So the whole conversation that has developed over the last two days has been another one of those amazing, intellectually stimulating back and forths that I feel extremely privileged to be involved in. Let me just say at the outset that the number of quality, thoughtful comments that have been coming to this blog of late has just blown me away, and I thank all of you for being willing to participate. I can only hope that those contributing or reading are getting as much if not more than I. There is another entire post forming slowly that connects this to the whole Classroom 2.0 idea and some other stuff that’s evolving out of it…but that’s for another day.
Without beating a dead horse, this latest conversation has got me thinking, on a number of levels. First, on how interesting it is to see the nuanced interpretation of what I originally was writing about. Second, on how my own thinking keeps going back and forth as I read through the comments, pushed by people who I respect and admire greatly who have vastly different viewpoints. But ultimately, on how certain snippets, certain phrases push me to bigger insights or questions. I find that whole process incredibly interesting.
So here’s what got me to this post. Liz Lawley, who was one of the people who really helped me understand the pedagogies of these social tools very early on in my reading of blogs, left a couple of pretty challenging comments, which pushed me to think. In the second, she wrote:
Will, debates like this are absolutely a good example of a back-and-forth collaborative learning process. But expecting that people will systematically (a) seek out and (b) find examples of every important theme and its associated points of view isâ€“I thinkâ€“naive.
The real value of a formal educational process is that all too often â€œwe donâ€™t know what we donâ€™t knowâ€â€“and so without a systematic structured approach to a complex topic we run the very real risk of not seeing the big picture, and falling into the trap of generalizing from our anecdotal experience.
I hear that, but here are the questions that provokes for me…and they are sincere, not simply meant to start more discussion.
- How much of people’s inability to systematically “seek out and find examples of every important theme and its associated points of view” is because we simply don’t teach them to do that in a systemic way from very young ages?
- How much of that is because we are so focused on content and not learning, because the system that’s still in place hasn’t shifted at all to keep pace with the fact that we can connect to information and knowledge and teachers on so many new and profound levels?
- Can we systematically teach students to “see the big picture” in ways that will allow them to construct their own process that might actually come close to replicating that formal educational process?
- Or do those types of potentials only come at a later age or from experiences that cannot be replicated in a K-12 system?
Those may be naive, I don’t know. But what I’m struggling with is how do we re-envision what we do in our classrooms to prepare our students to leverage the potential of the connections now available to (most of) them, connections that have not been available in the past.
And while I know this is a bit of a different topic from the above, I’m not saying that physical space, high-level coursework isn’t going to remain important and in fact relevant for some pursuits. But I’m not convinced that stringing courses together to earn a degree has to remain as the only way to achieve “expertise,” which in an of itself is open to all sorts of different interpretations.
(Photo “Inspiring the Class” by Brian U.)
Doug Hearrington says
This is a very interesting subject, one I have thought about lately. The topic of discussion seems to me to center on the purpose and value of higher education. You ask great questions and consistently stimulate your own thought and move your thinking forward. By blogging you contribute to the thinking and thought processes of those who read your blog. There are “big picture” things involved in the degree program in social computing that you may not see yourself. What are the impacts of a well-read blog (such as yours for instance) on the readers of that blog? That is one big picture that can be explored in many ways. But take any one of the big pictures of this degree program and you will find that there are many puzzle pieces that shape that picture. Seeing the big picture is only a part of the process. Digging deeper into the puzzle pieces, and eventually developing better puzzle pieces or deeper understandings of the puzzle pieces, is a big part of the higher education picture that results from interacting with a faculty of people who are experts in those puzzle pieces. Such faculty should not only be experts in the pieces, but they should be good at leading students to understandings, thinking processes, and development of better tools themselves. Some of this can be done in K-12 schools, but not on the level possible in tertiary education. Just look at how long it has taken you to get to the level of thinking you are at now. Could that process have been deepened, informed, and otherwise enhanced by graduate study or doctoral study? Such programs create a cycle of improvement. The students improve, the professors improve, the community improves, and the tools improve. That improvement drives further improvement, ad infinitum. Blogs such as yours help to stimulate thinking in the community for sure, but not to the degree or depth of tertiary education. How much greater could the impacts of blogs and wikis be when combined with schools at all levels? That is something only a focused program of study can help qualify and quantify. So, in my humble opinion, you are seeing only a part of the picture. But, you are seeing and thinking. How much further could your vision and thoughts be taken by a skilled and deeply knowledgeable faculty?
sylvia martinez says
I think there is no question that we could do better in K-12 to encourage deeper thinking and develop better reasoning skills. We know we need to do it, and we know the roadblocks — from simple things like bell schedules to complex societal/political issues like school funding.
Roger Shank is a good read on this subject.
But I think a focus on connections is as short-sighted as a focus on content. Connecting to information, while interesting and powerful, is still passive. Knowledge and information are only useful in the context of building something. Sometimes that means building information into more complex ideas, but for kids, especially little kids, it has to be more real.
Teaching kids to be in control of their world gives them experience in systems thinking (planning, debugging, feedback loops, etc.) Systems thinking is learned by allowing kids to build, modify and control systems – these can be physical systems, but in today’s world it should also mean simulated systems. This means programming of some sort– devices, computers, web applications, etc. This is not impossible but we are scared of it for some reason.
For older students, this should include the math of the 21st century, predicting, emergent behavior, data analysis, signal processing – but there’s no room for that in the math curriculum that ignores everything less than 300 years old. Really, chaos theory is no more or less difficult than logarithms, but only one has any relevance today.
Jennifer Wagner says
In response to:
Or do those types of potentials only come at a later age or from experiences that cannot be replicated in a K-12 system?
As a child growing up in the 60/70/80’s — I don’t really remember learning as much as being force fed information. No one truly asked me my passions, my concerns, or even stopped to question what my talents and aspirations might be…. I was pushed along (as like cattle) to one goal — the report card and the new grade. And though I was a good student (not great) I survived school but I didn’t like it. And I think that that is just as common now – in our school system.
So — in answer to your question “do those types of potentials only come at a later age or from experiences that cannot be replicated in a K-12 system” I would have to say — “for NOW, I don’t think they can be replicated in a K12 system.”
But that does not mean that that won’t change as teaching changes. If you ask most teachers why they started teaching — you usually will see a glow, a hope, and optimism of what they had planned to accomplish. If you ask most teachers what stopped them — most will mention standards, grades, admin, and time.
If we continue to see students as a whole — 30 kids one class — it won’t change. But if we start to see kids as individuals — it has to change. And school — as we knew it — will be a distant memory.
Thanks for a good think this morning!!
Kyle Brumbaugh says
I have been rattling around with these issues over the past few days as well. Looking at the structure of information and how it comes into people’s lives and how do they interact with the information at hand to create meaning in their lives. I read the comment above about bringing different pieces of the puzzle together to allow students to see the big picture for themselves. To create that ‘ah-ha’ moment for the student. I am coming from the opposite perspective, instead of having a pre-determined picture to be found and hoping that students will ‘see it the way we want them to.’ I start to look at students and their use of information like a contractor would in building a house. As teachers, we are builing inspectors, we don’t tell the the contractor how to build the house, but we inspect the work to make sure it conforms to certain building codes which keep the community safe. We teach different methods on how to build the walls, install the wiring and plumbing, but ultimately, students will live in their homes. Their structures might only meet the minimum of building codes and be acceptable. If they find that their wiring or plumbing is bad, or does not meet their needs, it will be their responsibility to open up the walls and correct what is wrong. Some students will live for a long time with faulty plumbing, but eventually they will see the benefits of having a well constructed home.
So, where does this leave us as teachers? We need to assist students as they begin the process of building their homes. They might come to us to find out how to do the basic wiring and go off and do it on their own. Later, they would come back and want to do something more elaborate. It is at that time, we could point them to additional resources that would assist them in their process. In the primary grades, we teach them how to construct their foundations in literacy. (reading, writing, computational, analytical and INFORMATIONAL!)
I guess this is a round about way to deal with the issue of ‘just in time’ learning and the constructivist approach of being a ‘lead learner.’
I too have had many different ideas swirling around over the past few days.
The video posted by Susan Brooks-Young over at the School 2.0 Social network site on Ning, got me thinking over some of these issues. Danah Boyd and Kathy Sierra’s (got to love Kathy’s graphics!) posts over the last 24 hours have got me mulling this whole thing over again as well.
Mitch Fowler says
I tend to agree with Jennifer on the whole force fed curriculum idea. I graduated from high school in 2000 and can still recall the teachers who would openly admit they were handing out “busy work.” By the way… why call it busy work? It was usually dittos that required little or no thought at all and could be completed in a short period of time. Busy work hardly kept one “busy.”
Anyhow, as a first year, fifth grade teacher, I may not know the system well enough yet, but I would like to say that I can see an improvement in approaching teaching from a “big picture” standpoint.
While in college (GO SPARTANS… shameless plug), our professors constantly harped on creating units and presenting content with a focus on real life connections, enduring understandings, and big ideas. We repeatedly created material around themes. In essence, I think pre-service teachers are being exposed to the ideas that Will was mentioning.
