Seven black swans for education in 2012

A different top ten list
For the past 6 years i’ve done a top ten list to finish off the year. As my interests have evolved and as my writing has changed, i’ve found it more difficult each year to try and pull together the list. This year I saw HackEducations post and thought… huh… that’s pretty much what i would have said. I’m sure I would have come at it slightly differently, maybe not spelled as well, but I don’t think i have significantly more to offer to that discussion. The only thing I would have added was Learning Analytics. So… check Hack Education’s list.

Black swans
I thought i might want to do something a little different this year… I want to talk about Black Swans. A black swan is a suprise event that changes the whole nature of a conversation. They are events that, in hindsight, EVERYONE wants to say they saw coming, but no one (or few people) predicted ahead of time. They are usually dramatic events, though it’s not the level of the drama that’s important, but rather the impact that it has.

As we look into the future, speculating about black swans is useful in two ways. The first is that it is a nice way for us to discuss issues that are important to us in a new landscape. It provides a new context to talk about important ideas. In this sense, the content of the black swan is less important than the conversations that the black swan event allow us to have. Too often we are caught up in the minutiae of a discussion and can’t see what it is about our work that is important to us. The second, and maybe more obvious things about black swans is… they might happen.

edit: i should probably add that black swan’s were first described in

About this list
I’m going to propose seven black swan situations that could happen in 2012. I’m not suggesting that these things will ACTUALLY happen, but thinking about change can sometimes help us conceptualize it in our own lives… even if nothing dramatic comes around. I’m going to avoid any of the really nasty events… no wars, meteors or volcanic eruptions… sorry. There’s lots of change out there to talk about.

Note: this post was edited rather significantly after chatting with Jeff Lebow and John Schinker on Edtechtalk.

Black Swan 7 – Free WORKING LMS for learning
What happens if we have a system that actually works? One piece of software that does all the writing, all the games, all the learning and all the measuring you ever wanted. It works on all the computers, in all scenarios, and offered to us for free from Google. Not far from reality… just a few more steps and we’re there. What happens to Blackboard? We’re learning… lets use google. End of story. It works on tablets, on phones. It has scholar, docs, mail. What if we added google textbooks? We’d save a fortune on training… and give more power over to one company.

Black Swan 6 – Copyright Bans Open textbooks in the US
I can’t imagine how the textbook companies could pull it off, but when a billion dollar industry is threatened, there are lobbying dollars to move around. There have been some excellent initiaties at the school level all over the united states, but in this scenario, all classroom textbooks MUST be paid for. Perhaps to ‘preserve quality.’ Maybe the argument is even less rationale than that. Does this move us more towards a different country to lead us? Can we get Finnish textbooks?

Black Swan 5 – Oil his $400/barrel
Changing directions entirely, what happens in the price of oil hits a crazy high number. It sounds unlikely, but i never thought I’d see the prices we had a few years ago either. If it costs a fortune to drive, does that change things? Does that move us towards online education?

How can we, in canada, rationalize heating a building all winter long just to put kids in it?

Black Swan 4 – US government invests in Analytics
Doesn’t sound crazy? Seems pretty normal eh? Think your way through it. A few years ago NYC invested $80 million in a student tracking system. Imagine the US government investing $80 billion in a system that tracks every student grade, up to the minute, and giving them a dashboard that told them how each school was doing… right now. Think testing is rampant in the school system now? Imagine what would happen in this scenario.

Imagine the Kahn academy for the whole education system. At any given time, you’d be able to send ‘at risk’ students to the right tutor who could put them back on track. We’d know oodles about what kinds of things helped people ‘learn’. If that’s what we wanted 🙂 Would it be worth it? Maybe we could refocus school time on projects… and art… and music. Or maybe we all stay home and press buttons on our computers.

Black Swan 3 – International students stop coming
There are any number of reasons why this could happen… Out here on the east coast of canada, most schools are over 10% in their ratio international students to Canadian students. This is important for beefing up enrolment, but its also important for the extra fees paid by those students. If governmental regulations or incentives changed in any number of countries in Asia this could have a dramatic effect on Higher Ed. Would we try and teach them online? Would schools start to close? Would we try to attract students from other countries? The ‘international student’ has become a critical part of the fabric of higher education.

Black Swan 2 – Free books for everyone!
There is a battleground, right now, for content in higher education. We have billion dollar companies selling what amount to pretty average textbooks, and schools and different communities trying to create their own. What if the Thailand Government decided it was willing to put 10 billion dollars on the table to create free textbooks for everyone. One country (pick whichever one you like, could be Luxembourg or Saudi Arabia) offering free books, edited by renowned experts to the world. Would we take them? Is the content so transferable that we wouldn’t care who created them?

Black Swan 1 – MIT accredits MOOCs
MIT seeing Stanford pulling ahead in the free openness sweepstakes, decides that it will work to provide accreditation for open online courses. They themselves are safe in the knowledge that people will still come to MIT to work with the people/resources they have there, but they’ve decided that they are going to hire 10K tutors to evaluate people in the new MOOCs they plan to launch this year. 1 million students, 10000 tutors. What would that do?

