Maintaining the Status Quo

January 3, 2014

Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology posits that technical structures constructed under a previous system, when inherited by a new system will likely result in the re-establishment of the old system.  For example, in a socialist revolution, if the technical (or organizational) structures created under capitalism are maintained, the decisions leaders are forced to make end up creating a system that looks a lot like capitalism.  This is one way to possibly explain the failure of socialist revolutions throughout history.  They assumed an instrumentalist view of technique.  That is, they believed technology to be neutral and that if they simply used the techniques in a different way, they could maintain their ideals.  What they missed is that technology is not neutral – it’s not just a matter of “how you use it”.

So, if we apply this thinking to educational change, what might be some implications?  Right now, my twitter feed is abuzz with discussion of standards-based grading because a local school district is moving in that direction and some (a vocal minority if you will) are not happy with the change. Up to this point, the SBG “movement” has been largely grass roots so the technical structures surrounding the implementation have been easily navigated by the revolutionaries because they see the incongruence and work around such issues.  However, as SBG is moved to larger scales, and implemented from the top down, organizational techniques will play a greater role in how SBG is implemented.  So, if we leave much of our system unchanged (e.g. we keep reporting A – F grades) are we doomed to simply recreate the old system with new names (as the socialists simply recreated capitalism)?  What other technical structures must we consider if we hope to create a truly new system?

Similarly, and perhaps somewhat obviously, this thinking helps to further make clear that adding technology (e.g. laptops) to a classroom does little to change the learning in that classroom unless the other technological structures change as well (e.g. pedagogy, assessment strategies).  

I wonder, is incremental change possible, or will their always be other structures that bring us right back to the way schools have always looked?  Perhaps this is why schools have such tremendous institutional momentum.

(I’m too young to be this jaded, aren’t I?)

For me, this reaffirms my belief that individual teachers matter.  If enough individuals change, then the system just might change.  However, if we try to change the system, it’s likely we are just going to recreate the old system with some new labels. 

Teacher Education Starts in Kindergarten

August 21, 2013

“Teachers create all other professions”.

Teachers also create their own profession.  Some of the students in your class will eventually become teachers.

To what extent are you modeling effective teaching for those students? 

I was a late comer to education.  Teaching did not seem an interesting option for my life’s work.

I was wrong.

When are you explicitly discussing teaching and learning with your students?  How are you helping your students recognize the intellectual challenge of teaching others?  In what way do you explicitly share your passion for teaching with kids?

Critical Curiosity

August 1, 2013

While teaching my summer ed tech course today, some of my students were too quickly going to the “what’s wrong with this picture” line of thinking.

(I know, you’re surprised that my students have that attitude)

Then, after taking some effort to help them consider the positive aspects of the technology use, I explained that my goal with technology in education is ‘critical curiosity’.

With this stance, I’m always wondering how new technology might get used in the classroom, but am, at the same time, (not really) asking how a new technology might reinforce traditional teaching practices, create inequity in my class, or even reduce the intellectual level of the classroom.

Ideas & Answers

March 16, 2013

I get called arrogant kind of a lot. When I ask those who know me well about the issue, they note that I am a bold & confident person (no disagreement). Then, they usually cite some interaction they had with me in the past in which I was very receptive to feedback or perhaps even explicitly admitted being wrong (something I am quite a lot) as evidence that I am not arrogant. So, I’ve been reflecting on this a bit (you know, cause getting insulted isn’t fun).

I think I’ve come to a conclusion. I view the world in ideas rather than answers. When someone asks me a question I almost always have an idea (so do you), but not necessarily an answer. However, I wonder if people hear my ideas as answers? (Thus inferring that I “have an answer for everything”).

Now I’m left trying to figure out how to help those I communicate with understand that I am proposing ideas rather than stating answers. I believe this will be more daunting than it seems. For example, if I give up on my ideas too easily, then they won’t be fully explored. That is, if we give up on ideas because we don’t want to seem arrogant, then the idea seems weak because of our fortitude rather than weakness inherent to the idea. If an idea is weak, we should abandon it, but we should not abandon an idea because of any trait of the proposer (good or bad).


While I could respond more often with, “I don’t know”, I don’t think such a response gets us anywhere. Perhaps I could say, “I don’t know, but here’s an idea…”, or maybe I’ll just ask more questions.

I wonder if I view other people’s answers as ideas? I suspect I do as I rarely take someone’s word for something. So how do I continue wrestling with someone else’s idea while helping them realize I value their idea?

While writing this post, one thought kept popping up, “why should I have to change, shouldn’t other people just be more self-confident & recognize the value of ideas over answers?” Yet, I know this is an emotional response & I can only control what I say & how I say it, not how others interpret what is said. Sometimes it might be easier to just not talk at all.


