Archive for the ‘policy’ category

Entrenched Engagement

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Dale Dougherty ,writing for O’Reilly, tries to tease out some of the questions in how today’s technology can affect what is happening in the classroom:

Is it possible for education to be transformed by Web 2.0 thinking, if not Web 2.0 technology? How could it disrupt the entrenched educational bureaucracy and offer new, potentially better, ways for self-directed learning and exploration? Can we break down the walls of the classroom to make it possible for students and teachers to re-connect in more meaningful ways? Education@Web 2.0

I think he is asking the questions that are on the minds of folks in the technology world and who are wondering when are the teachers and schools are going to start openly adopting some of these technologies (such as Web 2.0 apps and movements: Facebook and social networking to name a few). I don’t want to read into his words too much, but the tension between technology creators and classroom educators (the rhyme wasn’t intentional) has existed for some time and Todd Oppenheimer has outlined a bit of that relationship in The Computer Delusion. I won’t try and recreate what Oppenheimer has already done, but I would like to qualify a statement about the “entrenched educational bureaucracy” that Dougherty refers to.

He’s right: it is entrenched and it is a bureaucracy. Public education deserves all of the criticism it receives for not serving everyone equally and for not preparing every person for life. Public education is failing and public education is not easily fixed. If you want a guarantee that a student will be completely safe and will be completely prepared academically, do not send your child to a public school…it’s too risky.

But, before you send your child to a private or charter school or perhaps homeschool your child, recognize that public schools, like democracy, have not been a reality, but a goal. Public schools, like our version of democracy, is a part of the grand experiment (which I’m sure has been said elsewhere and so I apologize for relying on rhetoric).

Rather than scrapping the whole thing and “overhauling” the educational system (that, btw, is political rhetoric used in the pushing through of No Child Left Behind and probably most of the current 2008 Presidential candidates’ stump speeches), maybe we need to shift the power back toward the educators. As I see it, we’ve been in the age of describing school in business-like terms: community members are now shareholders, concern is now accountability and the students are lost in the endless charts and graphs that litter up most DOE websites. Businesses are in the game to make money for their shareholders…that’s what businesses do. It should be a conflict of interest to have business people making up the majority of educational committees (and such is the case for at least the state of Indiana’s “Indiana Plan for Digital-Age Learning ” committee and the Educational Roundtable).

Instead, return education back to the classroom educators (having college representatives or school superintendents do not count here) and work more with the teachers-teaching-teachers model that I’ve made reference to in another post (much like the National Writing Project model).

For those who want a more radical way of rethinking education, why not take the best of the social aspects of democracy and apply a non-capitalistic model to it: yes, why not an open source education? I know it’s not a new idea and it is running on the heals of big tech buzz words, but it may be an idea worth pursuing. A good start would to look over Douglas Rushkoff’s Open Source Democracy and see the thinking that can occur when we strip off coercion and established structures and use the potential of a technology such as the internet for good and not marketing.

But that revolution probably won’t happen nationally yet; but, perhaps the ideas from that discussion could affect one classroom and then another and then a conference…

Back to the Dougherty post: a cool thing happens when you say something in a blog post: people comment and discuss and critique and qualify and, well, work with ideas. Already, his post has generated discussion on his site and has been the spark for this post. Our students are doing the same thing on things that they care about on other sites.


Technology On Mission

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

When starting a business or a new venture, the common practice calls for interested and invested parties to articulate what will happen in the business. In days of old, one might have an idea, sketch out an outline, and then start doing the business. Today, though, we’ve come a long ways: today, we subject all parties to scripting inspiration for decades to come. I’m referring to, of course, the dreaded mission statement.

My first taste of carving my person mission statement into the tree of time was through Covey training at the current school that I’m employed. The 7 Habits for Highly Effective People permeated all business and many educational institutions (I’ve lost track of which metaphor we’re one now…I lost interest around the Fish! and the Whales motif). I had done the DayTimer thing (along with many others) and found that I liked some of the stuff Covey had to offer (especially the idea that you arrange your time around relationships, not appointments). But, and those of you that still have your Covey Planner somewhere, the first step is: Begin with the End in Mind(tm). And we got to spend some time molding a mission statement that reflected our lives and values, dreams and desires, hopes and … well, you get the idea.

