Sunday, December 4, 2011

Co-Learning Revolution - Wake Up, Sleepwalkers!

Read David Moody's book, Autumn (and sequels!)

Having caught up on sleep, settled important matters (finished reading a series of books I've been taking forever to work my way through, even as I enjoy every moment), I have to confess a bit of disappointment in the current realm of "ed reform" talk. The disappointment arises more from my own sense of failure as a change agent. In the end, the "man in the mirror" wakes up one day and realizes, "Well, YOU know how to use these awesome tools but transforming the organizations that impact students is a job for consultants." You know what I mean, right? We bring in high-priced consultants to give the talk but when that consultant leaves, the change that appeared so possible in the intimate darkness of the conference hall has evaporated.

Have you heard talks based on the perspectives cited in the paragraph below? More importantly, how many tweets have you read that fall into the categories outlined?
...there are many who tote that the education system of today is deeply and seriously flawed, and we need to completely throw it out and start from scratch — brand new and shiny…with Technology!  For this reason, technology can get put at the front of this movement of people going for change, both by those in favour of the change, and by those not in favour of the change.  For instance, those wanting change will say things like “Today’s kids need to learn the technologies they will work on when they grow up!” and “Technology today can revolutionize the way we teach!”.  On the other hand, those who don’t want change can also put Technology use at the forefront suggesting things such as “Trying to put Technology into education is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole: it just doesn’t work”, or “Just because it’s the fad today, don’t ruin our schools by changing the curriculum around it!”.
Source: Robert Talbert, Technology for Education
Wonderful conversations are happening all around us, and our PLNs connect us to those...but there are entire populations of educators who have missed it completely. Are we, as professional learning facilitators, simply awakening a generation of sleepwalkers (must resist Walking Dead reference) who happen to serve as administrators, teachers? I so often feel these folks are just going through the motions, asleep to the powerful potential of the network. Let's identify our tweets ahead of time...
  1. Education system is flawed, throw it out, and start from scratch.
  2. Implement new technology approach that changes everything.
  3. Focus on the important stuff (curriculum-driven) and leave technology out of it (it's a distraction).
The insight that keeps on coming up in conversations filtered via Twitter, etc. is the power of the PLN, how Twitter has changed our lives, etc. As I look around at the great hope of technologies in schools, a part of me asks, "Is this it?" You know, it's like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets. IS THIS as good as it gets in schools? 

A lot of what passes for revolutionary tweets are just pithy remarks that don't amount to a hill of beans.  For example... recent conversations DO seem to be technology-centric. 
  • Change is all about the technologies we advocate for rather than what we can accomplish with them.
  • What we can accomplish is so powerfully different and commonplace--yeah, big deal...so what if you can Skype someone around the world?--that we have to do it with the most expensive and flamboyant way (e.g. let me do that on my $500 iPad with FaceTime instead of my <=$200 netbook with built-in webcam and Skype).
  • Schools are increasingly irrelevant as they seek to restricts students to technology tools that have grown obsolete in the face of mobile devices (e.g. iPads).
  • Schools are under attack, but many are more worried about acquiring the latest gadget (e.g. Kindle Fire vs iPad vs Xoon) that will give them independence from school technologies that are invariably locked down and overly-monitored and controlled.
If you've monitored much of the tweets going by, they include #pencilchat, #football, or these crazy remarks that have no basis in reality. Enough already. Far more exciting are events that focus less on the glitz and glamour of new tech and more on how to enjoy the flow:
El Paso - Learning online, reducing paper and making learning interactive; Those are the goals of local teachers who got together Saturday to learn about technology.
They want to incorporate computers, iPads, and Google Apps in their classrooms. That's why they held an "Ed-Camp" at the E.P.I.S.D. Center for Career and Technology Education.
"technology, you have to be at the forefront with that because it changes so rapidly and your students come in knowing more than you do practically as a teacher. So, just the fact that you have to be open minded, not be afraid to use technology, and let some of your students guide some of the learning," Instructional Technology Specialist Kathrin Salazar said. (Read Source)
Let's review Kathrin's points: Open-minded. Unafraid of technology use and be a co-learner. 
Co-learning is a philosophy of teaching that I first stumbled upon in 1996 when reading Frank Smith’s book Joining the Literacy Club.  I really enjoyed the concept of co-learning, especially how it changes the role sets of teachers and students from dispensers and receptacles of knowledge to joint sojourners on the quest for knowledge, understanding, and dare I say wisdom.   
Positioning oneself as a co- learner when teaching requires much unlearning of cultural conditioning because it challenges the traditional authoritative, dominant and subordinate role sets in schooling environments and the unequal power relationships in wider spheres of our world- - including economic structures.   
In its ideal form, co- learning: acts toward student empowerment; it dismantles asymmetrical power relationships in the classroom; it builds a more genuine “community of practice”; and co- learning moves students and teachers toward dynamic and participatory engagement in creating a peaceful and sustainable world.  Ideal?  Yes.  Possible? Potentially, but dependent.  Dependent on our desire and willingness to reflect on our own teaching to try to align our classroom roles, relationships and environments more with a co-learning philosophy.
Source: Empowerment Pedagogy-Co-Learning and Teaching by Edward J. Brantmeier 
Are we co-learners as leaders, as teachers, as students? Isn't it time we took this "old" idea and embraced it?

It's time for teachers to snap the measuring stick in school administrators hands.  The stick that measures the cadence of a million walkers, marching to the same song - "Teach this way. Teach this, learn that, measure it ad nauseum." It's not that these approaches are wrong, but that they keep the power of learning firmly in the hands of the superintendent of schools...and if technology powered revolution is anything, it is a tool to disempower central authority.

(Image Source: http://slices-of-life.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/sleep-walking-bloopers.jpg)

Would it be hubris to say that to bring about technology revolution, one need simply allow technologies to proliferate in society, to advocate for responsible use in all situations, and then allow the change to happen. Certainly, they are dropping in cost. Over the last 20 years, I've had a chance to play a variety of roles in edtech adoption. Some mornings, I wake up and hold these truths to be self-evident, or, at least until I eat breakfast:
  1. School leadership seldom "get new technologies" because they threaten the status quo, placing them in potentially precarious situations that leave them with few measures of control.
  2. Society's adoption of technologies invariably finds its way into the lives of students, teachers, parents and community, and the change just happens.
  3. If you want to really be about a learning revolution, then one way to go about it is to ask questions that get people thinking of what life could be like WITH the technology that is blocked, to share stories of how it's being used elsewhere, and then step back....
But then, maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe, I've grown frustrated with attempts to bring about large scale change to organizations, preferring instead to preach change and seek out organizations that recognize what's needed rather than reform those that may never "see the light."

Some point out that the iPad is a revolutionary device. I suppose it is. But I think this device has more potential to reach those poor kids in public schools, to fundamentally transform how we approach computing...not as a device for reform, revolution, a tool of the elite that must be provided to all, a tool that is locked down by the vendors to generate money, but a tool that empowers, that allows co-learning to take place in ways we never imagined...simply because it is free, open source.

The $25 computer - Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.


Of course, I'm probably wrong. Most folks would rather buy an iPad than a $25 portable computer...because it's all about mobile computing now, isn't it?


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure