Future of Education II – 10 years later.


I was struck by how difficult it is to choose the wording for questions like the one that George Siemens tossed out to get people thinking about education and the future.

What do you think learning will look like in ten years?

There are a bunch of qualifications I would like to add to that sentence, and so many eventualities that could come in the way of a move in any different direction. But I don’t think there’s a better way to ask it… The history of the public education system is replete with examples of people’s agendas, fears, ignorant well-meaningness, hopes and dreams controlling what might have otherwise been a more positive vehicle for making a ‘better’ society. That’s not to say that it is currently ‘bad’, just that it tends to move with the prevailing winds.

We all have different ideas of what learning is, and what it’s for. Some of us think of it as primarily normative… a way to sculpt a society in our image (and this is not necessarily bad… we do need a consistent vehicle to pass on the mores that we hold dear). The funny thing here is that this is one of the few places where the arch-conservative and the hippie-liberal come together… they would both like to (and have before… indeed… this was the original purpose of the public education system) use the school system to train for ‘moral rightness’ or ‘social justice’. On the other end there are those that believe that life is a gigantic DACUM chart… that learning is a process of checking off competencies that can be assessed and measured through national testing. Neither of these positions really gets at the true complexity of the violently ad hoc ‘learning’ concepts we carry around with us today. There is something decidedly repugnant in the Orwellian idea of a sculpted society and the only convincing argument I’ve heard in favour of standardized testing is “what else are we going to do?”


In the face of all of this indecision and uncertainty, I’m going to take a different path from my normal one. I’m going to be optimistic. I’m going to imagine what I might like learning to look like in the future. I’m going to be focusing on a couple of things… one is the community of practice model of learning (See posts here for emergent training communities) and the other is the ‘focus’ of the learning. I certainly don’t mean to claim that no one is doing this now… indeed, I think of edtechtalk as my main learning community. And as for focus, there are many people who are starting to focus on concepts and letting plain literacies follow along when they are needed.

Community Education – why edtechtalk works for me

Imagine a group of very busy folks trying to keep up to date on a field that is constantly changing. We have six groups of folks who get together once a week and present the best that they’ve been able to put together that week. We have a much larger community of people who are involved in finding stuff, submitting it to the group pile and participating as guests/members on the live shows. i am personally responsible to the show I do… and free to participate (as is anyone) in the rest of the work done in the community. Now, we use bunches of newish tech to get this done, but I don’t think of that as particularly important… it’s fun, but not essential. I get to stay current by hanging out with my friends online. It’s a pretty good deal… and its sustainable. It has that feeling of a conversation at a conference (minus the airfare and other expenses) but I get to have it at least once a week.

Where is the focus?

When a learning community has a strong idea of what its there for… and all the people who are there have self-selected themselves for that particular kind of learning, staying focused is not particularly difficult. People come to the community with something in mind. In the case of edtechtalk, the focus is on learning and technology… The skill set that is needed to participate effectively in that community is gradually acquired through the act of participating.

Presentation at FOE on June 4th – 1:30 pm CST (Check Local Time)
Snowclones, Clichés and Memes

The learning community that I’m trying to model tomorrow is one where we have self-selected ourselves to learn about how to be better community ‘joiners’. The different focus on this came from a conversation with Stephen Downes on a panel at the POM conference last week. I had asked Stephen how someone was supposed to learn a complex task without formal education. He responded by saying that they could go out and find people on the internet who knew how to do it and learn from them. My response to this line of argument is always the same “easy for you to say, you do this all the time, but how does someone unfamiliar with learning communities get comfortable with joining them?”

You could, I suppose, simply keep trying to join communities until you got better at it. I decided that it might be more interesting to look at what a community could do to work through the idea of ‘proper community joining and forming’. It requires people to be open about how they feel about the ways that people are talking to them. It requires people to choose the kind of education they want and then be responsible for brining good work to the table. It would mean that learning is something we commit to, when we need it, and, indeed, when we find it. It’s decentralized, and the personal assessment model looks like “this works for me.” The group assessment model kind gets turned on its head. The rest of the group needs to tell the leader for that day how well they’ve picked up what they were trying to get across.

My goals for the session – Assessing the ‘leader’

It is important, in this kind of assessment that people are honest. Giving positive feedback where it is not deserved can poison any community. Kind but direct criticism is the best way to ensure that everyone stays happy and productive in any community. Indeed… this is one of the primary responsibilities of every member. So, following are a list of my goals… I hope to hear back from you on how I did 🙂

Live meeting #6 – Snowclones, Clichés and Memes

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss how snowclones, clichés and memes affect community participation. My proposed goals are:

  1. grasp the terms by using them
  2. follow an example of snowclones, cliches and on to memes from start to finish
  3. participate in that example
  4. discuss how awareness of language affects the ability to participate in a community
  5. develop a list of strategies for discovering local language use in a community
  6. using that information to choose if a community is right for you
  7. participate in a new community

Future of Education – snowclones and ‘cliches’

I’m in ur nowlige, spukin’ ur mind.

