(Offered for discussion, not as complete thinking…)
A few months from now, I’ll be marking my 10 year anniversary as a blogger. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s been a surprising one in more than a couple of ways. Obviously, it’s changed my life, changed who I am, and changed my view of the world. For all of that I’m thankful. But it’s also been surprising in that so little has really changed in that time when it comes to schools and education. Sure, we have many more voices, and the community of connected teachers and learners is growing every day. There are lots more computers in classrooms, and we’re carrying around a heck of lot more in our pockets that can lead us to learning. But our collective ability to articulate a different vision for what to do with all of that stuff has still not manifested itself in anything cohesive, anything that we can point to that’s moved the needle on the conversation very much. Case in point, I gave a keynote to an audience of about 900 educators recently andÂ only a handful (as in count ’em on my fingers and toes) raised their hands when I asked if they’d participated in social spaces online aside from Facebook. Learning in networks was not in their frame. And at most of my presentations, I still get this “I never knew” reaction from most of the people who sit in. Seriously, I’m thinkingÂ 90% of educators still don’t know that the Web is turning into a profoundly important place for learning and creating together, and even fewer students in this country are doing anything that resembles networked learning in their schools. Push back if you like, but I’m not sensing anywhere near 600,000 educators (10%) participating in these spaces. Not even close.
In these 10 years at least, the basic “story” of education hasn’t changed. Schools are where we go to get educated. With a very few well documented exceptions, it’s a planned, linear, for the most part standardized process, one that allows everyone to recognize what being “educated” means at the end of the day. We all learn basically the same stuff on the same day in the same way, take the same tests, get the same diploma. It’s that narrative most of us share, at least those of us who didn’t drop out or choose homeschooling as our option. It’s one that Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee and most everyone else who is trying to “reform” school still buys into. It is the best and easiest, most familiar story to tell, and it’s a deep part of our culture as Americans.
But it is a story that is slowly but surely going to go away. I really believe that. We’re seeing the outlines of a compelling “new” story to tell about learning and education, and it’s this: there no longer is one story, one narrative around how to become educated. Not to say there haven’t always been options to schools. But now there are a growing number of Â stories, many unbundled paths to getting an education, and the future will be filled with many others as learning opportunities become more ubiquitous, more personalized, more varied, and more accessible through the Web. For now at least, this new story doesn’t exclude schools as an important part of the path, Â but it demands different things from them. They will be nodes in a network of many different learning environments, and their charge will be to help students be, as Charles Leadbetter says, “investors in their own learning,” able to flourish by pulling in information and teachers instead of having those things pushed upon them as is currently the case. Teachers in schools will be master learners first, content experts second, connecting students to knowledge and mentors outside of the physical space, helping students acquire the skills and literacies to learn deeply on their own. Their focus will be to help students become great at creating and sharing and connecting around new knowledge as opposed to being great at consuming the old. As Stephen Downes suggests, schools will build the capacity in all students to create an education for themselves, not wait for it to be delivered to them. And all of this will, in the words of Allan Collins and Richard Halverson, “make us rethink the dominant role of K-12 schools in education.”
My sense of it is that not many people at the head of the “reform” movement really understand this yet. And it will take a whole heap of humility for schools to get this right. We can see this as a threat or as an opportunity. In essence, we need to be teaching ourselves out of our current jobs, empowering and enabling our students to do the difficult and joyful work of learning on their own, supporting and nurturing their individual and collective efforts as we learn with them. On many levels, it’s more important, more difficult work than what we currently do. But if we are to keep schools relevant in our kids’ lives as places where they are cared for and appreciated and loved, something I desperately want to be the case, we’ll need to get comfortable with this new role. And we’ll need to advocate for these shifts in even more compelling ways.
So, assuming this comes close to the “new” narrative of education, how do we do that? Tomorrow, I’ll share one idea that we as a community might work together on.
David Walker says
In my school we have a “vision of the graduate” which lists 15 or so “competencies” or skills that range from the academic to the social to the personal. They look good on paper; they make sense; and they are, sadly, pretty generic. The reason, at least in part, for this resonant generality is that we are so concerned about outcome that we tend to forget the place for imagination and creativity in the classroom. We have a vision for the graduate that is broad and sweeping, but our vision of the teacher tends to excruciatingly specific and measurable. Holding teachers to a lifeless, “paint-by-numbers” rubric often frightens teachers into thinking only about the outcome, not about the learning you suggest is our opportunity and our obligation. None of this is to say that teachers should not be guided and evaluated, that they should not be held to a standard. I am a better teacher because I have had colleagues and administrators observe me, critique me, and direct me. But a rubric is not a standard; it is a checklist. A standard should imaginative alternatives to get to the same place, one that is rooted in skill development and critical thinking rather than content.
