Archive for September, 2007

On distinctions between “change” and “becoming”

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Jean Baudrillard made some important points that reflect well on the discussion of technology and educational change (the rest of his conversation provides enough basis for about a decade of controversy and offense to many):

We are changing our system of values, changing all our identities, our partners, our illusions, and so on. We are obliged to change, but changing is something other than becoming, they are different things. We are in a “changing” time, where it is the moral law of all individuals, but changing is not becoming. We can change everything, we can change ourselves, but in this time we don’t become anything. It was an opposition put forth by Nietzsche, he spoke about the era of chameleons. We are in a chameleonesque era, able to change but not able to become.

This quote gets to the heart of much of our problem in changing schools, colleges, universities, or corporate training. We have, I think, a vague sense of what we don’t want to be. We recognize that we are riding a wave of tremendous change. And we are grasping for clarity on what we are becoming. We simply don’t know. Sure, we have a few who say they know the path, and find ample reward in their prominence and speaker fees. If they end up being right, it will be more a function of luck in predictions than of intelligence and awareness on their part.
Why don’t we now what we are becoming? The answer is complex…but centre on the following:

  1. Technology change – new tools, new software, new networks
  2. Conceptual change – new theories, new research (particularly in regard to cognition
  3. Ethics – we’re quite close, if nanotechnology, neuroscientists, and biology enthusiasts are accurate, to blending humanity and technology in unprecedented ways. Our capacity to innovate exceeds our ability to understand implications
  4. Global and political pressures – Brazil’s, Russia’s, India’s, and China’s economies are expected to overtake G8’s combined economies in the near future. African nations are building educational, medical, and financial infrastructures. The Middle East is rapidly developing. If someone says they understand the impact of those tremendous shifts, they’re guessing.
  5. Rise of everyone – people have voices at an unprecedented level. What happens to our expectations of government, schools, and religion when we function with democratic tools in how we engage and interact with each other and information?

Those are only a few of the changes, but their interplay is hard to predict. The difficulty of making these predictions creates an environment of perpetual not knowing. To function, we need to elevate from cause-effect thinking to (surprise) network adaptive thinking. As educators, our emphasis needs to be on increasingly learners ability to function in unknowing environments. A lesson we first need to learn ourselves.
“Change” is not “becoming”. The act and end result of becoming has many dimensions – who I’m becoming as a person, what our schools are becoming, what our society is becoming, what the world is becoming. How does one begin to impact change to the point of becoming? Shall we fatalistically be tossed about by these tumultuous changes and make our task one of accepting the final result? Obviously not. While many of the change pressures are well beyond our control, education has always played a dual role in society:

  • Reacting to emerging trends, adjusting our approaches to influence learners, etc. Those who advocate for “teaching to the millenials” see this part of education’s role. Our task here is primarily about understanding our learners, embracing their tools, and trying to speak their language. That’s why educators fall over themselves trying to use blogs, wikis, Facebook, iPods, etc. The mindset is: if they use it for fun, maybe we can get them to use it for school. Not a bad idea with technology and curriculum (i.e. change what and how we teach to prepare learners)…but a disastrous idea when applied without thought to the structures of society. If our only metric is utility, then much of what it means “to be human” is ignored as we seek to only produce employees.
  • Impacting society, changing society toward high ideals. I find this aspect of education to be most rewarding. People have a sense of beauty, idealism, and excellence (how’s that for a sweeping statement?). Many positive changes in society – such as public schooling – arise from this desire to impact society, to make a better world. I’m concerned that the voice of what education should be is lost as we scramble to react to trends. Perhaps this is why we are changing, but not becoming today. We are unclear on our higher ideal. We don’t know how we want to impact society through our education systems.

What does success look like?

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

I’ve had a few chats with Will Richardson over the last few days on the state (or lack of) change in how we teach. We had a meandering conversation this afternoon that covered in small part:
1. We are not ready for systemic change. The pressure is not yet significant enough for wholesale change (and, for that matter, may never be significant enough to bring about the vision (or lack of it) that many in the edublog community have).
2. Anomalies are building between a) how we teach, b) society, c) information/knowledge, d) students, e) authority/power. These anomalies no longer fit in the current schooling framework.
3. Frameworks, like tools, offer certain affordances (see also Kai Pata’s thoughts and our ensuing discussion)
4. We need a framework (or even narrative) that offers the affordances people require in today’s world (what a vague statement :) ) and a new way to think about education in general.
And that got me thinking. Understanding the theories or thoughts of others is difficult when we see them in their formative stages. But to see the outcome to which a person aspires reveals much, much more. We have Gary Stager critiquing web 2.0 (which is great), Bill Kerr largely agreeing, Tom Hoffman lamenting lack of liberal focus in education, and so on. My question: What does success look like to you? If you were successful in implementing your vision, what would our education system look like?