All the first year classes taught by 10 central institutions… what then?

Tough Questions about Rhizomatic Learning from Jaapsoft

I found this series of questions directed at me from one of the more interesting people I’ve run into during the change11 course. They’re fair… i think… and a helpful way for me to reflect as I’m trying to write a couple of papers right now… so here goes.

I am struggling to see utility and practicality, just like Keith Hamon. I would like to ask:

In what way does your theory of rhizomatic learning change the way you teach?
It’s hard to remember, now, how it ‘changes’ the way i teach, as it IS the way that I teach… but there are some central ideas that I hold onto.
I think of curriculum as an output of a course rather than an input, so i enter a course with an outline of study, or a syllabus and focus on helping students build their own curriculum. This allows them (i hope) to construct themselves as Nomads. If you think of learning as a process of ‘becoming’ then it can’t be something that is enforced. It is a change that is individual and hard to track.

Change11 is about change, and you are part of Change11, so what do you want to change?
I think of the “change11” to be about looking at change that is happening, rather than changing things. I am hoping to support uncertainty and responsibility in learning (among other things). I am particularly interested (as are many others) in supporting an educational approach that provides critical skills… not replicable ‘knowledge’.

Did the rhizomatic learning theory and reading Deleuze change your way of living?
Absolutely. It has made me accept multiplicity as an integral part of the human experience. I used to see opposing viewpoints as things that needed ‘sorting out’ now i’m willing to accept them both as valid.

In what way does it change your parenting and being a father?
I try to engender the same openness to complexity in my kids. It’s hard though… because the subtlety can be difficult for the kids. Not that they can’t get it… the problem is that the rest of society isn’t prepared for them to speak from that position. It’s hard to be a post-structuralist parent. Saying “that’s wrong” is much easier than saying “think about how that thing is not supportive of the kinds of things that we value”… but i think the latter is more useful to my kids in the long run.

I am an educational journalist and my readers are non-academic teachers who want to improve their teaching. So please do not use academic language, be practical.

What advice do you give to new teachers?
Be courageous. Strive hard to not be the knower. I would tell them that no one really ‘knows’. We are all on the same journey. Bring your students with you.

Could you explain the magic trick to a teacher of bookkeeping, welding, or farming?
I grew up as a lobster fisherman, spent time working in a lead silver refinery, and have been in academia (in one way or another) all my adult life. I have not noticed any difference in the ability to apprehend complex issues between any of these groups. Rhizomatic learning confirms the suspicions of many. There is no ‘right way’ to ride a boat through a storm, to use a crane to carry a 20 ton kettle down a floor or to write a paper. There are lots of wrong ways :). These are things that we learn as we absorb ourselves into a thing. As we come to understand its context. As we become part of a context.
I say the same to everyone. There are basics, in every field, that you need to know. Basic language, basic techniques. These are not ‘important’ in a profound sense… but they are required. After that, we make our way. It is not possible to simply GIVE someone the answer to how it is done… everyone must come to it in their own way. This is something many people understand instinctively, be they tinker, tailer, soldier or spy. It is only when we come to formal education that we somehow believe the rules to change.

What do you tell teachers with a history of teaching? Do you want them to change the way they teach? Please do not explain your theory, but tell them ways to improve their teaching and the learning of their students.
I would never tell anyone to ‘change the way that they teach’. We all have different strengths, and it is dangerous to try and remake someone else in your own image. My message to the experienced teachers is the same as to those that are starting out… we do now know things for certain… do not tell the students that we do. Be open.

Your theory of rhizomatic learning is it important for students in vocational colleges?
It can be… insofar as people are actually learning. Many vocational programs are also very much tied to specific kinds of testing… and i wouldn’t want them to be distracted from them. They will have time for rhizomatic learning when they are on the job.

If you could introduce new fresh students at the start of their time in college or univ how would you do that?
I do and have. And i tell them the same thing. There are conventions that you must learn to survive in any field, academia more than many. Remember them. Learning is something else, it is yours to control. Care about it. Be open etc…

What advice would you give your children in learning? I bet you do not tell them “… the intensive becomes hidden under the extensive and the qualitative. …” (DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 119)
My last blog post was very much about this. I struggle with it. It is tempting to default to true/false with children. I try to create open ended exploratory learning… and sometimes fail.

Do you discuss your view on learning with the teachers in the school of your children? What do you talk about with them?
My children are still very young, so the conversations with their teachers have been fairly simple on this topic. I have iterated, many times, that i’m not concerned about them getting the right answers, or performing, but rather am concerned about how they explore, how they feel about being in class… but that’s as far as it has gone. I am very suspicious of the system… but so far my kids are learning a great deal. They are learning in a language that is not the language spoken at home… so there is much for them to learn. I’m not sure what happens after that. I imagine i will have deeper conversations with their teachers at that time.

Did your theory change the way you learn and study?
Definitely. I’ve stopped looking for the proper/right way of doing things and am more willing to accept interpretations that are outside of convention. I was non-conventional before… but am now so without the rebellion… with a more open mind.

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