Doug Belshaw says
I started teaching and blogging later than you, Will, but yours was one of the blogs that got me doing the latter. 🙂
The fact that, as you say, there’s such a paucity of debate around what the purpose of education is has led some of us to action over in the UK: http://purposed.org.UK
I hope those who read your blog over here will join us! 🙂
Mark Wagner says
Nice teaser, Will. Staying tuned…
Oh, and I agree. 🙂
Scott McLeod says
I think one of the things holding us back from having a serious conversation along the lines that you mention, Will, is that most people either don’t believe that children can be – or don’t wish children to be – autonomous, fairly self-reliant learners.
Oh, we say we want that… We have lofty, unrealized vision / mission / purpose statements. But our command-and-control mindsets die hard, as does our unwillingness to treat students’ beliefs / opinions / interests / feelings / passions seriously. There’s so much belittling language surrounding children and adolescents these days. I think most adults still give students very short shrift and thus view what you’re proposing as pie-in-the-sky fantasy thinking because all of the kids they know are ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’
It’s hard to be optimistic about students as empowered learners if you’re pessimistic about children and adolescents. I’m not pessimistic about kids. You’re not either, nor are many of those we hang with. But there sure are a lot of educators / parents / policymakers who are…
Will Richardson says
It’s really a great point, Scott. I blame it on the system, right? It teachers self-direction out of kids, and then we wonder why kids aren’t self-directed. It’s a big, huge, hairy culture shift, no doubt, one that is going to take a long time to make. But what choice do we have?
Chris Craft says
I appreciate the years you have invested in blogging.
I’m curious, the foundation of this piece seems rooted in the notion that
participation in social media = networked learning.
Would you agree with that?
What if the majority of folks *had* raised their hands but solely interacted in Twitter, perhaps, purely socially with non-educators? Would that change the question?
I just wonder if participation in social media can really be equated with networked learning.
I, too, am thinking aloud. Not pushing back, just wondering.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the thoughts, Chris. Learning starts with participation, but as you suggest, requires a deeper investment than just updating your Facebook status or sending out a couple of Tweets. I should have made that clearer.
I think supports the larger point that the vast majority of adults (not just teachers) don’t have a context for learning in these online spaces.
David Marcovitz says
I think the larger point is that the technology facilitates certain learning styles and methods. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the learning styles and methods.
David Marcovitz says
I hope you’re right, but I fear you are wrong. I talk to my graduate students (all teachers) about the purpose of school (we discuss Postman’s book “The End of Education”), and, where there is a consensus about the purpose of school, it is all the things that you say are wrong with school. Without recognizing (really recognizing, and not just paying lip service to) ideas such as creativity and lifelong learning and networked learning, real change is never going to come about.
On a side note, I really enjoyed this TED talk:
Mike Mcilveen says
Students increasingly have the alternative of opting out, and getting credentialed online. It’s not a richly creative and networked option, yet, it could be if we follow the students there. We’ll have traditional schools too, for fewer and fewer students. Basically the students can vote with their collective mouse clicks.
Sean Conner says
“In essence, we need to be teaching ourselves out of our current jobs…”
I froze a moment while reading this phrase in your post. Not because I disagree with it — I don’t — but because it reminded me of Christensen’s Disrupting Class, in which he argues that the established model withers away as the disruptive innovation takes hold of a customer base that previously did not exist.
It seems to me that we can either actively and purposefully teach ourselves out of our current jobs, or passively allow it to happen anyway. I for one prefer the former to the latter.
As for your ten years as a blogger, I only caught the last five, but I have grown immensely from that experience, and I thank you for your thoughts, and your willingness to share them.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for those kind words, Sean. Much appreciated.
Teaching ourselves out of our current jobs doesn’t necessarily mean teaching ourselves out of a job in education, however. If schools can become centers of learning mastery, I think we can maintain an important role in the process. But if we make this about content…
Sean Conner says
I completely agree (though it doesn’t appear I made the point very clearly). I simply mean that if we do not significantly reinvent ourselves (our structure, the work that students do, the role of the teacher, the meaning of grades, open needlessly closed networks, etc.), we will wither on the vine, and then, I’m afraid, we won’t be part of the process of reinventing education as we know it. But we will also not have anyone to blame but ourselves.
