I’ve been thinking more about the whole barriers to entry thing these
last couple of days, mostly because I’m hitting some bumps in my own
practice. Nothing as dire as what James experienced, I don’t think, but
unsettling nonetheless. And what I’m realizing is that much of what
K-12 educators are rubbing up against in trying to figure out the
read/write Web has very little with figuring out the technology. It’s
figuring out the disruption. Not much of an “A Ha!” moment, I know, but
sometimes it’s only when I write (blog) about these dull impressions
that they find some focus.
I’m all with Anne when she writes (blogs):
before that blogging is the best inservice that I’ve ever had. It is
learning focused on my needs and interests. With a few clicks on the
keyboard I have a
world of viewpoints at my fingertips. I’m meeting colleagues, whom
without blogs, I might otherwise have never met.
Learning is making connections. It’s getting ideas, it’s an up close
and personal view of a colleague’s thinking and it is a sharing spirit
with other bloggers who see the potential. All of this gets me to
“raise the bar” in my own thinking. At first, it does seem like an
add-on and it does take time to explore the different avenues to see
the incredible possibilities.But the payoff is enormous! This type of
learning gives me ownership,
a voice, and a stake in the whole process. I’m writing, learning,
and engaging in dialogue in a way I had never done before. All this
with a simple piece of technology that costs little or nothing, allows
me to publish instantly, receive comments and continue the
I could just as easily have written that. Good stuff. But…I’m not sure I’m with her when she says:
Then here’s the real
kicker. We can put weblogs in our students’ hands and get
them writing, posting, thinking, creating, and responding on
subjects they care about. The students voice can be heard, we can
listen to those voices, and be a part of fostering needed change in
education. The time for blogging is now!
easy for Anne and I to learn from blogging because we’re into the
independent learning phase of our lives. (That does not mean “old,” by
the way.) And, luckily, we’ve learned to love learning. Our kids,
unfortunately, are still dependent learners for the most part. They’re
dependent on an educational system that force feeds them a prescribed
curriculum in order that they can pass a high stakes assessment that
certifies them as being “educated.” They’re dependent on us to decide
what is important for them to learn and what isn’t. Our system enables
them, in the worst sense of the word, to become passive learners for
the most part, because passive assessments are what determine both our
students’ and our schools’ fates.
In this environment, any disruption is magnified. We want tried and
true methods that will get results. We want success that is measurable
and data driven. We want “high-achieving” students, even if the
measures of “high-achieving” have been dumbed down by the pressure of
parents and the government to “get into a good college” or, you guessed it, pass the test.
Disruptive ideas or methods inherently accentuate the potential for
failure. Disruptions are untried; they are risky. (Again, none of this
is particularly earth-shattering stuff…)
But the key aspect of the read/write Web that makes it so powerful for
people like Anne and me is that the learning we experience is nurtured
by the transparency of what we do. Read carefully what she
world of viewpoints. Meeting colleagues. Making connections. Sharing
with other bloggers. Ownership. Voice. A stake in the process. All of
that happens only because we do it out in the open. And we do it out in
the open because for the first time, we can.
That’s the power of the read/write Web. And it’s the scary part. It’s
not just disruptive; it’s disruptive for everyone to see. I know that
the concern about safety and privacy are legitimate. But we have those
concerns regardless of whether a student is on the Internet or not.
What really scares people, I think, is that all of a sudden, the bar of
accountability goes way up when we start putting student work on the
Web. When I show my daughter’s Weblog at a presentation, I’ve had more
than a few people actually ask me “But what about all the
misspellings?” She’s seven, for crissakes! But that’s the mentality.
What about the mistakes? What if it’s controversial (meaning, what if a
kid has an original thought?) What if …? What if…? What if…?
And it’s not just blogs. It’s movies or podcasts or pieces of art…Now
that we can easily publish to the Internet and do some really
contructivist things with it, a lot of people are asking themselves,
“Um, do we really want to be doing that?” It’s disruptive that we’re asking our kids to be active instead of passive. What a concept!
Oy. So this has turned into a rant. Well, I haven’t had a good one here in a while. I’m frustrated. I needed it.
Anne’s right…all of this can foster a needed change in education. But, man, the pace is slow.
Laura Pearle says
Here are two problems I see with your vision.