This post is my first shot at developing the ideas that I want to talk about at the futures of education conference. I’ve spent bunches of my time recently writing and talking about communities and digital ecologies, and I thought I would do something a little different and talk about a specific case of how the new tools lead to new ideas of ‘knowing’ and how that could have a direct impact on education. I’m going to take a quick journey through the history of meaning making, and then talk a little about how specific tools can support things like cliches, memes and snowclones and what that means about learning and community belonging.

Why is belonging to a community important (or being in a network)?
I’m going to take it as given that most people who read this blog are going to believe that belonging to a community or network can be valuable. The most important learning i do is through the networks that I travel in. It is one thing to be able to find bits of ‘information’ on the internet(or have fun for that matter), but quite something different to be able to interact with people places and things all over the tubes. In order to do that, you need to understand what is going on in those communities… you need, in effect, to know how to adopt the given context. Many people have told us that in trying to become part of edtechtalk they need to ‘lurk’ for while to understand what is possible… what is allowed. They also take time to see how things ‘should’ be done. Knowing what to do in a community is essential for efficient membership. And, again, membership is key to learning deep things from a community or network.

How language plays a role
We have a running myth (or call it a shortcut) in the English language, that there are specific definitions for given words. When pushed on this issue, however, most of us will admit that, of course, those definitions change by context. I use the word ‘boat’ very differently at home among lobster folk than I use it around people who sail competitively. I also treat those boats very differently. The same could be said for the word house… or the word soup. Yes, most words that I’m using right now are quite standard, but if i used the word standardized, many educators out there might see a different implication. In his ‘Ancestor’s taleRichard Dawkins talks about the difference between two different kind of gulls. They are situated as ‘different species’ but when you observe them in the wild, it’s more of a continuum from one bird to another… in some places it is not possible to tell them apart.

Knowing how a bit of language is used in a given context or community is key to membership there. If I called someone a soup nazi, or when someone says ‘get off my lawn’, there is a literal meaning and a much more important contextual meaning. It was, at one time, that only people like novelists and politicians (and the newspapers and ads through which they were reported) had the capacity of creating this kind of thing. Expressions like ‘now you’re cooking with gas’ and ‘where’s the beef’ came from advertisements and spread into modern culture. The one that comes to mind most often for me is “the lights are going out all over Europe and shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Thought provoking… and chilling… if you know the context.

Enter online communities – fark.com
I’ve been saying for months (maybe more) to anyone who will listen (mostly my cat) that I think that people like 40below are going to have as lasting an effect on the English language as any living novelist. This is going to be a little difficult to explain to someone who is not familiar with the website. Fark is a website where people from all over the world ‘submit’ weird news stories, with funny replacement headlines. 40below (who’s real name I don’t know) is responsible for 5155 ‘greens’ on fark.com. Those ‘greens’ or accepted headlines, occasionally become the basis for a cliche or a snowclone.

Once this happens, the comment (or picture) then becomes a matter of lore to that community… like the soup nazi is to Seinfeld fans. This understanding of a contextualized concept can be key to understanding and joining any community.

Snowclones and cliches evolving
Just today I heard a snowclone in my office… (actually i heard several today, my partner and I llove them) One of my office mates said “what happens in the office stays in the office.” A snowclone of the famous ‘what happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas.’ We have many of these in our culture, but most of them come as lines in famous movies or ad campaigns. What we have happening now, is that communities are evolving these expressions in a fraction of that time. The information is being spread through new media tools, and communities of meaning are developing. The same is happening for cliches… as least in web usage of the term.

So what does this mean for education?
It’s an example of how ‘making meaning’ is changing. There was a time that study (and enough experience in modern culture) would give you access to most of the cliches used in modern discourse. What’s happening now, however, is that these new expressions and ways of speaking are developing everyday. What we need to do is teach strategies for discovering these expressions and learning how to adopt local community dialects online.

This is a single example of how teaching is going to be different. In this case, we need to teach the students the strategies needed to understand a new discourse, without knowing what that discourse is going to be. They are going to need to use their personal networks, need to use community driven sites like wikipedia… If they need to ‘break into’ a community to get a certain kind of information, they will need strategies… to learn how to be respectful, to suss out the rules in the new environment and MOST IMPORTANTLY, to then decide if this is the kind of place they should be getting information from.

ric romero

Or they’ll be just like this guy 🙂

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