Revolving Revolution

Why hasn’t technology dramatically changed education? Why isn’t it a panacea for a system we call broken and antiquated? Sampling of answers: we use it too much; we don’t use it enough; we aren’t using the right technologies in the right way.

What if we’re thinking about the problem incorrectly? If we insert technology into an educational environment, then students will use it to enhance their learning. Right? Their experiences will be better and thus their learning will improve. Oops. Not if we aren’t applying the technology in a way that transforms how they learn.

The YouTube channel Veritasium released a video this past Monday, December 1 that explains the folly of thinking that technology itself will revolutionize education. That has been spouted for over a century. The addition of technology in a classroom to do different things with the same content is evolution, as is stated in the video. To truly revolutionize education, we need to consider how technology can help learners apply their thinking differently to the content. I love the moment in the video when the host states that we aren’t limited by what experiences we can offer students through technology. We are limited by how we can affect the learning, thinking, and reasoning that occurs inside the students. That is my paraphrasing.

Our attempts at integrating technology have seemed cyclical. We are stuck in a revolving door of thought and process. Every time we go round, we pick up a new toy — excuse me — tool, and we use it to help us continue with our revolving. We call this revolution. A different kind maybe.

Here is the video. Watch and see if it changes your thinking about our perspective on education. Is the juggernaut of education too stuck in its ways to allow technology to really change it, or is there a bigger issue that speaks to the heart of education itself and what it means to learn?

Learners & Knowers

“At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”

-Alistair Smith

Alistair Smith is a speaker and educational advocate who inspires us to think about new learning methods as we encounter an age of technological innovation. Learners have room to breathe, room to fail, and receive encouragement in the form of timely feedback. Knowers simply ingest information and regurgitate it in certain circumstances. What happens if I know but can’t do? Learning requires progress. A learner progresses from simple knowledge to application and innovation. A knower only holds the knowledge in his/her pocket.

More knowledge is constantly being added to what we already know. The information in textbooks, for example, can become outdated before the book has reached its determined lifespan in a classroom. Revisions are necessary, and in this digital age, those revisions are frequent. By the time we feel like we know something, new information comes out shedding new light on the issue. The world as we knew it no longer exists because pieces are constantly changing. Instead, we need to evolve as the information does and be ready to apply what we do know. As a matter of fact, that application is often what changes our knowledge. It pushes the boundaries, rearranges the facts, and provides a new perspective on the world and its workings.

Watch Alistair’s presentation below. It’s not just the fluff of wanting change. It is an exhortation to change. If we know what it takes, then what are we doing about it?

Personalized Learning Environments

Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs) are one of those educational revolutionary ideas that are more complex than they may seem at first. Of course learning should be personalized to deal with the myriad of learners and their interests and strengths. Exactly what constitutes such an environment, though? The American Institute for Research (AIR) has produced a document outlining the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top-District grant program. This program, launched in 2012, defined four areas for grantee districts to submit plans for in their efforts to bolster educational reform. These four areas are as follows:

  1. Creating and implementing blended learning environments
  2. Developing and using individualized college and career readiness learning programs
  3. Implementing competency-based models to support and accelerate students’ progress through their learning plans
  4. Engaging and empowering key stakeholder groups, including teachers, parents, and the broader community in the process of ensuring student success

Each of these is ambitious and poses its own set of unique challenges, but each is sorely needed in education. The document outlines some finer points in each area in addition to providing examples of districts from around the country who have submitted plans for policies and practices that will achieve success with each.

Where is your district in progressing in each areas? What are the plans for the future? Much of what is discussed in AIR’s document is the plan of action for each and the intended outcomes. Overall, it is clear that success with these concepts is not found in the current, traditional system of education. For the plans to work, transformation must occur. For instance, to implement blended learning effectively, student learning cannot be relegated to sitting students down in front of a computer or piece of technology to do self-paced learning. That is not enough. They can absorb the facts, learn at their own pace, and even work cooperatively in a digital environment, but it will mean nothing unless the face-to-face time complements it well. Collaborative work, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, authentic problem-solving, and activities/work that piques student interest are all key factors (among others) in leveraging blended learning to maximize learning in the physical space. Just because a technology changes the way a task is done does not mean it changes our learning.

I’m saying that careful planning must be followed up with development, reflection, and redesign. We need to consider how all of these areas must go together and reflect the work of one another in order to realize the goals of each. Perhaps even more importantly, once the grantees in this program have begun enacting their plans, the results and future development plans need to be shared. We need to learn from one another. Otherwise, we will have silos of success.

Don’t Let Tradition Stand

Educational ~ Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling

There were a number of other topics that may have come before this post, but I just came across this video, and it has captured my full attention. I believe it should capture the attention of anyone involved in education. If a Valedictorian is saying this, we all need to listen up. She, along with an unknown number of other students are disillusioned with the concept of education and school. Somewhere in the midst of their experience, or maybe at the end of it, they realize that they’ve just been going through the motions. If they don’t, they run the risk of being labeled, trapped in a system of “enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement.” Where is the meaning? The Valedictorian also distinguishes between excelling and learning in saying that she completed school just to excel, not to learn. Even if they aren’t mutually exclusive, how do we take that? Where do we go with it?

We must recognize that a personalized learning experience is and always should be a goal high on our list as educators. Tradition streamlines the process of learning until it overrides the innate curiosity and innovative spirit within each of us. It focuses so much on standardization that it treads on personalization. This Valedictorian expanded upon the view of students by stating, “We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down.”

Is that what we’ve been doing? I don’t even think we realize it sometimes. We put our head down and plough through another year’s worth of content, free of context or relevance. I have to admit that it’s easy to do, and it is easy as a student to let it happen. I let it happen to me. I worked hard for that ‘A’ no matter what the cost. I thought if I did that I would get into a good college and have a good career. I did go to college and I did receive scholarships and I do have a good job that I enjoy. However, lasting success has come from me learning how to learn, not from following the pre-determined processes of a finite system. Truthfully, the most fun I have is when I can create and innovate. When I can work through a problem with my team and discover something new or put existing content in a new context and make it work. That is when I really learn and really demonstrate my unique abilities and strengths. Isn’t that what we want for students?

One additional thing stood out to me in this video. At a certain moment, she implores those listening to understand that students are different. They are more than just pupils absorbing knowledge. She contradicts the traditional mindset in saying students are “capable of using our mind for innovation rather than memorization. For creativity rather than futile activity. For rumination rather than stagnation.”

My question is, what are we doing to enable them to be and do all of that?