February 13th, 2014

Making is Modern Learning

Gary Stager:

Maker faires, where adults and children are gathering in ever-growing numbers, celebrate the inventor in all of us, but they also seem to be brewing an anti-school streak among some parents and children. “School is boring” has given way to “School is destroying my child. Look at what they are capable of doing! School is oblivious to my child’s interests, talents, and expertise.” I am not willing to give up on school, simply because that is where the kids are. We can and should make classrooms more like Maker Faires.

Often parents are torn between their respect for the institution of school and their intuition that something is not working for their child. Be clear while making your case that although your plans may not look exactly like traditional school, you are not abandoning high standards or a quest for learning. The argument for making, tinkering, and engineering should not be as an “alternative” way to learn, but what modern learning really looks like.

January 28th, 2013

Educon 2.5-ish Random-ish Reflections

Just some quick reflections on this year’s most excellent EduCon 2.5 at SLA in Philly, an event I love for the conversations but also for the chance to catch up with a whole bunch of amazing educator friends who consistently push my thinking, and for the chance to meet a whole new bunch who I’m sure will do the same in the future.


(photo by Steve Ransom)

I’ll be blogging more about my session on “Why School?” which at the last minute turned into an attempt to come up with “95 Theses” reflecting the world of contemporary learning and schooling. It was a great discussion with some interesting results that I hope to suss out in the next few days. But until then, just a couple of quick snips.


At one point, Christian Long came up and asked me to take part in an informal, “anthropological study” that he was doing as a part of his design work with The Third Teacher. In essence the task was to finish the sentence “The future of learning is…” There were two other choices but that one leapt out at me. My answer was short: “self-organized.” Not earth shattering, I know, but an idea that I’ve been bouncing into more and more.

One of my mantras of late has been this idea that we can now “design our own learning,” one that is no doubt informed by the work Christian and others are doing in designing spaces but just as much by this moment of abundant access to teachers and knowledge that we find ourselves in. The reality is that we are now the central organizing force in our own learning and education. It’s not the school or in the institution any longer. 

I keep looking at my own kids and wondering if “Learning Design 101 (and maybe 102)” shouldn’t be a core class in their studies at school. (As a side note, it is happening to some degree at least with my daughter, who is struggling a bit with the inquiry approach of some of her teachers. “I don’t know what she wants” is a common complaint about her English teacher, one that I respond to with “That’s the whole point, Tess. She wants you to figure out what you want.” Getting there…) And I wonder to what extent teachers see their roles as “Learning Designers” in their own practice and as coaches in that for their students. 

But it’s not just learning. More and more I’m coming around to the idea that not only will my kids learning be “self-organized” or “self-designed,” so will the work that they do in their adult lives. And so will the education they cobble together for themselves to get to those work opportunities. When we have access to all that we do now, we can’t wait for someone else to do any of this for us. Or, at least, that can’t be our only option.

So, I’m wondering, are we preparing students for a “self-organized” world?


Some of that thinking was also spurred by the  Krista Tippett interview with Seth Godin for her On Being Podcast (which is one of the few I subscribe to, btw) that I listened to on the drive down to EduCon. In it, Godin talked about his belief that at this moment, it’s incumbent upon all of us to create art in the sense that we now have the ability and the tools to influence the world in ways that have never before existed, and that seizing and making the most of that opportunity is one of the keys to living well both professionally and personally. I find his argument compelling and relevant to another point I’ve been making of late, that we need kids to be makers and sharers. 

Godin makes the point that in Industrial times, one person designed something that thousands of other people then created. Today, one person can design something AND create it and share it and own it.

"We are all artists now." And, our kids need to be artists now more than ever. And it’s not art in the sense of fine art as we’ve known it. Art is creation that makes a difference in the world, a blog post, a program, a video, a connection. To quote:

"Now, one person working by themselves can make an idea, a product, a service, something in the world, and that shift in leverage means you’re not gonna make it as a worker bee. You’re gonna make it as someone who is figuring out what to do next. And more importantly, finding the faith, literally the faith to walk up to your tribe, your community and say ‘here, I made this.’"

