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:

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.