So it’s been a while since I’ve turned to my blog, obviously. Just felt like I needed a break, some time to get some balance and reconfigure my thinking a bit. It’s been good, and for what it’s worth, I’ve been growing a list of things I want to write here about. More on that later in the week as I come up on my eight-year blogversary. But for now, just a quick post about a piece that has had me thinking for the last month or so.
Not sure how I stumbled across this 2000 article in CITE titled “If We Didnâ€™t Have the Schools We Have Today, Would We Create the Schools We Have Today?” by Tom Carroll, but I’ve spent a good chunk of time over the last few weeks reading, rereading and thinking about it from a number of different perspectives. In many ways, it’s an amazingly articulate view of the learning and networking potentials of Web 2.0 technologies given at a moment when Web 2.0 technologies were in their nascent stages. In other ways, it’s a validation of what many of us have been thinking and saying about the learning in networked communities aspect of this and the challenges that potential presents to schools. But on another level, it’s a bit depressing to think of how far we haven’t come in this conversation in the almost 10 years since it was written. Most people, I think, would find his vision of the new learning world to be a harsh challenge to their current thinking.
I mean, how close are most educators to this concept?:
In the networked learning communities of the future, expert learners (we call them teachers, educators, scientists, and researchers today) are going to be recognized for their ability to learn and help others learn, as they continue to construct new knowledge and develop their own expertise. Their job will not be to teach â€“ but to help others learn, as they model learning through collaboration to solve problems and achieve goals they have in common. (A significant part of the expert learnerâ€™s role will be organizing and managing the collaborative learning community.)
Nothing new here, I know. (Actually, there’s very little “new” anywhere in the thinking about schools and teachers and classroom learning right now.) But it reiterates the importance of being able to do this for ourselves before we try to do it with our kids, to at least have some sense of connectedness beyond our physical spaces.
The vision that classrooms must become more inquiry driven, “learning” (not learner) centered spaces where we co-construct the learning opportunities and new knowledge is also nothing particularly new. But it makes me wonder what percentage of the classes our students take have a curriculum that is significantly altered or made different in the process of taking the course and making “new knowledge.” I would doubt that there would be more than a handful in any individual student’s K-12 career even at this point.
While there is a whole bunch more to think about in this essay, it’s striking when you think about how little of this really transformative thinking is taking place when we think about schools. And how difficult it is to retrofit this thinking into existing spaces. That’s why I particularly love the title of this essay. I think most of us in this conversation would say “no”, that we would create something very different. That given a blank slate, we would keep the best parts of the interpersonal relationships between adults and kids but throw out the schedules, the desks in rows, the grades, the workloads, the levels and more and “think fresh” about the learning process in the context of what’s available to us now. Still, I wonder what percentage of educators in general would really think differently about the role of schools and their roles as teachers and learners.
And I also wonder if we can actually make something new out of something old in this case. Without remaking the system, is it reasonable to expect that we can systemically move toward inquiry based, self-directed, networked learning spaces that focus on the learning that Carroll describes in the essay?
In a networked learning community, we will have â€œschoolsâ€ that are nodes in a larger learning environment, and in those schools there will be no teachers and no studentsâ€“ just learners.
That is a huge, huge retrofitting process that would be fraught with failure save a clear vision and inspiring leadership to put it into place among many other things.Â But the biggest piece, I think, is the re-envisioning of the profession, that we are expert learners first, content experts second (if at all).
The teacher will become an expert learner organizing and leading others in networked learning communities.
To me, supporting that shift is the first step.
(Photo “Bryan Adams High School Hallway” by Dean Terry.)
Joel Zehring says
That sounds like true reform, where institutions and their values are actually formed again. Unlike popular “reform” movements that just re-brand old values.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how transformation might look, and how teachers might help to drive the change. It seems that policy and program changes will fall flat if individual teachers aren’t brought on board or even empowered to change themselves.
