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Learning at its Best

Transform Not Reform

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

via “Technology Integration” is an Oxymoron.

About tellio

This website will be dedicated to the miscellany of living la vida English. The audience will be weblog companero: students, teachers, and fellow travellers down this road barely trampled. I will be adding occasional posts about where I am going, where you might be going, or wherever I please. The map ain't the damn territory. I am doing this because I know it makes me feel better about the trip if I have a notebook along with me. All the better to make it digital and public.


8 thoughts on “Transform Not Reform

  1. Great post! I agree wholeheartedly and the question remains as to how do we breakthrough the system as it has been running the past century? I use the term transformational all the time at my school and with mystaff but I perceive it simpl gets ignored or is not even heard. As an AP I only have som much influence of persuasion and to convince my staff of my will and intent at the need to move forward and without delay… Resources and board policy, and resistance to change alone are the obstacles a few in which I keep bouncing my head against. Thoughts and comments from you and our peers would be greatly appreciated

    Posted by Bill | November 26, 2011, 12:47 pm
    • There won’t be a breakthrough that most of us recognize. It probably has already occured or tipped somewhere years ago. All that is required of us is awareness and sensitivity to our learners’ needs wherever we happen to be teaching. For me, I need to connect with the tools my students are using, I need to model how learners act, and we need to always be closing the deal on the value of learning. These seem abstract but what they amount to is the ‘field’ from which the future draws us toward it. Suffice to say, we will likely share more in common with David that with the tribe entering the promised land. That is the curse of interesting times.

      Perhaps what you need to do is a keep up a steady, friendly drumbeat of change, a rhythm that makes change seem inevitable and necessary. Keep showing folks the way, stay humble, be positive, don’t give up, keep walking because the road is made for the rest of us by your having walked it. Change is coming and you are the one who will welcome it in your place and time. You will be an imperfect leader, but you will be there as a beacon for others who will follow. I can only encourage you. The game is damned sure worth the candle.

      Posted by tellio | November 26, 2011, 9:48 pm
  2. I love this:

    The problem is that the world has changed and we need to live in it instead of the other one.

    Our kids don’t know the world in which we live, and we are not always ready to be in theirs.

    Hence, school.

    Here’s to awareness –

    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 27, 2011, 4:01 pm
    • We absolutely need to straddle our world and their world. We are Virgil guiding our charges to heaven. Well…maybe our students aren’t Dante in the wood of error, but you get the point. I think we must get to know their world better. I teach online lit classes at Western Kentucky University. I am going to make it a point to call every student I have and just say, “Hi, I’m your lit teacher. How are you? What can I help you with?” I have done cold calling before. It just doesn’t take that long and it puts me where they are. And they are everywhere. All over the world. Any way to show we care that doesn’t cripple the rest of our lives with work has got to be tried. Messy it is. Well…amen then.

      Posted by tellio | November 27, 2011, 7:07 pm
  3. Tellio, I agree that the breakthrough has already occurred. We are just trying to bear witness to it and catch up. Thanks for your vision.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | November 27, 2011, 4:13 pm
    • You are way too kind. I actually feel quite blindered. I really meant to include a Moses reference in the post. I don’t think I am a prophet so much as a dude muddling toward something (not a beast toward Jerusalem, I trust) I know not what exactly. And like Moses never being allowed to enter.

      I can sense it in the periphery and in the wind and in the little electric hackles on my neck. I hate to get all fatalistic, but I think what is emerging is not controllable, not manageable. Isn’t that what scares folks about OWS? Who’s in charge? Everybody. What do you want? Something else. I am on a holiday from my doctoral program because it ‘felt’ wrong. One day I had a very respected professor and high level administrator in my program tell me after I asked her to look at a post I had made about an issue in class tell me, “I don’t do blogs.” She was nice about it, but ignorance ain’t nice. Some switch that connected me to that Ed D circuit flipped and all at once I realized that I could not proceed. I could justify my decision, but I couldn’t be articulate about it. The field of the future had shifted. I have learned to pause and wait when that happens. You miss a lot of falling anvils that way.

      Reminds me of the line in Men in Black: Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

      I think that is my new motto: Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

      Posted by tellio | November 27, 2011, 5:34 pm
  4. The concept of education being the container has me intrigued. I like the idea of searching for a new container–or constructing a new one for that matter. Or even more, maybe the container is the problem in the first place, and education should the element that brings it all together….

    Thanks for waking up my brain juices on a Sunday afternoon!

    Posted by Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) | November 27, 2011, 5:33 pm

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