Pots, Kettles, and other small appliances of like appearance

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I have two main points to communicate:
1) We have to embrace critiques of emerging learning technology in meaningful dialogue and debate, not hype-based inflammatory conversations
2) We are at a point of real change in education (k-12, university, even corporate training). We (the edublog community) still carry the baton of change, but if we are unable to conceive a broader vision of systemic change, we’ll find ourselves passing the baton to others. I’m not being overly idealistic on this point. What we’ve been talking about for the last five to seven years is now increasingly on conference agendas. Whether we are actually driving the change, or simply seeing it first because we’re more connected to the change source, is up for debate.
Point One:
The edublog community (not sure if I can still place it under one umbrella any more, it has grown so significantly in the last two years) is a tremendous source of learning for me. I’ll comfortably say the writers and thinkers I follow online are at the centre of the most intense period of learning in my life. Key ideas and critiques put forward by others are quickly dissected. It was apparent with Andrew Keen’s book. And it is apparent now with Gary Stager’s contentious post on the state of web 2.0 adoption. Now, Andrew wrote his book to sell copies. He is intentionally antagonistic in order to gain attention. That’s why he’s on talk shows, radio programs, and the conference circuit. He’s the anti-voice to what is starting to look less like a trend and more like a revolution. And Gary may well have had a similar intent in mind when he wrote his post. Some have provided a thoughtful analysis (Stephen Downes, even David Warlick who was one of the sources of criticism in Gary’s article), others opted for a bit of humor and mockery (James Farmer), some offered support (Miguel McGuhlin), and some shifted the focus back to learning (Jeff Utecht).
I find this type of dialogue rewarding and satisfying. A simple concept or article is filtered through multiple lenses, providing a rather complete analysis. I would suggest, this is likely our greatest strength as edubloggers. How many traditional academics have access to a network that can pick apart an idea or concept in a matter of 48 hours?
It’s a rare thing indeed to find someone who is absolutely wrong on all accounts. Ideas have merit in context and in frameworks. When we encounter disagreements or opposing perspectives, we can either outright reject them, consider contexts in which they might be true, or engage in dialogue to explore the frameworks that contribute to the formation of what we perceive to be erroneous ideas. Why engage in dialogue instead of dismissing opponents? Obviously a main reason is so we can learn. Another important, often overlooked, motivation is found in what dissenting voices represent. Keen represents the viewpoint of many in society. Just like the Myspace backlash did last year and the current actions of school boards banning Facebook and numerous other applications. The actions may seem ludicrous to us, but we can’t ignore that they represent a majority. Smugly dismissing them as signs of “the unenlightened in need of conversion” doesn’t help our cause. There are real concerns behind the statements of Keen, Stager, Oppenheimer, and others. We don’t have to convince them. We do have to understand them and their framework.
We haven’t cornered truth. We – in the edublogger space – don’t yet have a comprehensive solution to what ails education. We have a small part, a lever if you will, that we can (and are) applying in our classrooms and work habits. We don’t know what administration would look like under the rule of our ideas. In many ways, I don’t think we fully know what we want yet. Do we want physical buildings for schools? Do we want to dismantle the system of public education that has brought our society to its current point of progress and development? We say we trust learners to make good choices – but do we believe it? Create your vision for the perfect education system. What does it look like? Where does the money come from? How do we ensure it attends to the diverse needs of society (especially those least likely to function in a system of self-motivation)? Do we teach math in a different manner than literature and art? What about biology? Chemistry? Or information literacy skills – how will we teach them? How will we evaluate learners?
As I’ve stated previously, we know what we want to move away from. But we don’t have a clear vision of where we want to go. It was that part of Gary’s post that most resonated with me. Tool use alone does not equate with school reform. This message has been overtaken by strong negative reactions to the perceived condescension of his post. (btw, if you’re ever in an argument with educators you find offensive, the web 2.0 way to solve it is to state that the other person is a) condescending elitist (while ignoring that we similarly implicate ourselves), b) they just don’t get it, c) say things like “industrial education” model and vague, but unsupported, references to the nature of the change. And, when asked for statistics or research-based evidence, instead of acknowledging that it is still emerging, question the whole general notion of research. Rely instead on personal experiences).
Here I need to pause for some self-reflection. I’ve spent much of my time in presentations and in my writing advocating for a different conception of education. One that alters the system itself, not only the tools of the classroom. One that has a different concept of knowledge, learning, and research. I’ve hyped these tools. I remember five years ago standing in front of 100 educators (VP’s, instructors, and deans) at Red River College, and telling them that they should all blog. I’ve thrown out vague statements like “education has to change to meet the needs of today’s learners”. I’ve also had moments of secret joyful condescension while reflecting on educators “who just don’t get it”. Such are the growing pains of coming to know.
The passion that drives initial revolution is found in these types of statements and feelings. Revolutions aren’t about logic. They’re about change, about doing things differently. Any tool, resource, or emotion that advances our aims is employed to grow the swelling masses of converts.
However, if a revolution is to have life and permanence, the passion and rhetoric must give way to (or at minimum, be augmented by) logic and research. That’s where we are now. We have the attention of “the establishment” – just look at how many edubloggers figure prominently into conference presentations (even keynotes) around the world. Administrators, principals, academics, and even politicians are taking note – and even blogging. Look at themes of conferences in general – the dual prong of conceptual revolution (organizing educational models under new frameworks of openness, learner contributions, evolving curriculum) and tool-based revolution form the basis of many international conferences. Yes, in the process, the tool-based hype is extended (I’m certifiably sick of seeing Second Life sessions and hype). Even during these stages, the low tide mark of our influence rises.
Criticism is the hallmark of progress. The periods of disagreement within a discipline are the most vital for growth. When we share a common framework, as Kuhn states, we are freed from the “need constantly to re-examine…first principles”. Constant examinations of first principles are signs of a discipline seeking its identity. In this spirit, I invite people like Gary and Andrew Keen (with less marketing hype, please) to provide their perspectives so our own can be tested and examined. The doors of reform in education are slowly opening. Critiques – when well answered, not dismissed – help to prepare us for the experiences we will encounter once we walk through the doorway. Our greatest strength is the connections we’ve formed during the last five to seven years. Let’s not blow it by failing to afford others the civil dialogue that we were often denied as we started on this path.
Point two:
Behind these petitions of extending a spirit of dialogue to critiques, rests the work of people like Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Clarence Fisher, Darren Kuropatwa, Terry Anderson, and too many others to name. We’re seeing a slow awakening of traditional venues of scholarly dialogue (books, journals, conferences). A real impetus for change exists. I’m aware of several web 2.0 in education books in the works. I know of many well known journals that either have or are considering articles on emerging technologies. In an experience mirrored by other edubloggers, I’ve been invited to sit on numerous conference boards, institutes, journal boards, and so on.
Now is a great opportunity to be willing to grow up. To embrace those who are pursuing formal research. To engage those who criticize what we promote. We need to move away from the jargon terms that served us well the first few years (you know: industrial revolution model of education, teacher in control, closed hierarchical education).
I suspect part of the reason we are still adrift is due to still trying to “fight the system”. Forget the system. Offer an alternative model of education that is attractive, realistic, and appealing to learners and parents. Offer a model that addresses real problems. That will involve more than public declarations of love for blogs, wikis, podcasts, twitter, social network applications, secondlife, and the really cool new tool we will encounter next month. It will involve time in reflection. What do we want to be? How do we want our children to be educated? How do we want to educate employees? What works? What is the model that will serve our needs tomorrow?
Now is a great time to think deeply, ask tough questions, challenge rhetoric, and ensure our message has the legs to carry it forward into traditional academic environments. When Gary questioned the research basis of web 2.0, his error was quickly corrected. Read/write web technologies are not on trial. Our willingness to change is. Research in online education, blogs, wikis, community formation, distributed teams, and virtual worlds is abundant. Where research is sometimes still developing, practice – whether in classrooms or corporate environments – is able to fill the gap. Personally, I’m well past asking “is technology effective in education”. That question has been answered satisfactorily. Today, I’m focused on questions like “How do we best use these tools for learning? What systemic changes are required to enhance effective learning? What are the new skills learners need in order to succeed?”.
Finally, my concern for our edublog community is one of continued relevance. I suspect many people don’t blog to impact systemic change. Their interest rests more in teaching well. But a few of us are focused on creating change. I address my comments to this camp. Our insular world is changing. Days of sharing links, articles and discussions with a handful of bloggers are gone. Newspapers quote edubloggers. Radio interviews are common. References to our work are increasingly found in policy documents. To continue a passion-based focus will not carry us far if our goal is change. We must begin to speak the language of research, validation, and academic credibility that forms the basis of progress for the last several centuries. I’m not suggesting we adopt the existing system. I’m suggesting we adopt principles that place emerging technology advocacy on a firmer footing in order to extend use, appeal, and impact.
For all the progress we’ve made, we stand at a decision point. Are we willing to model the standards to which we hold? We don’t have to agree with each other, but we have to listen. We do have to acknowledge, however, that we are all currently in roughly the same boat. Sure, there are some bloggers who are in the boat for themselves and their own ego. Recently, while pruning my bloglines account, I found how far I’ve shifted from interest in following the increasingly hype-based conversations of “new evangelists”. If a “web 2.0″ proponent can’t pause and question their own rhetoric (as Gary has done), she/he is no different from the narrow mindedness they propose to assault. To neglect self-reflection is the cause of much failure.