A couple days ago, I was participating in a Learning Central WebCast entitled “Student Participation in Building the Learning Environment”. Many good thoughts and activities by real students, real teachers in real classrooms. But as you say, it seemed like these teachers and students were in the minority. But as the teachers were speaking about the great stuff they were doing, I noticed that they sounded ALONE.
Teachers cannot feel alone. It may be time to seriously look to the business model for schools. A teacher is really a manager of a business unit managing with 25-30 high maintenance employees. Now consider that a manager of a business unit is in charge of kicking off new projects and processes all the time. Also, the managers need support from upper management (there were not any administrators represented in this Learning Central Web Cast) and other support business units (i.e. tech and other ESP). Now students (as employees) are in charge of their learning (new projects and processes) and Administrators (upper management) will provide the necessary support. The Return On Investment (ROI) is tough — maybe needs to be addressed with the production of some learning product with benefit to the community or other schools.
I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s audiobook “Tribes” this week during the commute to and from work. We really need to throw the management analogy out the window. If we are managing students we’re not interacting with students in a constructive way that invests them in their own learning. If we’re managing them we’ll never get them to own their own learning. We need to inspire and lead them. Learning can’t fall on the shoulders of the teachers it needs to be the responsibility of the students. The “teacher” can guide, direct, and coach them along the way.
This is defintely the problem- for so long teachers, and administrators have felt the need to ‘manage’. We need to move away from managing to coaching learners in our buildings. I just read an Educational Leadership article ‘High-Leverage Strategies for Principal Leadership’ (DuFour and Marzano) and they were talking about moving from instructional leaders to ‘learning leaders’. This isn’t an old concept, but one that we keep coming back to….
Katy Koskela says
What issue of Ed. Leadership was this in? I haven’t been reading mine consistently.
February 2009, Volume 66, Number 5 How Teachers Learn pages 62-68
jean-baptiste vervaeck says
thanks steve for pointing out the delicate semantic nature of these kinds of endevours… but really, managing is sort of an ugly economics term when referring to the possibly rich interaction that can occur between students/teachers… but that doesnÂ´t make it any less accurate…
Terry Kaminski says
Reading this bog post was a great way to start my Saturday morning. Your blog post will not only make me think all weekend long, but as we near the end of our school year here in Cold Lake, Alberta, it is going to give me food for thought for the entire summer.
Thank you for presenting the vision of what education really “should” look like and challenging us all to go out an make it happen.
While we have a large mountain to climb if we want to create schools as you describe them I hope teachers, administrators and school boards are willing to strap on their climbing gear and begin the ascent!!
Julie McLeod says
“And I also wonder if we can actually make something new out of something old in this case. Without remaking the system, is it reasonable to expect that we can systemically move toward inquiry based, self-directed, networked learning spaces that focus on the learning…”
Excellent fodder for my first day of summer! Thank you! 🙂
I’ve begun reading a book entitled Kluge: The haphazard construction of the human mind by Gary Marcus. In it, he writes that evolution sometimes finds such elegant solutions and sometimes ends up with a kluge. Because evolution has to start with what already exists, it is sometimes impossible to reach an optimal or perfect solution. Your post reminded me of the book and Marcus’s thoughts.
I believe we can certainly “evolve” to something better than what we have, but can we truly get to an optimal, elegant “solution” for learning saddled with the legacy system of school?
One problem may be that we don’t have widespread consensus on what that optimal, elegant “solution” actually looks like. Is it what Carroll describes or is it what the politicians envision? I think that is where your recent tweet about choice in education comes into play. Maybe that is next on your “list” of things you want to write about.
Looking forward to reading more!
Sean Nash says
Wow Julie… I could have penned your exact comment. How weird. I am right now taking a break from that book to think and catch up on some blogs.
It is scary how well the premise of that books fits the questions asked in this post, eh?
(-and here I thought I was the only one reading that book, as silence fell upon my personal corner of the Twitterverse when I mentioned it.)
Julie McLeod says
I haven’t heard of anyone else reading that book either! It does match perfectly, doesn’t it? So far, I think it is very interesting.
