Making Connections

This is a rambling mess, but I’m not apologizing. You’ve been warned.

I’ve been thinking about the Twitter panel from Friday at the IST Grad Symposium and have come to see a couple of camps … one group looks at Twitter and says real connections don’t happen, that it is a waste of time, and an ego echo chamber. There is another group that sees it as full of opportunities to make real connections because it is simply a platform. There’s yet another who is like the first group, but they do participate. Seeing these three camps may be a generalization and I can deal with anyone disagreeing with me. I don’t really care too much which camp people fall into and I think I’ve arrived at a place where I’m not going to justify the technology. I’m just done with that argument — if you want to play, play. If you don’t, don’t.

What I am interested in is having opportunities to talk about the affordances and how they relate to problems of practice. I see challenges across the board in our classrooms and what I don’t see enough are people working to talk about them constructively. I hear a lot of people complain and never work to come together to do anything about them … I see way too many students sitting by themselves in classrooms not engaged, too many faculty teaching from PowerPoint, and too many administrators not pushing for reform. I’m not saying Twitter has anything to do with any of it, but don’t you think it is about time we start to really come together, make some connections, and radically do something about it all?

I can talk to the World in the blink of an eye and I know there are lots of smart people out there toiling away at what they do who are waking up to how bad it all really is. The big change here is that we can hear each other and we can change things if we want by coming together. And you know what, at the end of the day it may not be about changing the system at all, it may be about a new environment where connections happen and knowledge is shared openly. Maybe learning communities can happen without the corporate bullshit that much of our educational system is built on — I watch my first grader come home every night with nothing but worksheets from some curriculum book and I see students on campus doing nothing but reading from textbooks and taking electronic tests built from a publisher’s test bank. What kind of education is that? Why the hell do we let it happen?

I’m done with it. I’ve decided that I will work to make change happen and I’m inviting other people … anyone with a connection that wants to start a revolution knows where to find me.

14 thoughts on “Making Connections

  1. Ha! Welcome to the public schools, Cole. Bottom line – go for change, be a change agent, but know that you will have to work with your kids to keep the fun in education for them.

    I push alternative ideas at the Bellefonte School system via the teachers I know there every chance I get. Sometimes I get through and they try new things.

    Why do you think I’m so into educational games? No worksheets there – unless the players make them in an effort to do better in the game. No disengagement. No lame administrators pushing the same crap down everybody’s throat.

    Want to change the system? You know as well as I that it will take both top-down and bottom-up efforts, in concert, to do so. You know the people in the PSU community that will rally around change. Maybe it’s time to bring them all together to talk about this, instead of discussions focusing on particular technologies, as we tend to do.

  2. Since I think I may be part of the reason you are a rambling mess this AM (we just had a big convo about all of this stuff…), I think I’ll interject. First, “corporatization” has diminished quality in so many things… the two primary examples that impact me are food and education. Very few people know what quality food even is any more because we are so used to the prepackaged slop (prepared in minutes) that passes for food. In the same light, quality education (just like quality craftsmanship in furniture or houses, etc.) is barely recognizable to many of us.

    Why can’t my daughter’s class simply read a classic book and improve their literacy, their knowledge of a period of history, or the subject matter involved? Why can’t they build something or bake something that requires them to advance their math skills? THIS COSTS LITTLE TO NOTHING when you strip away the fixed costs of the facility and the teacher.

    Of course it all has a lot to do with assessment. These activities might not adhere to standards… But we have SHACKLED ourselves to improving education … unfortunately the only way we can measure this “improvement” is by assessing teachers and students — a lot. This is not a bad thing, but it has caused a whole cottage industry of materials manufacturers that satisfy the standards that teach the children to take the tests that the powers that be deem to be indicative of learning — to learn in the house that Jack built, if you will.

    It’s bull shit. School has become mildly instructional babysitting.

    Convenient ? Yes.
    Life changing? Hell no.

    I say we need a revolution. We are doing it in the food world with the Slow Food Revolution…. how about an equivalent educational response? And I should add that the slow food people aren’t trying to take reform to Cargill and McDonalds and General Mills (so maybe we need to leave out the traditional powers that be?). They are revolting one person at a time making different purchasing choices and deciding to do food a different way. Back to basics…

  3. Great post.
    Adding the broader connections of an expanded community to a child’s education would radically lessen the impact of one bad experience. I can’t imagine spending nine months as a student in a classroom with a teacher and curriculum I don’t connect with. I was lucky and had mostly humans as teachers; my daughter didn’t fair so well. Shouldn’t Penn State provide outreach to the community?

