Digging Deep into the Soil of Education

40+199 Dirty by bark, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  bark 
I realize that the title of this Blog Post suggests that I feel that the fundamental structure of education is somehow tainted. That was not my original intent. I was actually grasping  for an agricultural metaphor, but oddly enough, while composing this post and mulling over my readings and research of the week, I realize that this unintentional connotation may not be that far off. We have a tendency in education to keep pouring fertilizer over the already fertile soil accomplishing nothing more than the burn out of the bright seeds, to rotatil the so-called “weeds” in an attempt to stifle them, and to prune and trim the promising growth so that it is uniform, orderly, and utterly predictable. – growth determined by finite school years and proscriptive curricula.  Is this what education is supposed to be about? Fueled by this week’s ECI 831 discussion on rhizomatic education led by Dave Cormier, and his recent Blog Post Workers, Soldiers, Nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system?, I mused over four  standard, static, and cliché answers to the very foundational question, why do we educate students?
To prepare them for the workplace?  How can we do that when we know that the jobs they will seek likely do not even exist yet (If you haven’t yet seen the Youtube video “Did You Know?”- check it out!).  Certainly, Dave Janosc argues in his podcast “Education for Innovation” that the critical skill in the 21st century business world is innovation . Are our schools in their current curricular focus and structure nurturing this?  Gever Tulley would argue that not only are schools not cultivating this, society in general has advocated the virtual bubble wrapping of kids, protecting them from danger to such an extent that their curiosity and creativity are squelched. Check out his TEDtalk presentation Do Schools Kill Creativity. Founder of the Tinkering School, Tulley, advocates letting kids do dangerous things such as playing with fire, owning pocketknives, playing with spears, deconstructing appliances and breaking copyrights. Although he is discussing this in a literal sense, he is also making a figurative point for educators. Do we encourage our students to make mistakes? Are we and they so focused on the test and the outcomes that we forget about the journey and the many possible paths on the way to that destination? Furthermore, does that test have to be the final destination?
To provide them with a liberal arts education so that they are prepared for university? Statistics according to Human Resources and Skills Canada  tell us that on average 24% of the national population ages 18-24 pursue a college education; and although that statistic has risen over the last several years, the successful completion of college degree programs is much lower. Sir Ken Robinson in his critique of education states that “we are obsessed with getting kids into college.” He argues that learning is about passion and all of us have important gifts which are rarely nurtured. Similar to Dave Cormier’s belief that educators need to be gardeners, Sir Ken Robinson advocates the transformation of education from an industrial model to an agricultural model stating that “human nourishing is organic”. We as teachers must provide the conditions under which our students can flourish.

To teach them citizenship and community responsibility? For what world and community are we providing them education on citizenship? Technology and the internet have made the world smaller. The community one lives in is not the only community one knows. As I muttered in last week’s blog post , we need to address digital citizenship in a global society, this cannot be done if we restrict internet access and limit or ban personal electronic devices in educational settings.

To teach them to be life long learners? As Cormier, Robinson, Tulley, and numerous others have posited, there needs to be a “rethink” around the whole concept of learning. Education, the institution, is not necessarily developing a community of learners. Cormier’s metaphor of the nomadic learner suggests that a learner will go to the places he/she needs to find the answers he/she seeks, refusing to be bound by a directed path. How do we reconcile the need to develop life long learning, nurture curiosity and cultivate and harvest the rhizomatic learners within our time bound and rigidly structured curricula and school design. How do we avoid streaming or to use a provincial categorization – pathways – which predetermine roads for learners, stripping them of nomadic adventures? To find this answer, we must dig deep into the soil of education, and prepare to to get our fingernails dirty.



Technology – The New Literacy of the 21st Century

Old New Media Readings by Krista76, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Krista76 
Funny , isn’t it? How serendipitous life can be?  Last week I was muttering about how to overcome the bias some teachers and most parents have regarding the use of social media as a blended instructional approach.  Well, this week one of my ethics teachers invited me into her classroom to discuss cyberbullying .   Apparently, she sees me as the resident expert on all things Facebook, BBM, and Twitter (considering my fledgling experience in this area, this is truly scary!!) This was hot on the heels of the previous week’s School Community Council’s Parent Night featuring a guest speaker addressing the very issue of bullying and social media. I suspect she was looking toward me to spell out the doom and gloom of Facebook and cel phones which would be a reasonable expectation, considering our school’s and school division’s rather strict policy regarding their usage – no cel phones in classrooms without teacher permission; Facebook is blocked for student and teacher use in our school. Instead, I came  to class armed with a multimedia assault – launched with clips featuring Dana Boyd , key quotes and media stats,  a TEDtalk video  arguing that social media actually builds intimacy as opposed to inoculating us from authentic relationships (a belief I held as recently as 6 months ago),  links to my Blog, the EC&I 831 Blog  and the subsequent Twitter  responses (Kids were wowed by Visible Tweets  which I had scrolling in the background),  I delivered what apparently was a surprising message to my students. Considering my recent pedagogical shift,  I have to say, it was a surprise to me also.  My  message? Embrace technology it is the literacy of the present and will if it does not already, define your world and frame your experiences. In addition, I chatted about Digital citizenship  and digital identity  – citizenship and identity are changing. As we use social media we must be aware of who has access to the information and how that information is being used. For students who are often unaware of digital footprints, this comes as a bit of a shock. The question is how do we best address changing citizenship and identity with our students in our existing curricula?  Should it be left up to the technology teachers? The ethics teachers? The humanites teachers? Do we earmark it at a certain grade level? Or, does the solution lie in all teachers adopting technological pedagogy which just as literacy pedagogy argued that all teachers, regardless of curricular expertise, were literacy teachers, all teachers are responsible for technological literacy. What are your thoughts?