Having said that, it would be naive to think that the majority of teachers are teaching this way. Furthermore, it is naive to think that kids are actually thinking this way too! I think that curriculum today comes complete with disjointed facts and very little critical thinking. Will put it best in a session he recently gave at MACUL in Detroit. He mentioned that his 9 year old daughter should not have to learn the capitals of the US, because in a matter of years she would have her own cell phone and Google mobile could provide the answer to any question she texts to them. I could agree more!!! Instead of teaching kids memorization skills, why not teach them how to find information? Why not teach them how to refine their searches, criticize (respectfully) information being presented to them, critically analyze text, and for God’s sake… think of their own questions???
I know… I know… some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but didn’t you say that you thought things were getting better?”
I said it and I do agree because I think education is starting to change. Several teachers that I work with have already integrated inquiry based units and activities within their classrooms. Several teachers in my building are listening to their students’ questions and ideas and building material around their interests. This never happened to me when I was in school… we had zero choices… we had absolutely no investment in our own learning.
Like I said… I’m new to this whole thing and maybe I don’t even have my own “complete picture” yet, but the fact that Education Week is coming out and saying that we should abolish high school (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/04/04/31epstein.h26.html)
makes me wonder how valuable schools are today? I mean if we could do away with schools due to their “assembly line” approach, then I would like to think that there are some teachers out there who are trying to improve how teachers and kids view their own learning.
Above all, we have all seen kids get excited about specific projects or lessons in a classroom. We have all seen the lessons that teachers “love to teach” and how well kids respond to those activities. We have all heard of the class that every kid wants to take because the teacher does a certain project. Those kind of experiences and testimonies prove that there is meaningful learning going on in k-12 education. We just need to figure out a way to turn the lessons and projects into common practice. Any suggestions???
Andrew Pass says
Will, you write, “what Iâ€™m struggling with is how do we re-envision what we do in our classrooms to prepare our students to leverage the potential of the connections now available to (most of) them, connections that have not been available in the past.” The answers to this question and many like them, such as why is this important, can come from the combination of investigations that take place in the halls of higher education and the tests that take place beyond the walls of higher ed.
Will, even though you don’t have a Ph.D. you have an academic job. You are lucky, you can sit and think/write, and teach others what you are thinking/writing about. But, many people don’t have this luxury. School technology coordinators are generally too busy putting out fires to stop and grapple with these issues. Graduate education provides an opportunity for people to stop putting out fires for a while and focus on the bigger questions. It provides people the opportunity to learn how to ask and answer the bigger questions by apprenticing with scholars who have been doing the same for years.
I’ve written more about this at my own blog: http://www.pass-ed.com/blogger.html
I think one of the issues this whole conversation has raised is the connection our society currently places insists upon between learning and credentialing. Many people believe that if someone holds certain credentials, has passed certain tests, or jumped through whatever hoops, that that person “knows” something. Even at the K-12 level, proponents of testing insist that if a student passes a test, that means they know that subject. What they really know is how to take a test. In theory higher education and post secondary education focuses more on the process than the content, but still, there are many places where the focus is on the credentials. And many students treat it that way. Read My Freshman Year. Or that article Will himself pointed to from the NYT about the “amazing girls” who focused on having the right credentials to get into the right colleges. Those ideas are not coming from out of left field. They’re coming from parents and teachers and others who’ve said over and over again, “You need to go to this school and get these grades in order to get ahead.” And sadly, that means that students in the “wrong” schools suffer because the focus is on the credentials and the students and teachers may feel they’re already behind anyway, so why bother with the process.
So what do we do? We keep doing this, having this conversation. Will and I and others, who have kids, often have to help our kids overcome the by rote methodology we’re seeing our kids exposed to in public schools. For me, the methodology depends very much on the individual teacher. Some are more willing than others to let the learning get messy. I do think you’re right, Will, that most students haven’t learned how to make these connections. I think there probably are ways that we can reframe education so that they do learn how to create the big picture for themselves. That involves a lot of work, work that I’m only beginning to think about both with my own kids and at my institution. It’s not something that comes naturally to either the teachers or the students. I think it takes thinking about what we do to learn and seeing if that process makes sense for others.
And by the way, an aside, don’t you have a Ph.D.?
We keep doing this, having this conversation. Will and I and others, who have kids, often have to help our kids overcome the by rote methodology weâ€™re seeing our kids exposed to in public schools. For me, the methodology depends very much on the individual teacher. Some are more willing than others to let the learning get messy. I do think youâ€™re right, Will, that most students havenâ€™t learned how to make these connections. I think there probably are ways that we can reframe education so that they do learn how to create the big picture for themselves. That involves a lot of work, work that Iâ€™m only beginning to think about both with my own kids and at my institution. Itâ€™s not something that comes naturally to either the teachers or the students. I think it takes thinking about what we do to learn and seeing if that process makes sense for others.