That last part is not always an easy thing. As Godin points out, it’s fraught with fear of rejection, comparison, disappointment, etc. It’s a hard thing to do, even still for me, now almost 12 years into this blogging thing but still fretting as I write this if people will find it banal, boring, or stupid. That’s a part of the “artistic” process that many struggle with.

So, I’m wondering, are we preparing our kids to be artists?

I sat in on Audrey Watters session on “The Politics of Ed Tech” which, in my thinking, should be required context for every parent, educator and student. It was an interesting, wide ranging conversation which at the outset Audrey feared would become “exceedingly grim” and in that respect, it didn’t disappoint. We talked about the big players, their motivations, the visions, etc. 

But the one thing we kind of danced around that I wish we’d had more time for was the “ok, so what do we do about it.” Two snippets spoke to that. First, at one point we began talking about the inroads that companies had made into education via the Apple Distinguished Educator or Google Certified Teacher brands, and whether or not there was a downside to helping to market companies that at the end of the day may not have the best intentions or visions for the type of progressive reforms that many of us are calling for.  Kevin Jarrett was nice enough to put himself in the crossfire, and he said if aligning with one of the big companies meant increased access to tools and technology for kids, it was worth it. (To be noted, SLA has a huge “Apple Distinguished School” banner hanging in the hallway, and Chris has taken the same path to get computers for his students as well.) Not sure how I feel about that, but it was a moment that gave all of us some pause, I think.

And finally, at one point I blurted out something along the lines of “ed-tech businesses have a vested interest in keeping education the same.” We’d been talking about buying textbooks and learning management systems and all sorts of other stuff that have become a part of the fabric of traditional education. I started thinking of the vendor floor at ISTE, all sorts of stuff that we don’t really need but we’re talked into buying because of that traditional thinking.

We don’t need textbooks anymore. We can make our own with our kids. But textbook companies need us to need textbooks. Other companies need us to need LMSs even though we don’t really need them. Etc. What, at the end of the day, are the products that really serve the vision of teaching and learning that we’re now talking about?

Still thinking about that…

Anyway, as always, two days at EduCon are two days really well spent. 

December 13th, 2012

You Gotta Go to Educon 2.5

Just a quick reminder, Educon, the most excellent unconferency conference held at Science Leadership Academy, is coming up at the end of next month. If you haven’t already done so, you might want to head on over and register as there’s limited attendance.

Not for nothing, but if you haven’t had the Educon experience yet, you need to. For me, it’s one of the if not the best conference I get to every year because it’s small, intimate, thought-provoking, features students, and brings together many of the good friends I’ve made over the years in this online eduspace. I’ll be running a fun session on how we’d like George Lucas to spend the $4 billion he’s putting toward education, but there are far more serious and important topics on the conversation list as well.

Anyway, hope to see you all there…

December 12th, 2012

Rethink Learning Top to Bottom

Cathy Davidson

But there is also an investment opportunity for any educator (with or without degree) to rethink learning top to bottom, inside out. We have a potential for a learning mash-up of the loftiest, most creative, learner-centered kind. Whether we are talking about Khan’s millions of learners who have a handful of teachers or Ito’s billions of teachers learning from one another, the idea that we educators don’t have to force education, that people like to learn if there is something worth learning, is the gold mine for the digital age…

What would we do without “forced education” I wonder…

October 21st, 2012

Low Tech Search Lacking in College Grads

Interesting findings from a research study by Alison Head at Project Information Literacy titled “How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace (pdf).” In short, the answer is “not very well”:

The basic online search skills new college graduates bring with them are attractive enough to help them get hired. Yet, employers found that once on the job, these educated young workers seemed tethered to their computers. They failed to incorporate more fundamental, low-tech research methods that are as essential as ever in the contemporary workplace.


Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine, entering a few keywords, and scanning the first couple of pages of results, employerssaid, even though they needed newcomers to apply patience and persistence when solving information problems in the workplace.

