, schools need to develop more adaptive thinking in their teachers for its use.  Educators need to break out of the mere efficiencies of routine expertise in order to create learning spaces that allow 21st century students to think, process information, and interact with others in the ways the technology with which they have grown up have influenced their thinking.  I believe that shift is the one to spark curiosity and a joy in learning again that is lacking in so many of our students.

Concept mapping, then, is a tool to push teachers into a more adaptive stance.  When in the hands of reflective teachers and strong coaches, they can reveal levels of understanding, confusion, misunderstanding, evolving thinking.  In as much as they map how teachers are thinking about a concept, they are also instruments for metacognition.  I am most intrigued by the notion of  using concept maps as a way of engaging in unit/lesson planning.  Finally, all these characteristics make concept maps useful formative assessments. Mapping allows teachers to probe and explore their thinking, wrestle with their anxieties on the path to the adaptive expertise they need to incorporate digital technologies as the now necessary tools of teaching and learning.

Considering the contexts in which I work and my examination of the course materials so far, these are a few of the more global connections I am making through these first readings.  I think I’ll hold of of analysis and assessment for another entry.