Found and followed you on twitter so next time you tweet about Kluge you won’t feel so alone. 🙂
Scott Powers says
I have just taken on a position in our school district in which my job will be working with faculty to facilitate integration of technology. Some of us recognize the importance of the new communication technologies and the accompanying social change that is developing with it. The challenge for us is to figure out what to do about it on our campuses. We have been relatively closed off from the Web via filters on the one hand and face the task of “selling” new ideas about instruction and learning on the other. Need some practical ideas for managing opening up the Web to our campuses and working with teachers on how to change instructional strategies…
and that is truly what it comes down to Scott- we can give them all the tools they can handle- but will they use them to truly facilitate learning, instead of simply using them for the ‘new lecture’ mode… for some it has to be a change in their craft. We’ve been struggling with this one as well.
Sean Nash says
Excellent point, Dodie.
That is exactly why we are reading two books simultaneously in the first years of our initiative:
Will’s book & The Case for Constructivist Classrooms by Brooks & Brooks. If along with the tools, you don’t have a deep and solid philosophy to tie them to… you’ll get exactly what you speak of. Hey, let’s call it the “NLM.” I like it. 😉
Thanks for the book ideas- I have Will’s, but hadn’t seen the other one- so I just ordered it.
Can you believe that we’re still trying to convince people that John Dewey was right all along!
My favorite Dewey quote:
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”
Unfortunately his tomorrow is already here, and some are still teaching like yesterday…what will our tomorrow look like?
jean-baptiste vervaeck says
another dewey quote that i found especially relevant to this discussion, although well you all decide how relevant it is 🙂
“There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication… Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be somwhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward your experience changing.”
and a more directly aplicable one to this post, by arthur koestler “creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.”
i find having these quotes posted on the walls of my room to be a nice reminder of where iÂ´m trying to get, just in case one day i get lost…
Sean Nash says
In my opinion, there is only one feasible way to find a medium between not doing anything new… and retooling the entire system -at a building or district level- from the ground up.
First look at the downsides of those two extreme options:
1. not doing anything. hey- it’s worked so far, right?
2. retooling from scratch. the proverbial turning of the Titanic on a dime. the downside? potential system-wide crash due to the “new approach” not working any better than the old.
One of the only things I have seen work in my short time is to truly set up a fishbowl approach to study new approaches within the current framework (given real freedom to deviate) we are working within. Most people need to “see for themselves” before committing toward something new. And really- in today’s political accountability climate, who can you blame for not wanting immediately relevant data prior to sailing off in a different direction?
The way to get that data, and to get it up close and personally-relevant? Start a pilot. Start pilot programs within your existing system that have been granted the freedom to deviate in order to fulfill the new mission and associated system of approaches. Conceive of it, get it approved, build it, conduct it, study it, tweak it… and then explode what works within the rest of your system.
If we have a school system without an engine for progressive reform built in, we have a really big, cumbersome beast without the ability to facilitate real change. In my opinion, districts need to constantly be identifying the movers and shakers within their system and then empowering them to construct study pilots of new… everything. Schools need an innovation engine within the system or they will always be building tiny tenuous steps upon the existing rickety scaffold of their school system.
I think your arguments for using pilots are very persuasive. I teach at a private school with a 1:1 program. Innovation by individual teachers is encouraged, but pretty much sealed off from the community. I call this encouragement, “cheerleading”, because the school leaders are not modeling their owncommitment to sharing and networked learning.
Of course, what we are talking about here is a change of culture from top to bottom, which is much more challenging than wiring a school and bringing in then machines. The “sage on stage” teaching model still reigns in our school, despite lots of cool tools in the hands of everyone. Your idea for revving up the innovative engine is as good as I’ve heard so far.