And, finally:

A majority of employers said they were surprised that new hires rarely used any of the more traditional forms of research, such as picking up the phone or thumbing through an annual report for informational nuggets. Instead, they found many college hires—though not all—relied heavily on they found online and many rarely looked beyond their screens.

There’s much, much more in the report, which is worth the read. 

September 5th, 2012

Toward a New System of Education

Stephen Downes:

We must develop the educational system outside the traditional system because the traditional system is designed to support the position of the wealthy and powerful. Everything about it - from the limitation of access, to the employment of financial barriers, to the creation of exclusive institutions and private clubs, to the system of measuring impact and performance accordiung to economic critreria, serve to support that model. Reforming the educational system isn’t about opening the doors of Harvard or MIT or Cambridge to everyone - it’s about making access to these institutions irrelevant. About making them an anachronism, like a symphony orchestra, or a gentleman’s club, or a whites only golf course, and replaced with something we own and build for everyone, like punk music, a skateboard park, or the public park.

And, later:

What is most important is how education is thought of in such a system. It is not something that is ‘delivered’ or ‘transferred’ from an institution to a person. An education is property of a person (‘property’ in the sense of ‘quality’ or ‘attribute’, not in the sense of ‘ownership’ or ‘possession’) just in the same way as health and fitness are properties of a person, something they have all their lives, something they develop and grow and maintain, something they are themselves ultimately responsible for.  

Just as a healthy person needs affordable and accessible food and water, housing and transportation, so also an educated person needs learning resources, intellectual challenges, role models and examples, employment and invigoration. They need, in the words of Seymour Papert, hard fun. There are many ways this can be provided in a technologically advanced society - transmission (via books and videos) and programmed learning are only two possibilities, and (probably) the most minimally effective of those.  

In this model, the public education system isn’t something you put aside 18 years your life to go to and ‘access’, no more than a child spends the first 18 years of his or her life in a health institution developing strength and fitness.

Stretching my brain. 

July 9th, 2011

Schooling is a Choice (?)

So, the first thing I read this first-morning-back from vacation was this amazing post by Bonnie Stewart, a post that echoes much of my own struggle as a parent but articulated in a much more powerful, thoughtful, beautiful way. Here is a snip:

We send them into the school system, most of us, with great hopes. Learning. Education. Talisman words. They promise development of our children’s potential, inculcation into the mysteries of consciousness. The lure of the Tree of Knowledge.

What they get – what we all get – is something…other…than that. We get people who learn their place in our culture. In the – however much I flinch at the word – patriarchy, with its implicit hierarchy of gendered behaviours and classed behaviours and racialized behaviours, even as we in our schools and culture pay lip service to inclusion and acceptance and celebration of difference.

More times than I can count now, in the Q & A follow ups after my presentations, I’ve been asked some variation of “So, what about you, Will? If the system is in such disarray, why don’t you pull your own kids out?” I never give a great answer, I don’t think. And I wonder if it’s because I don’t have one. As I commented to Bonnie, I just feel worse when I consider it deeply. I wrote:

I keep wondering if 10-15 years down the road I’ll look at my kids and wish I’d done it differently. Wish I’d had the guts (?), the sense (?), the love (?) to have put them on a different path, one that as much as I hope for the system to embrace, I fully realize it can’t.

I know deep in my heart that a “better” education lies elsewhere, right now, outside of the school walls. Yet, I keep sending them back. And Bonnie’s description of that dissonance resonates very, very deeply.

In the end, I suspect that I will deliver my children over to some version of a 1950s classroom. Anything else would shock me. And I assume there will be good in it, and bad, just as there was for most of us.

Yet, sitting here thinking about tiny diplomas and the patriarchy and the world I’d like to live in, I recognize that schooling is a choice.

And I marvel and cringe at the power of a system that makes it so difficult for even those of us most deeply embedded in and privileged by its operations to see other options. Patriarchy for the win, indeed.

Schooling is a choice. Why is it so hard for us to see it as such?

(Source: theory.cribchronicles.com)

Loading tweets...



Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!

Because Modern Learners Need Modern Leaders

My Latest Book!
Just $1.99!!!