  4. @ Brett Bixler I think you are right about our community coming together. What I am really interested in is not just getting beyond the technology, but getting beyond blaming any one individual. It isn’t the teachers as much as it isn’t the students. Its the whole system — I am actually leaning towards saying screw it to trying to impact the system … I think there is something more radical that needs to occur. Let me say that technology has nothing to do with the problem, but is a tool that could be used to help build towards a solution … not in a sense that we need to throw tech as the solution, we need to use it to bring us all together and start working together on a solution. That is the conversation that needs to happen.

  5. I think maybe at the core of this is the idea that education is for me, not for us. This is why technology appeals because in the past few years technology has become something that feels personal and provides for connections and personalization that are often lacking in educational environments. Mcluhan said the medium is the message, but I think it might be better to say the conversation is the message (maybe the connection is the message). Education has become depersonalized and broken into its smallest constituent parts in order to assess it. It has lost its soul to the idea that we can make it standardized.

    And you thought yours was a rambling mess.

  6. I am with you on your thoughts in this post. I had an experience last week that had me feeling in a very similar way. I had an education student come in because he was told he had to incorporate some kind of technology in a project that he was doing. He was going to be teaching young students about the book 1984, and was dead set on using Powerpoint, and only powerpoint. He was very opposed to using “this new fangled stuff” in his teaching, saying “if its not broke don’t fix it”. I tried to persuade him for quite some time, saying that his students deserved the opportunity to be more engaged. I remember just being so frustrated that this person was going to go out there and continue the same type of insipidity we are talking about.

  7. @Kristin

    I have to agree with the assessment dig. Even people I have immense respect for, people that have worked their entire careers to foster change here, people that started charter schools because of this issue, all back down when it comes to assessment. They comply to the standards out there, even when they admit the assessments don’t match.

    It must be the toughest nut to crack. IMO, any successful reform has to address this and convince all that with new ways of teaching and learning, new assessment methods MUST follow.

  8. I’m not sure if you remember this Cole, but way back in the day there was a joke going around about a slogan we had at ETS (I don’t remember if it was for the BS Breakfast, Cafe ETS, or some other initiative).

    “Come be stupid with us”. Off the cuff it sounded far too absurd to ever gain popularity, but there is great irony in the wisdom of that little catch phrase. Because to achieve what you’re talking about, you have to be willing to look stupid every once and a while.

    Why do we allow education to function as it does? Because its easy. Because its easy to allow people to be average. Its easy to train people to hand out work sheets that run through scan tron machines, and give grades that fit into nice, clear, quantifiable little boxes. Its much harder to find inspired instructors who are willing to take chances on new ideas and don’t care so much about catering to the needs of the broken system. Its easy to go through the motions as a student and walk away from your education with a meaningless piece of paper, and very little else. Think back on your schooling and I’m willing to bet that the greatest teachers you ever had were the ones willing to take a few risks, even if it meant getting a little egg on their faces. Its hard to look stupid (at least for some people). But thats what it takes, at least in my humble opinion.

    For whatever its worth I hope you can take some solace in knowing that the conversation has already started and you have been an instrumental part of that. Perhaps not formally – formality be damned. But isnt redefining education what we are (and have been) doing for the last 5, 10, 20+ years? Maybe you and Kristin are right though. Maybe its time to stop asking the system to participate. Because the system wants justifications and assessment metrics. Because the system don’t like stirring up the pot. Because “doing shit is hard”.

    I make no promises about what I’ll come up with (and maybe thats the point). But you can rest assured that I’m more than willing to look stupid from time to time. Count me in.

    Its all just a grand experiment anyway, right?

  9. I think this conversation is the wide angle view of another conversation that happened in your blog post last Monday called “Telling Stories and Lending a Hand.” I think that doing some of what was discussed is one small step towards the “revolution” that you mentioned.

    Kristin described a much more authentic way of teaching basic skills. I tend to think along those same lines about education. By designing instruction that is set in a realistic setting, students will learn much more than what is on the worksheet. So what if the cookies are salty, by examining what went wrong, the kids will learn a lot more than drill and practice on measurements. I love the idea of interdisciplinary education and these types of lessons fit nicely with it. In this sort of learning environment, teaching moments reveal themselves and students have more opportunities to have those wonderful “ah-ha” moments.

    I believe that teaching should be designed in such a way to encourage exploration and questions from kids (and adults for that matter) and that sort of real-world instruction can result in some mistakes. But it can also help students build life-long skills like critical thinking and curiosity. This type of learning environment might be harder to control, but I agree with Kristin that it’s not all that difficult to do. Like Stubbs said we all have to be willing to look stupid once in a while if we ever hope to see things change. I am happy to put on my dunce cap do what I can too.

  10. Physician heal thyself.

    I think one of the things that we have to get past in higher education is this notion that we are doing education right. In terms of percentages of folks that are doing “good”, it might very well be higher in public schools than in higher education or instructional design. I guess what I am saying is, to what degree are we leading by example?

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