Sean Nash says
Excellent points, Larry…
None of the innovation in my building could have happened without strong administrative support. I happen to have a principal (and a district for the most part) who is pretty fearless about bolstering innovation when and where it happens. You are more than right in your belief that administrators as well need to truly model this commitment to shared and networked learning. Our purposeful transformation has only been possible due to strong administrative backing. Of course we can always do more. I have a really strong belief that we are on the edge of doing just that.
I wrote a post a ways back this year that speaks to the need for real administrative leadership in this area: http://tinyurl.com/5hnpdx
We really are in need of some more “Vitamin A.”
Julie McLeod says
Sean, Larry, et al.,
I completely agree with the pilot model you discuss and the way teachers can be “sealed off” from others. Within our district, we have several “pockets” of teachers really using technology. I’ve been (selfishly) trying to come up with the best way to help teachers connect. I’d love to be in touch with others within our district – mostly because what they are doing is likely low hanging fruit… it has already been approved by the tech folks in our district, etc. So, it is not quite the same mountain to climb. My problem is… how do we make that communication seemless? How do we make it where it is not an “extra” thing teachers have to do? Listservs have the advantage that posts are sent directly to inboxes. But, I don’t think they are the best way to communicate. Maybe blogs? Twitter? Any thoughts???
Julie, I thought my blog wold be a way to make connections. But unfortunately, this has not been the case, in large part because I tend to journal my tech experiences rather than provoke thoughtful discussion. But also in large part because my colleagues simply don’t engage with any blogs, let alone my little “Drive-thru”. Ironically, my best attempt to connect so far has come through a pilot (tip of hat to Sean) “extra-curricular” I am organizing, called The Blog Squad. This is an attempt to network teachers, students through a virtual help desk created for mutually used tech tools. So far have enlisted 3 teachers, two media specialists and 20 studetns. Described further at http://bit.ly/3NURA
Sean Nash says
Twitter? Absolutely. Though that one is sometimes a tougher sell with the more “veteran” crowd. A carefully managed blog is a tough thing to argue against. However, for the varied types of communications I think you seem to be looking for, you might consider Ning. It is super easy to get folks enrolled (and comfy with the “profile” page idea). It is terribly easy to blog there, once in. I also think Ning does threaded discussions in a more more user-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing way than most others. Add to that the potential to easily add video/audio embeds anywhere and you have a really versatile communications platform for a school system.
The one we used this past year for our initial pilot is: http://virtualsouthside.ning.com However, if you peek at my “about” page, you’ll see a handful of others I manage that have varying goals. Some are classroom sites.
I see this platform as an easy scaffold to actually developing individual blogs on more powerful blogging software. Once that level of ownership takes over, you have a really really connected bunch of colleagues. We are just peeking into that world in my district, but we seem to be building a head of steam.
Your “approved by tech folks” comment is interesting to me. What exactly was “approved,” and who had to approve it? I am just curious as to how systems operate in other places. Hopefully most of the these tools escape your filter.
Julie McLeod says
Thank you for the ideas and expertise! Larry, I’ll be digging into your Blog Squad. Sounds really great! Sean, I hadn’t considered Ning. Could be a good option.
I had a thought that bounced around my head this week (not sure if it was the tropical sun or the fruity drinks! 🙂 ). As you probably know, the Reggio Emilia approach advocates teacher assisted documentation of student work. Their reasoning is deeply rooted in philosophical beliefs about honoring students’ thinking and helping students realize their own progress and growth. Perhaps I should reframe the discussion. Instead of asking teachers to collaborate, maybe the conversation surrounds ways to document and honor students’ technology based work. In this way, I would still be connecting with other teachers in our district, but in a deeper and more philosophical way, I believe. Also, the students would have a teacher who might be looking at their work in a whole new way. Possibly a win-win?? Thoughts?? (This would still take a method such as a Ning but the reasoning behind creating and using the Ning would be different. Does that make sense?)
