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.


What do we want from educators?

November 23, 2012

Here is a pic from Goodlad’s “A Place Called School”. We must stop pulling educators in opposite directions. We cannot expect movement with equal, but opposite forces being applied.

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Reading Strategies

October 3, 2012

Last night I tried a new approach with one of my college classes. The course is about science education. We read an article that summarizes a high school science activity that addresses climate, heat capacity, investigation design, & the nature of science.

I first had students read the article to identify how the authors addressed the nature of science as well as missed opportunities. Then, they went back through the article to note places when the activity fit with learning theory. In a third reading, I asked the preservice teachers to identify teacher actions/behaviors that seemed important for the activity to work. Fourth, I had students investigate ways in which the authors addressed safety issues. In a final reading, we investigated how the article sought to teach the science content. That is, how the authors organize & scaffold content learning for students.

In between each reading, we discussed ideas & pros/cons of the activity in relation to the lens through which we had just viewed the article. I imagine most people would consider reading the same article 5 times would be redundant. I found the students’ ideas to grow in sophistication as we progressed & the different lenses provided new perspectives.

Each time we read the article, we embarked on a new inquiry into the nature of teaching. This kind of close reading is not often achieved & asking students to view the same reading through different lenses provided scaffolding for them to dig deeper into the piece. Imagine if we encouraged younger students to read so closely instead of quizzing them on mundane details*.

*when I wrote the phrase “mundane details” I immediately thought of Office Space. ;-)


Schools as Social Systems.

October 1, 2012

Below are some captures from Goodlad’s “a Place Called School” reminding us that schools are complex social systems. I know I’ve been guilty of thinking “everything depends on the teacher”.

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Privilege & Technology

September 29, 2012

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The picture above is from Stuart Selber’s book, “Multiliteracies for a Digital Age”. I highly recommend it – particularly for language arts teachers.

Regarding the underlined portion: I think we’ve thought long & hard about infrastructural needs. Now it is time we start asking about how technology privileges some things (people, skills, tasks, thought, etc) over others. I particularly think we need to continue to question the pedagogical assumptions of the software (or any resource, tech or not). If we really questioned the pedagogical assumptions of proposals, then khan academy, TFA, standardized tests, etc would not be around. Unfortunately, in education we let politicians & other non-educators shoot first & ask questions later.


A natural solution?

September 22, 2012

In “Silent Spring”, Rachel Carson calls for natural solutions to pest problems (weeds & insects). I wonder what the parallel might be for education? What are the “pests” we are trying to eradicate? Student apathy, low accountability, & lack of utility are three that come to mind. What the. Would be the “natural” solution. More standardized testing, overly scripted curricula, & forced use of technology seem unnatural. I suspect, if we think hard enough, there is a way to control the “pests” of education without such invasive means.


Silent Spring – environmentalism or Luddism?

September 22, 2012

I’m reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Nothing here is new (it’s an old book & I’m a chemist) so it resonates. However, I am making a connection. Rachel was concerned about what our blind application of technology (pesticides, fertilizer, etc) does to the Earth. I wonder if her arguments might be well applied to education. In what way is our blind application of technology (from computers to standardized tests) ruining the fertile ground of our students’ minds? What long range effects might we be creating in hopes of short term gain?


What technology wants

September 20, 2012

Below is the back cover of Kevin Kelly’s book, “What Technology Wants”. I have not read the book but have two thoughts based on just the back cover: 1) To think evolution has an inevitable nature is a gross misunderstanding of evolution. Given the flaw in what seems to be the basis of his argument, 2) he is going to have a hard time supporting even a neo-determinism. Given the large scale dismissal of simple determinism, he already has an uphill battle without faulty premises.

Has anyone read this? I’d love to be compelled to read this book with a comment.

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