I recently read jaren lanier’s book “you are not a gadget”. Honestly, the book was poorly written, but contained some great ideas & concepts regarding our society’s blind embrace of
technology. He is a virtual reality pioneer, programmer, & friend/consultant to silicon valley, so he is no Luddite.
One of the concepts he discussed was “lock-in”. This phenomenon happens when a particular technology is used so pervasively that it becomes conceptually & economically unviable to break away from the locked-in technology when designing new technologies (I may be missing some aspect, but this is what lock-in is as I perceive it). As an extreme example, consider the alphabet. No new letters, or new orders are going to show up without causing quite a ruckus. Or consider the qwerty keyboard. If you saw a device without a qwerty for use, you’d likely nit consider buying it. Of course, there are always exceptions.
How has/will lock-in play out in schools?
As of right now, most school systems are locked-in by textbooks. Textbooks are expected. Textbooks are the source of curriculum. Textbook are a major portion of school budgets. I think most of you would agree, this state of affairs is unfortunate.
School schedules, age-based grade levels, grading systems, & discrete subjects are all seemingly “locked-in”. I believe that identifying lock-in is important as we strive to reform education.
Once we identify that a particular practice is the result of lock-in, we ought attack it voraciously. This attack doesn’t mean we automatically get rid of the lock-in. Instead, we ask why. If we
have no compelling reason (making teachers’ lives easier is not compelling) we should consider alternatives. I think identifying lock-in might be a way to begin difficult reform discussions within buildings.
Once we are aware of lock-in we must guard against falling back into it. I see new reform efforts often fall victim to lock-in. Adopting a prepackaged curriculum, or a new single technological device will likely lead to lock-in.
So, how do we keep our schools & the greater education system away from lock-in? That is, how do we remain flexible so we can more quickly adapt? How do we prevent the kinds of institutional momentum that now hinders our reform efforts?