Change 11 – catching up

We’ve had five speakers of change11 and i thought it might be a nice time to try and pull some reflections together and maybe offer a point of departure for someone taking the course a little late. I myself haven’t had the time to devote to the course that I’d hoped in the beginning, and am trying to recommit myself now that the rest of my life has slowed down a bit.

Don’t know what the Change MOOC is?
If you’re just getting to the course now, and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, the change MOOC is a 35 week journey through a particular cross section of educational and technology. All of the topics/people covered in this course are suggesting or pointing to some kind of development or change in learning. The course is an attempt at pulling the people responsible for those ideas together in the hopes that between the 2000 or so of us, we can create new connections and ideas. Each week a different speaker will come in to talk about their ideas.

Sound like a nice idea? Not sure what to do about it? Watch this video

The first five.
We’ve had five speakers so far. We’ve talked about mobile technologies, academic research going digital, collective learning, open content and practical approaches to technology implementation for better teaching. If that sounds interesting to you, you can go and check out the weeks that have passed, on the main course site at http://change.mooc.ca or, if you like, you can follow along with our ebook creation at http://change11.info.

What have we learned so far
We’ve definitely seen a willingness of participants to engage with the ideas of the speaker. As you can see from the group response (in the ebook) for the week hosted by Zoraini Wait Abas, there was significant critical response. I think this is one of the most interesting results of the kind of openness represented by a MOOC… people feel like they’re engaging directly with the ideas.

I think the most eye opening week for me was the career description that we got from David Wiley during his week. I have had the pleasure of meeting David at several conferences, but was not familiar with his earlier work. There’s something nice about getting the context for someone’s career that can round out your understanding of their perspective. He’s been ‘iterating towards openness’ for a long time now. His pragmatic approach has been very influential to me, and, clearly, to lots of others.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of response to the activities presented by some of the weeks. It’s a strange balance, i guess, to try and suggest some activities to provide structure and i wonder if it somehow conflicts with the self-regulation that we are suggesting as core to the MOOC model. I’ve also had a difficult time trying to track the responses to the given weeks. It may be that I have missed on an easy way to do that, if someone knows how, let me know.

I’m going to have to take some serious time to think about how “the collective” suggested by Allison Littlejohn interacts with my own work. It seems like a natural fit, i suppose, but its always a struggle trying to nail down how the language works. Her description “By ‘collective learning’ we mean how people learn through sourcing, using and making sense of the collective knowledge – the knowledge stored in people, resources, computers, networks etc.” rings familiar, but i’m a little concerned about ‘knowledge’ being ‘stored’. I’ve been thinking lately that ‘memory’ is what’s stored and that knowledge is something that needs to be negotiated…

I found Tony Bates talk rang very true for me as well. He discussed various ways in which they have researched the impact of really bringing real technologies into real classrooms. We did similar (if not as broad based or as thorough) research at my university with similar results. Administration is very supportive of the incorporation of technologies, but we’re not as far along in terms of figuring out how to use them to positively impact teaching (whatever that might mean). Really, the disagreement about what a ‘positive outcome’ might be has a great deal of influence on the reluctance or inability for institutions to address this issue.

I was fortunate to actually be at the discussion Martin Weller had re: digital research. I’m probably most familiar with Martin’s work of the five presenters and still found lots to learn from his presentation. I find myself nodding in agreement on most of this things that he says, so I’ll spare you the ‘wow, he’s so right’ in this review and just link to his presentation 🙂

How to find stuff
This may seem like very simple advice, but simply putting an author’s name into google followed by ‘change11’ is enough to find pretty much anything you need if you’re looking to catch up on the last five weeks.

Join the ebook team!
We are still pluggin away on the ebook. It’s something we’re all doing off the side of our desk, but I’d love to have more people involved. If you want to be on the team, just let me know in the comments of this post. No pressure, but if you do want to, I’ll send you a username and password and you can just pickup work from the worklist on the homepage.

Workers, soldiers or nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system?

This is the first draft of the thinking I’ve been doing lately, it draws on a recent article from the gates foundation about learning being like working. It also relies very heavily on the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, particularly through a thousand plateaus.

