Trent Batson has scratched an itch I have had for years. Ever since I started using computers and a browser in the classroom, I have felt something didn’t fit. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with technology even going beyond the call by becoming an early adopter of social tools, new hardware, and online learning platforms, but I was missing something. I was assuming that it was me that was the source of the problem. Perhaps if I was better at using these tools better I would enter into the pantheon of those who had mastered them. After reading Batson’s short but transformative post, I realize that it isn’t me (or at least not mostly me). It was the schools I worked within. I knew this on an instinctive level. Hadn’t my wife and I homeschooled our kids. Or rather we unschooled them. Shouldn’t that have been a clue? I felt that I had to render unto other people’s kids what belonged to them and unto mine what they deserved. And ne’er the twain, etc. Classic double bind.
This problem is one that Batson confronts: it isn’t anyone’s fault. There are no villains. The problem is that the world has changed and we need to live in it instead of the other one. The metaphor he implies is involves pouring. We add technology to the mix of education. Batson implies that they are oil and water and that if you add them to the education bottle they will not integrate. Of course, when we speak of technology integration we assume that “education will remain unchanged”. Education is the container. It is a consoling prospect to think that all we need to do to succeed is to make technology fit education. Education will simply use tech to do what it has done for years. This is the definition of reform. This conversation always implies a master. The educational system, status quo post-WWII, is the master and technology serves it.
Batson uses the analogy of the car to pop this bubble. “A simple analogy: automobiles became popular in the 1910s — 1910 to 1920. But, for many enthusiasts who were among the first in their town to purchase an automobile, their enthusiasm waned quickly when they discovered their automobiles did not work very well on the dirt roads of the time. The brand new automobiles sat in garages or made short trips to the general store, consigned to the role of oddity instead of the “automobility” role they were supposed to fill. A highway system had to be built along with establishing laws, enforcement, street lights, commonly recognized road signs and the entire infrastructure for cars that took us decades to build. The nation had to integrate itself to the needs of the car.” This is a predictable pattern described by many: idea first, product second, system third, and institution fourth. Rinse and repeat.
If you look at college campuses you will see institutions that have not adapted to the new tech. They are powerful mis-fits. You have bookstores that do not sell etexts, online learning systems that are closed silos, full professors who say, “I don’t do blogs”, and a large net of learning that is largely dark to the system that claims to measure and accredit it. The old container is leaking badly. o integrate into the technology-enabled knowledge culture and knowledge economy. Technology (and I am assuming that Batson means the Web and all of its social and cultural scions) is transformative. In fact it has already transformed the zeitgeist that we swim in. It is education that must adapt to tech. Education must integrate into tech. Education must transform, not reform.
So what will this new container be. For one thing, it won’t be a container because ‘closed’ is the antithesis of this crazy thing called the Internet. For another thing, no one person will invent it. Just look into the story of Linus Torvalds and Marc Andrieesen. What they made became something very different just like the original Internet sprang from the Defense Department’s Darpanet. I am reasonable sure that the new container that isn’t a container won’t be called ‘education’ after awhile. It will just be learning in whatever form and framed for whatever purpose that exists. I believe absolutely that this ‘rhizo-eco-net’ will emerge from the chaos and order that spawned it. I am reminded of a recent RadioLab discussion of the origins of cowboy hats. Some narratives suggest that John Stetson after a wild west tour came up with the idea. OK, that is part of it, but his hat in no way represents the final and most useable iteration of it. Some suggested that it was the cowboys themselves added the dent in the brim and the folded over edge and the flexible brim through field use. According to this theory hatmakers saw these worn out Stetsons and stepped in to provide the worn in versions much like Levi created stone washed versions of their original product. In the end it was neither of these alone that created the cowboy hat. Instead it was the elements–wind, rain, sun, and dust– that were the initiating conditions that ‘determined’ emergent ‘hat’ behavior. What this suggests is that the new learning systems will ‘become’ as the old one molders, providing the compost and rot needed for the new one to emerge.
I think we are already seeing some of them. My wife has one called Ravelry -a huge knitting community. I belong to another one here at CoopCatalyst. I am participating in another one that sponsors informal ‘classes’ in a community much like Ivan Illich predicted in his prescient book Tools for Conviviality. All of these and thousands more are emerging at the behest of many and the command of no one. That disturbs us much like Darwin’s Origin did. Where is the Intelligent Designer? Who are the big men and women of history? Who can we personally credit with being the pater/mater familias of everything from patents to memes? We have to give up wanting certitude and learn to ride the emerging wave. Some of us are constitutionally capable of this but not before we give up reform and take up transform.
Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) Batson Blog