Putting “Social” Back Into Learning

Last week in my Blog  I talked about personal learning networks and their potential to create professional learning communities  for teachers by providing 24/7 professional support with the potential to extend the walls of their staffroom by connecting teachers from all over the world.  Of course, personal learning networks are not, nor should they be, restricted to teacher use. When we talk about the  “the connected classroom”  – we are looking at  expanding the communication and  collaboration of our students and their  classmates to include experts, students, and facilitators from all over the world through Web 2.0 and social media. Who can argue with that? And yet, K-12 classrooms and colleges have been slow to embrace the use of social media in the classroom, with many college instructors instituting laptop “lids down” time, and states like Missouri, restricting and banning its use public education. Why? Likely, it is due to the stigma surrounding the phrase “social media.” The notion of “social” conjures up fears of idle gossip, time wasting and distractions, as well as inappropriate contact between teacher and student.  As  Jenn Pedde (May, 2011) blogged in Education 2.0: Why Facebook and Twitter Should Be Part of Your Classroom “being social is inherently human.” Social media are merely the tools that enable the student to be actively social.  Considering schools are the primary “socializing” institute! Shouldn’t learning be social? Why should the social nature of learning through communication and collaboration be restricted to the classroom?

Perhaps the obvious answer is this is the fact that education has been traditionally top down delivery. Teachers have been the gatekeepers of the knowledge, selecting what to pass down to students. Although, pedagogically, education and curricula development now recognizes the student as the centre of the learning and the teacher as a facilitator guiding the inquiry, the bias against “outside” sources of instruction may still exist within the teaching profession. Teachers who have traditionally worked in isolation are not likely to embrace opening the “windows “into the classroom.  For those teachers who have embraced technology, the challenge is to find ways to employ social media without crossing the professional line. Such practices as creating Facebook pages for the classroom where teachers would not have profiles or “friend” students, and sending Twitter messages to parents are  promising uses of social media  outlined in the Heriff Jones WhitePaper: The Educational Promise of Social Media (September 2011)  and the New York Times article Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media .  However, the primary obstacle may still be the bias against the phrase “social media” – how do we convince teachers, parents, and school divisions that being  “social” is positive and necessary form of collaboration for our students? What suggestions do you have for overcoming this bias?

Personal Learning Networks

 Up until now, I will confess, that though I blogged, posted and tweeted, I never really considered the concept of a personal learning network until the last several weeks.  Struck by the information Nicholas Christakis  shared in his TED talk The Hidden Influence of Social Media,  I was amazed at the power of social networks and how they have always played an integral role in our personal well being. In fact, our social connections can be linked to obesity, happiness and other physical and emotional states! Amazing! Christakis states that social networks have value as a source of capital. His assertion that we need to become more connected and that we must pay attention to the configurations and combinations of these connections brought home just how integral social connections have always been in our human condition, and the potential for  the social media of  Web 2.0 to create new and exciting social connections which can further  enhance our human condition! to rephrase his metphor – we can create carbon or diamonds depending on the configuration. This may be the best argument I can think of for negating the doomsayers who think Twitter and Facebook are a waste of time.Further to this discussion comes the research of Shelly Terrel on the value of personal learning networks. Her video Why Do We Connect offers the perspectives of student and teachers citing such powerful arguments as “the freedom to learn anything, anytime from anywhere”, “to break down classroom walls”, and  “24 hour professional development.”For years we have talked about reducing teacher isolation by creating professional learning communities, but for the most part this has been perceived as those communities we build within our schools or school divisions – same subject teachers with whom we have direct access. However, the reality is that sometimes this community is too small, or in the case of a specialized teacher, non-existent.  Also, depending on the fluidity of the collective, there may be no new ideas or techniques explored leading to stagnant discussions and little innovation. What better way to create a wide and accessible professional communityand to energize and infuse new perspectives than to build a personal learning network? To that end I found the following video PLN – How to Build One! particularly useful, and shared it this week with a colleague who was looking for a starting point in establishing her own PLN. It outlines 5 initial steps; underscoring all of these, are the three C’s – connect, collaborate, and contribute!! Check it out and let me know if you have any other advice for those of us just beginning to explore the value of a Personal Learning Network.