1. It’s not happening in the “real” world. Yes, plenty of
people are blogging but I sometimes wonder what the cost is to their
professional lives (someone like, for example, Instapundit, who seems
to spend all of his life blogging and very little living, experiencing
day-to-day stuff if the blog is anything go go by). And many
places of work would frown on blogging at
work – a trader on Wall Street, for example – or about work. What
happens to all of these multi-tasking constructivist students when they
get out there and are asked to concentrate on something and not use the
Internet or a blog or an RSS feed while they do it? Please don’t
say that there’ll be a work revolution, because I, for one, would not
like having a doctor who is multi-tasking while he’s operating on
me! Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like my chef to concentrate on
cooking and not on who’s updating what on the web.
2. Constructivism works after a point. But at some point,
and it’s best early on, people need to be taught basics. Spelling
(and how to proofread because spellcheck doesn’t catch everything),
math essentials, etc.. Once that’s been accomplished, then yes,
let them blog and create and construct. But the move away from
basics has cost us already. Can we really afford to have all this
technology and not have people that know or understand what to do with
Will R. says
Hi Laura, Thanks for the response. Some thoughts…
You’re not saying that classroom learning is happening in the “real world” are you? When was the last time you were lectured to learn something or actually studied for a test? Learning is experiential when we leave school; why can’t it be when we’re in it? Wouldn’t that prepare us better for our lives as adults? Right now, we prepare students to be, well, students. And I’m not saying everyone should have a blog and that there are times when we shouldn’t be multitasking. But from where I’m sitting, and no doubt I may be way off base, multitasking, constructivist skills are going to be the requirement not the exception. We may want the old way, but just like our parents didn’t get what they wanted, neither will we. And our kids (and I think, in large measure, our society) will be less for it.
Jack Macleod says
Thank you Will! I was asked the dreaded, “When is this going to
be of any use to us in the ‘real world?” question today by a
student. My answer dealt with the problem solving skills that we
were teaching rather than the solving of the particular word problems
that we were working on. But, as I read your post and comment, I
thought why not just have the kids work on real-world problems that are
of interest to them.
75% to 100% of what I do in my classroom is probably pointless from the
perspective of ‘preparing’ my students for life. There is no
doubt that I am teaching the curriculum outcomes that are proscribed
but I have this nagging voice in my head saying that I’m not doing much
for my students. The ones with the high marks aren’t necessarily
gaining any useful skills (bad word – maybe abilities?) and the ones
with the low marks may be no worse off (maybe better off). For
instance, does it really matter to most students that they can write
chemical formulae? I have a chemistry degree and I only use that
skill to teach it to more students. Am I better person for
knowing that skill? I don’t think.
I think I see where Laura is coming from, but I agree that
multi-tasking, constructivist skills are essential. You just have
to think a bit broader. Laura talked about not wanting her
surgeon to be multi-tasking during an operation. I agree, if we
mean doing more than one thing at the same time when we say
multi-tasking. However, I sure as heck want that surgeon to have
constructivist skills when he encounters a situation that isn’t
textbook when he’s got me cut open. I want a surgeon who can
apply what he already knows to a new situation and adapt to that new
As I’ve said before, I believe we need to develop some basic skills
(literacy and numeracy – but these concepts will surely change over the
next five years – what does it mean to be literate?) but then we need
to move on to teaching students how to manage information beacause they
will surely drown if they can’t manage everything that is going to come
at them as technologies such as RSS mature and are eclipsed by better
What would a high school look like where the students came in in Grade
9 or 10 and were assigned a home base teacher for 4 or 3 years?
The home base teacher would be a mentor to that group of students but
the students would work on projects that were of interest to
them. They would be responsible for achieving whatever curriculum
outcomes were deemed to be appropriate by the end of the
experience. There would be no artificial time constraints – no
bells, no grading periods, no terms, no semesters, no years – just high
school. Students could work at their own pace changing their
focus as they changed. Pretty radical but wouldn’t it be neat to
try. We could even break down the walls at the same time.
I agree that change is slow to happen. I was really excited about
the possibilities for use of blogs as a way for teachers to start
communicating about education at our school. Several of us
started personal blogs but hardly anyone has kept up with them.
In regards to using blogs in our teaching it has been even slower in
getting started. One of our second grade teachers used blogs
consistently for about a month. A fifth grade teacher used it
only when supported by our literacy coach. I used blogs with
students I was teaching on Saturdays but only in a limited way.
It is about change and this change is comming to education. We have to be persistent in our efforts to bring blogging (integrate) into the core curriculum.