* The follow was edited out to avoid misinterpretation: “This makes me think of Christ – the embodiment of humility, yet filled with fortitude, & even a bit of certainty.”  When I wrote that sentence, I was not at all comparing myself to Christ.  Instead, I was noting how thinking about the fine line between humility & arrogance made me think *about* Christ. How is it that he was able to be known as so humble, yet consistently told people they were wrong (& with authority)?

Trying to Make Educational Technology Applicable

January 15, 2013

In past versions of my educational technology course, I’ve had students complete “tech projects” in which they learn about specific technologies and discuss ways they would use the technologies (or preferably have students use the technology) in their classroom.  This allowed students to select technologies that they felt might actually be of use to their discipline rather than learning about the technologies I thought were important.

While my approach above was well-intentioned, I was unconvinced students were really planning to apply those technologies to their future teaching. Instead, I believe students ended up finding technologies very quickly, throwing together some ideas, rinsing and repeating.  I was not happy.

This J-Term, I have taken a bit of a different approach.  I am trying to focus more on “big ideas” of educational technology (i.e. TPACK, nature of technology, etc).  While I am still exposing students to a lot of different technologies, and plan to give them ample time to explore “on their own”, the culminating assignment for the course is for students to create a framework to guide their future use of technology in the classroom.  My hope is that this framework will provide a way to think about technology, not just some specific strategies.  The assignment as it appears in the syllabus is:

*Framework for Technology in the Classroom (Outline Due January 17th, Paper Due January 23).  Technology is constantly changing.  Therefore, planning now to use particular technologies may be unwise.  However, developing a robust framework for considering the use of technology in your future classroom will be useful no matter the context of your teaching.  As a final assignment, you will create a framework for your future technology implementation.  Your paper should address fundamental ideas you will use for making decisions about technology in your teaching.  Your paper should be supported by literature/research and provide illustrative examples.  These examples should demonstrate aspects of your framework as well as your proficiency in technology use.  Some questions to address as you create your framework include, but are not limited to:

  • Why should technology be used in education?
  • How are technologies typically used in education?
  • How will you use technology in your classroom?
  • In what way will learning theory inform your technology implementation?
  • In what way will the nature of technology inform your technology implementation?
  • What will students learn about technology in your classroom? How?
  • How will students use technology in your classroom?

Questioning Technology Reform

January 7, 2013

Dan Meyer has been channeling the nature of technology lately in his critique of various reform efforts.  Most recently he commented on the trade-offs associated with technology use in the Rocketship approach:

This is “differentiation,” says John Merrow, and it’s true that the students are working on different tasks, but at what cost? The students don’t interact with their peers or their teachers. The math program, ST Math, isn’t bad but computers constrain the universe of math questions you can ask down to those which can be answered with a click and graded by a computer. The promise of personalization, of perfectly differentiated education, has forced Rocketship to make dramatic concessions on the quality of that education. It’s a buffet line where everyone chooses their own flavor of the same gruel.

Improved Student Learning: Some Research on Students’ Views on Learning

January 6, 2013

One of my areas of research is what I refer to as the Nature of Learning.  This construct includes students’ epistemological beliefs (their beliefs about knowledge) and the beliefs about the learning process (think Dweck’s “growth mindset” and then some)*.  I first became interested in the construct when I realized some of my (and others’) students were resisting research-based teaching because they held problematic views of what teaching and learning ought to be.  Below I briefly discuss how students’ view of learning affects their learning.

Songer and Linn (1991) found that students with dynamic views of knowledge (it can change) more deeply integrated their learning.  Conversely, those who hold beliefs that knowledge is certain are likely to not learn as well or misinterpret new information (Kardash and Scholes, 1996).  These studies are not limited to college students (as many psych studies are).  Chan and Sachs (2001) found that elementary students’ integration of new information from text are affected similarly by their beliefs about knowledge.

Of course, none of the above matters if our teaching and assessments do not target deep learning (as opposed to simple regurgitation).  Songer and Linn (1991) summarize this issue well:

These findings are consistent with the view that students who hold static views of science and memorize information will do just as well on tests that do not require knowledge integration as will students who are attempting to develop integrated understanding.  In contrast, when integrated understanding is emphasized in the curriculum and required on assessments, then students with dynamic views of science will be more successful than students with static views. (p. 775-776)

*Nature of Learning goes beyond Dweck’s work – see Schommer (1990) below if you are really interested.


Chan, C. K., & Sachs, J. (2001). Beliefs about learning in children’s understanding of science texts. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 26(2), 192-210.

Kardash, C. M., & Scholes, R. J. (1996). Effects of preexisting beliefs, epistemological beliefs,and need for cognition on interpretation of controversial issues. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 260–271.

Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of Beliefs About the Nature of Knowledge on Comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology. 82(3), 498-504.

Songer, N.B., & Linn, M.C. (1991). How do students’ views of science influence knowledge integration? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28, 761-764.


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