RE: “approved by tech folks” – we have a quite conservative district, especially for folks like me as sixth grade is on the elementary campuses in our district. Our internet filters block quite a bit. Our superintendent is really beginning to push broader and deeper technology use which I believe will help to make all the processes surrounding tech use more teacher friendly. So, perhaps another teacher is using a particular piece of software, I’ll know that the software has been approved by the tech folks. Also, they like to test out hardware that is connected to the machines, etc. Hope that helps…
Thank you for this post. On my first day of summer, this got me excited about teaching again. It gave me a lot to think about… What am I going to do about the way I teach? How can I help my school and district to make our schools actual learning environments? What can I do about teacher education?
Thanks for getting my mind focused for the summer.
Matt Scully says
When I saw the title of this blog I thought it might have something to do with the Liz Coleman TED talk. She discusses how Eastern European colleges had the opportunity to start from scratch after the iron curtain came down. The built from the true liberal arts model. It would be fun to start fresh.
Rodd Lucier says
Whatever we build, can we construct spaces for conversation?
Many learners come to virtual spaces without the ability to interact with the ideas of others. If you can’t collaborate in person, how will you do it in the online world?
The skills required to learn in relationship, can indeed be taught within the physical classroom; and it helps if the structures of a classroom highlight the importance of communication.
Dave W says
After reading your comments I couldnâ€™t agree more that we need to be expert learners first and content experts second if we are going to begin taking the steps towards Carrollâ€™s vision of networked learning communities. While Web 2.0 has provided us with countless opportunities to collaborate and learn new ways to setup a classroom that allows students as well as teachers to be cooperative learners, getting teachers to buy into this is the greatest challenge in my opinion.
How can we expect the format of our schools to change if so many of the teachers in them are not able to make these changes? Due to a sheer lack of technological knowledge countless teachers at my school would be hard pressed to join a networked learning community much less be a leader of one as Carroll envisions. Add to that the fact that re-envisioning ourselves as expert learner first and content expert second will require some significant work on the part of us as teachers. Unfortunately from looking around my school many of colleagues resist any type of change to the teaching style and content that they have had in place for years.
If we ever plan to move in the direction of Carrollâ€™s vision and the first step is, as you said, supporting the shift from content experts to expert learners; the most vital part of this support will be getting the teachers who lack the knowledge or desire to make this change to buy in.
I share Dave W.’s observation. The resisters employ very effective passive-aggressive strategies. Ted Creighton has written an interesting piece on dealing with “Resisters, Sabateurs” http://cnx.org/content/m18673/latest/
Everyone commenting on this blog, and you too Will, needs to read a book by Matt Bauerlein entitled: The Dumbest Generation: how the digital age stupifies young americans and jeopardizes our future.
Will, I read your book on blogs and wikis in 2005. I was working at a private school at the time and had technology skills well in advance of anyone else at the school. I promote technolgy heavily. I’ve taken every course I could over the past ten years. But slowly a creeping disbelief has grow – a disquiet. The educational outcomes are getting worse not better as the inbvestment in technology grew. It has been easy to blame the teachers for not getting on board, but I certainly have seen many make the effort.
During those ten years I also worked as an adjunct at he local community college. Unprepared students entered the classroom at startling rates. They could not write and they could not think. It seems to be worse every year. Facutly try to cope by lowering their standards.
The research studies profiled in this book gave me a basis for understanding my disquietude. The problems lie not in our adaption of technology but in our dumping the traditional models of education, which our educational system already has done.
This book is a must read for every educator in the country.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment, but I’m going to respectfully disagree. Bauerlein’s book blames kids for dumbing themselves down with technology. I hold kids largely blameless if they grow up in a world where no one is teaching them the potentials and opportunities that technologies can bring from a learning standpoint. The problems do lie with our basic lack of understanding and context for this shift that is occurring. And like all other shifts of this magnitude, there is going to be a significant period of disruption and adjustment. Taking the kids to task for living in the time between the advent of these shifts and the time we figure out what to do with them seems disingenuous at best.
Shannon McLean says
I completely agree that there are no guarantees that this new concept of community learning, with teachers as guides, would work. I believe that Pilot programs would be the best to test it, within our traditional system.