Mike Mcilveen says
Oops, should have read your comment before commenting, exactly what I was thinking. Thanks!
Dean Groom says
Is it, that blogging is not so much a new phenomenon in terms a social-research paradigm, but rather the biggest single ‘new’ socio-technological mechanism for the constructionist’s to induce theory in a massively public way, to an audience that are social actors. It seems that much of academia has expressed concerns over education well before we had our global typing/distribution machines.
My view is that in education, ICT has moved marginally in decades, impervious to broader socio-cultural adoption, fundamentally as it seen as (and teachers trained to see it as) mathematical and scientific – computer studies etc., learning ‘about’ and ‘as if’ rather than from ‘in’. By this I mean it is considered as a computer system used to create an artificial world in which the user has the impression of being in that world and with the ability to navigate through the world and manipulate objects in the worldâ€
Fundamentally whatever happens in the moving target that is the Internet – is in someway still considered by 90% of the teachers you describe – as some other world.
To me – I think, given that social online games dwarf all other uses of the Internet for youth, that far greater consideration needs to be given to the variables designed into them, to motivate players. In fact game-designers don’t consider a ‘teacher’ or a ‘school’ as a requirement of their billions of players. Essentially game is a lesson: Has at least one player, has rules, has a victory condition.
I’m realistic that games are fringe territory in the Web2.0 discussion – however the are founded fundamentally in the idea that they are more to do with Social-Science that Computational-Science.
I move – a shift – whatever needed in teacher-education is to present all of this within the envelope of social-science, humanities etc., and as such, students must be engaged in using it spontaneously, to create self-directed goals, have greater choice etc.,
Computer science – has been hijacked in the last decade – and for those student who may go on to be Zukerburgs – they need to have foundational understanding of society and culture – rather than ‘using’ in a rather ‘as if’ mode.
To do this, to convince policy to move – it must be founded in evidence.
Grats on the decade – go Cubs.
Gerald Ardito says
I really appreciate the post.
I often feel as though conversations about reform are in reality conversations about moving furniture. The place looks nice, but is it really a different place in which to learn?
I also imagine that if a doctor from 100 years ago was transported into a hospital today, he/she would be stunned speechless. But a teacher from a hundred years ago would, for the most part, would fit right in. That just seems wrong to me.
Anyway, I also really believe that change is inevitable and imminent.
Thanks for all of your work.
Kinder Uhren says
I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A couple of my blog readers have complained about my site not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any suggestions to help fix this problem?
I am at a reasonably progressive school, and just today we were talking about the friction between broad collaboration and the requirements of individual assessment. Making them co-exist is a challenge, but I think it is possible to make that work.
I think there will always be a role for the teacher, but it will need to be based solely on applicable knowledge, never on the possession of the Teacher’s Edition as it were.
monika hardy says
i love what you’re doing with the parents. i believe if we let the learner choose what they learn per passion, parent engagement will go through the roof. i believe it’s what many long for.
our thoughts on the story – in brief:
the web is allowing personalization in public school.
personalization begs redefinition of success, per an individual and their community.
the story is that it’s your story.
elaboration here if your so inclined: http://tinyurl.com/69qbjlc
so what if our message to parents/community – is that –
it’s your life/school – design it. and we are here to facilitate that.
My experience is with inner city middle school students and with at risk high school students. I agree we need to be able to support those few students who take the initiative to self direct themselves but the vast majority of the students I have worked with will do as little learning as possible. Society needs to do a better job of selling to all students the value of education. “The new Story” will bring no benefit to the majority of the students. AND if I remember my own experience as a student correctly this hasn’t changed in over 35 years.
David Marcovitz says
I disagree with this comment. It won’t be easy, but students will rise to the expectations we give them when they are meaningful and relevant. When faced with SCHOOL work, they will do as little as possible. When faced with relevant and meaningful work and high expectations, they will, more often than not, meet them. Most of what we have tried is “do better on my tests” rather than “learn something powerful (to you).” Kids are motivated to learn, and our education system is very good at beating that out of them.
Will Richardson says
I would argue that school does a great job of drumming the initiative for learning out of our schools. That’s going to require us to fundamentally change the way we think about schooling as well.