I can’t remember mine now, and in a way, the process became really tedious. And I remember looking around during our training and then I couldn’t help remember the part in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the ship filled with middle-management people can’t get anything done because, though they had successfully held regularly scheduled meetings, they hadn’t even invented fire.

Sometimes the process of business is absurd. And I think a good place to start is to rip down those silly mission statements. Especially ones that have anything to do with technology.

For example, let’s take a look at what gets emphasized in the cover letter of the Indiana Plan for Digital-Age Learning. (BTW, it had three addressees: the governor, the state superintendent, and “Fellow Indiana Education Stakeholders”). After some introductory remarks, we get the mission statement in the second graf:

“Indiana’s K-12 schools, under the guidance of excellent teachers, to engage in self-directed, lifelong Digital-Age learning — as individuals, in learning communities, and with their families– as they strive for rigorous academic excellence in today’s high-tech, global society.”

Now, to be fair, they are calling this the “vision”…still, it’s a fairly typical mission statement that reminds me of what would score high on the writing portion of the state writing section.
And, it lacks any passion that education can (and should) inspire in individuals. Let’s break it down and see what is lurking (or missing) from the words.

Indiana’s K-12 schools
What is missing here is the whole K-16 movement. The colleges are not a part of this plan and probably shouldn’t be.

under the guidance of excellent teachers
This seems suspect to me. The plan will call for teachers to mentor other teachers in technology. I have a feeling this is what Jan Weir is currently doing and I have a feeling that this committee is using her work as a model of how best to teach teachers: with teachers. This staff development model (National Writing Project is based on it) is a sound one, but often overlooked when glossy brochures will show how your school can get higher test scores with little or no additional work. I’ll probably come back to this phrase, but my gut feeling tells me that it will be hardest one to implement. Instead, having someone come in and do Professional Development on technology is much easier. I also don’t believe the word “guidance”; I can’t imagine that classroom teachers will be given the reigns to guide the program

to engage in self-directed
This is the promise of current trends in education: to make kids independent and to direct their learning. Sounds good, but there’s little out there to engage students that much (with a state curriculum to get through?) Most teachers are not trained in this type of learning and it’s probably not the best way for all students.

lifelong Digital-Age learning
Wow! If this isn’t a buzzword ready to take flight. The “lifelong” part is from the days of interviewing for a teaching job and our “philosophy of education.” Everyone says that they want to encourage “lifelong” learning…perhaps it is the goal of education. Again, if it really happens is a completely different story and there are too many factors to measure this part of the vision. You probably had at least one teacher that you connected with and inspired you to do…something. The problem is, not all teachers connect with all students and that’s probably because we are all human and slightly self-centered and it might have something to do with the idea that we are not all Lego pieces. “Digital-Age learning” is the weight of the document, and I will have to come back to this one later. In short: it’s trying to align with the 21st Century Skills and it’s an educational buzzword that perhaps had meaning once, but now is void (which means it will enter into the political jargon just in time for elections). [In doing more checking, there’s little on the 21st Century Skills site for this term. My guess is since it was referred to at the Milken site, it may be a word that Cheryl Lemke of the Metiri Group uses in writing state technology plans].

— as individuals, in learning communities, and with their families–
This is a qualifying section, as is true with many visionmission statements. This, again, emphasizes current trends within education: the individual work, the group work and the connection with families. Group work is probably over-emphasized in educational circles. There is little reason why we do “group work” besides helping kids work with one another because “that’s how it’s done in the real world.” My instinct (and my non-educational work experience) tells me that I should concentrate on what I do rather than what my groups is (or should be) doing. The family part seems to be out of place and is probably there to pull in all “shareholders.”

as they strive for rigorous academic excellence in today’s high-tech, global society.
Lots of stuff going on here, but it is really the goal of this educational plan: to be competitive with the world market. Eduspeak such as “rigorous” and “excellence” are very common today and reflect the continuing thought that schools are not doing their jobs and just need to work harder at learning the kids more so that the next generation can win the game.

And what is missing from this visionmission statement? We’re talking about technology and we’re talking about education and this has absolutely no passion in the words. None. Even if we are discussing a purpose that I don’t concur with, there’s nothing to wrap our imagination around. (You want passion in business literature? Try reading Tom Peter’s blog or Re-Imagine! and not get excited, mad, angry or wowed).

Instead, the business model, in very business-like form of a visionmission statement, removes from education the one thing that all of us remember: someone or something that inspired us to do something beyond us.