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The why of education should be the first question that we answer in any discussion in the field. The answer to the ‘why of education’ question should be debated, mulled and hammered, on and on, and be at the centre of the work that we do. Sadly, it seems to be very difficult to say anything about “what learning is” and “why we educate our children”. We tend to end up saying something like the following

  • We are preparing our students for the future
  • We need to get them ready for university
  • We are trying to make good citizens for our society
  • We are trying to instill cultural values
  • We are trying to teach them to learn

There are any number of ways to say this, and, by saying it, say nothing. These answers have content, maybe, for the people saying them, but there’s no way for me to know what you mean. What are the cultural values you’d like to pass on? Is it likely that a vast majority of people are going to want to pass on those particular values? What would a good citizen do in our society? Are they law abiding or do they fight injustice? I’d like to think that they are both, but it’s pretty tough to create a system that both trains people to do what they are told and to also critically assess their culture.

I’m going to propose three different outcomes from an education system. They are, of course, meant to be exemplars. Any person would likely have bits of each, but the question is, which is the one that we value the most. It is easy to say that we want to have our children to ‘have their own minds’ but harder when confronted by uneaten broccoli. We want them to have their own minds, but come to the conclusions that we want them to come to. This is a subtle business. For now lets accept that we have many different parts and look at the landscape that our three outcomes live in.

Memory
Memory is the representation of the things that we ‘know’ as a culture. It is a repetition of the patters that we have established, the rules that we have made the ‘way things are done’. It is the status quo.

The worker
The worker was the original goal of the public education system. How can we create a workforce that will show up to work on time, accept tasks and complete them. The worker needs to remember things without understanding them. They need press a button at 2:15pm. They don’t need to know what happens when the button is pushed. They just need to press it.

The worker is easy to measure. You develop expectations and then you ensure that people can meet those expectations. This is one of the outcomes of the Gates vision of education.

At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not.

Learning for a worker is about compliance. Assessment is an assessment of compliance. The worker collects facts and information that it can then trade with other workers. Our education system currently does a very good job of creating workers.

The soldier
In order to create this kind of model, where the employer (or teacher) decide what excellence means, and then measure someone against it, you need a separate class of people who are responsible for creating the measurements. The temptation here is to call those people ‘managers’ but i’m calling them soldiers here for a specific reason. They are the defenders of memory. They are the ones who establish what things we currently know that the worker should remember, and then establish the system by which we will measure that knowing.

They are the ‘we’ from the quote above. They decide which parts of the past will be valued. One of the sad side effects of this is that the soldiers really can decide what they want to have valued. There are any number of cases where we see this in curriculum now, where we are ‘valuing’ things like intelligent design as science.

Soldiers defend the status quo. They check for compliance. When you learn the rules and why they are used, you move from worker to soldier. These people KNOW MORE. We have a number of paths through our education system where you can learn enough to be someone who can check for compliance.

Nomads
The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away. Think of parallel parking. If you think of the steps, perform them one at a time, you almost inevitably end up on the sidewalk. There is a point where you stop thinking of facts or steps and understand the act.

It is what Wynton Marsalis calls ‘being the thing itself’. It is the difference between playing a succession of notes, thinking of one after the other, and playing music.

In order to create an educational system that allows for nomads we can’t measure for a prescribed outcome. The point at which a new idea (even if it’s only new to that person) forms is going to be different for each nomad. This is about encouraging creativity over compliance.

Rhizomatic learning
Is an educational model whereby we create an ecosystem where nomads can learn(create). Where facts and data and knowledge and connection are pulled together in order to allow the nomad to create their own understanding. It is designed for a world where there aren’t ‘things people should know’ but rather ‘new connections to be made’. The knowing of things is there, but it is not the thing of importance.

If we want a society of innovators, of creatives, we can’t think of success as an act of compliance. Success is a break from the past. A new idea, a new context, a new vision.

This is what i want. From what i’ve read from the Gates foundation, they seem to want better workers. What i find so confusing, is that this was not the path that Gates himself took. He was (and maybe still is) a nomad.