Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Future of Education & The Future of School Are on Very Different Paths

A few weeks ago I posted this passing thought on Twitter that I was not quite ready to come back to at the time but seemed to get a little traction:

Does anyone else get the feeling that the future of education & the future of school are on very different paths. 20 days ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Then, last night as I was about to finish reading Larry Cuban's (2001) Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom Jerrid Kruse asked me this question on Twitter:

@anderscj you liking cuban's work? 15 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

to which I replied:

@jerridkruse I wouldn't say I like it so much as I agree with most of it. 15 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse Cuban presents an inconvenient truth. 15 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

Cuban basically explains why, despite unprecedented access to technology, such reforms have failed to make foundational changes in schools. In Cuban's account the reasons for such high investment in tech tools in schools has been: 1. To make students more digitally literate, and 2. To shift from a teacher-centric to a student-centered learning environment. In his account he lists numerous teachers and programs that do this but shows how they are not the norm. What these tools end up doing is reinforcing already established teaching practices instead of transforming them. Among the many explanations he gives he includes school heritage, public conceptions, flawed decision-making, conflicting policy, and reformer misunderstanding of the purpose of school.

Before reading this book I thought Larry Cuban and Seymour Papert were on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, Papert a tech-enthusiast and Cuban who near the end of this book calls for schools to cease spending money on computers:
"Contemporary reformers have forgotten the democratic mission at the heart of public schooling, ignored the critical importance of social capital in strengthening civic behaviors, and proven too narrowly committed to technocratic solutions of school problems—all of which tempts me to call for a moratorium on buying any more computers for K-12 schools." Cuban
But now I realize they are closer to being on the same page than I thought. Reading between the lines on these pages it is obvious that the kind of transformation, the kind of change in the classroom that Cuban was hoping to find was akin to the kind of constructionist tech-enhanced project-based learning Papert observed with children in their use of LOGO to learn math. But, what he found was no such transformation on any measurable scale.

One thing Cuban hints at but doesn't give much weight to are the places where computer technology has revolutionized learning. He recognizes that the places where teachers and professors most use technology is in preparing for lessons and that students who knew a lot about computers learned most about them at home or in a part-time job. These are places where the personal computer has been used as a personal learning device, where the learning supports the learner's own goals and not the goals set forth by a teacher or curriculum. The technology-enhanced learning revolution has happened, its just left schools behind.

So, lets explore a few examples of this. First, how many teachers who engage in "PLNs" say that they find their social media engagement with other educators more valuable than the school or district-sponsored professional development programs? It is odd for a day to go by without me seeing at least one Tweet expressing this sentiment. A quick search in Twitter for "PLN," "Love," and "PD" drew these responses:

@wrice1978 I use Twitter for daily learning & connecting with global educators. I love my math PLN that spans the globe! #sfssepsb 5 hours ago via TweetGrid.com · powered by @socialditto

I love my PLN, esp. during #ukedchat I will try my best here, esp. against the odds. Education & needs is not fully understood by many here. 5 days ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

Let's use PD as an opportunity to talk to teachers about how to develop their own PLN to keep the learning happening all year. #edchat 4 hours ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

Thanks to Twitter I have made some amazing friends and my PLN is ever-growing. I learn more on Twitter than from any PD I pay for... 2 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Thanks to all the tweets! Have new "converts" to the world of twitter and its PD and PLN uses! Good Stuff! #sschat #psychat 6 days ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

Does anyone have a sample certificate of completion for a teacher participating in a PLN? Our district is exploring this PD option #edchat 7 days ago via Twitter for iPad · powered by @socialditto

Also, one could look at the rise in homeschooling and unschooling as a result of greater access to personal learning tools at home. Its not that computers and the Internet cause homeschooling, unschooling, and dropouts, it just enables and empowers them to feel this is a viable choice. I have spoken with many families over the past two years who have cited how important the Internet is for their homeschooling and unschooling. And this is not to say that the Internet can do what a teacher can't. Many unschoolers hire teachers when they feel they need them. The technology does not replace teachers, it makes it possible to do away with school and empower students to take control of their own learning.

Regardless of whether you believe Digital Natives and Immigrants exist or not I think Marc Prensky accurately illustrates the problem in this video:

"Education has biforcated completely into school where you get a credential and its about the past and and after school where you really learn interesting stuff on your own." Prensky
And Sugata Mitra proposes a plausible role of learning and schooling in this video:

Perhaps this is also why when asked last year about how social media and mobile technologies are changing teaching and learning in schools S. Craig Watkins said he and his colleagues at the Digital Youth Project are more interested in studying how students are using these tools at home.

Now take examples of teachers who work in what John Holt would term S-chools who have managed to transform teaching and learning with technology in their classrooms. How many of them have done so by deschooling their classrooms? I think Clay Burrell, who often talks with distaste about schooly things, is an excellent example:

Part 1---------Part 2

(This presentation requires Microsoft Silverlight. Click here to install.

It seems pretty obvious to me that in order to achieve the kind of learning revolution in schools that computer technology "reformers" sought that teachers must deschool their classrooms. But, to do so teachers bump up against a wall that Cuban doesn't mention in his book but a commenter on Scott McLeod's blog touches on. Sam Fancera writes:

Scott – Many of us don’t do this on a large scale, because many of us are evaluated solely on our students standardized test results. I agree that we should emphasize hands-on inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration, but until the reliance on test scores for evaluative purposes are modified we will not make a full press.
I would take this a step further and say that it is not just the evaluation based on test scores that is the problem but many of us are also evaluated on how well we follow a teaching routine set forth for us by our schools. In my current school we are obligated to use the workshop model of 10-15 minutes direct instruction followed by 20-30 minutes of individual or group work ending with a 5-10 minute closing. This alone hinders the kind of learning that technology can enhance because it sets up the teacher as the one who controls the classroom curriculum, who asks the questions, and who tells students what they should do with their 20-30 minutes in-between. Even if this expectation were not explicitly stated, as it had never been in any of the other schools I worked in, it is always implied. I have yet to have an administrator I work for who understands the kind of learning that can occur when you allow this kind of transformation to take place. And, even if I did work for an administrator who understood, the expectations carried by past administrators and classroom evaluators is enough to shock me back into traditional teaching mode.

Yesterday I wrote this comment on McLeod's blog that I think I will repost here because it more clearly describes this problem:

My son, a high school senior reading this right next to me, says, “Right on! This is so true.” He is no slacker at school; his grades are excellent. However, we both know how little he really has to do to score well on any test. It’s almost laughable.


What is more laughable is how little tests can really measure. But what brings me to tears is the weight we are forced to put on something which means so little. And what drives me crazy is having to defend over and over again how ignoring the tests and focusing on personally meaningful projects leads to better learning, is more rigorous, and ultimately will lead to better test scores. And what drives me absolutely stark raving mad is trying to explain to school managers (and often to other teachers) that such authentic learning is the result of negotiation and dialog with the learner and cannot be done through pre-planned scripted lessons or teacher-driven assessments.

A teacher’s job ought to be to help children learn. Instead, too often, the teacher’s job performance is assessed not only on how well students perform on a test that narrowly measures what a student knows but also on how closely they follow a script and stick to their lesson plans. If the goal is optimal learning then the very best teachers know their lessons cannot be scripted, they cannot be pre-written, they cannot be programmed. The optimal lesson plan is one that is written on-the-fly and responds to student needs and questions, not some common core standardized curriculum that dictates what and when each student should learn certain things.

In my classroom I ask very few questions. I make my students do most of the asking. Their questions guide what we do in class and what we learn. They ask the questions they are ready to wrestle with and are relevant to them at the time they are ready to have them answered. If the curriculum is truly important the student’s questions will lead us to it. Usually it does. Aside from that I load their environment, both physical and digital, with enough curiosities to spark the kinds of questions I would hope they would ask. The questions I ask most frequently are, “What do you want to learn about?” and “How can I help you today?” But, justifying this methodology to school managers who see learning as synonymous with knowledge and knowledge as something that can be handed down from teacher to student as if they were empty vessels waiting to be filled is hard if not impossible. Consequently, I often get comments when observed like, “I don’t understand what is going on here but I wouldn’t ask you to change it.” to “what you are doing is incredible but you need to work on….” and then they hand me the Charlotte Danielson rubric clearly outlining the things they didn’t observe in my class. I’ve come to realize that very few people in charge of most schools and most departments of education know much about how people actually learn. We are required to post our lesson objectives on the board. Mine always reads: Students will set their own goals and work toward achieving them. And those two students playing video games in the corner, they made those games but did anyone who came to observe bother to ask?

I am starting to wonder how much longer I can find a place in this profession where I can do what I do. But then what we assess today isn’t doing anyway. Doing and do-ers are on the way out. How many industrial technology, family and consumer science, art, music, drama, creative writing, poetry, graphic design, and computer programming courses are there anymore? Where they do exist they exist as places where students mostly study others doing, not doing themselves. We don’t want doers, we want consumers. We can pay workers in China $150/month to do our doing. At least if the students do well on that standardized test we will know that they have consumed the curriculum and objectives someone else set for them.

My conversation with Jerrid last night ended this way:

@jerridkruse Cuban presents an inconvenient truth. 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj yes, IMO he & postman Make clear that tech simply doesn't matter, teaching/teachers do. 17 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse technology may in some ways improve learning but mostly as personal tools...to improve unstructured learning, not schooling. 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse Cuban, for me, supports my building hypothesis that the tech-enhanced learning renaissance is leaving schools behind.... 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj can you explain that hypothesis? 17 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse technology may in some ways improve learning but mostly as personal tools...to improve unstructured learning, not schooling. 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse tech helps us learn things better we normally wouldn't go to school to learn 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj that makes a lot of sense. 17 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse and for those who are able, tech helps those who want to learn on their own and in their own way 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj able & have means. 17 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse yes. And those teachers who have managed to allow tech transform tchng & lrng do so by deschooling their classrooms.... 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@jerridkruse ....something those without means consistently say they don't want for their children. 17 hours ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

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