Pontfications on the field of Educational Technology and Instructional Design.

Bare with me as I ponder the meaning of education in the 21st century from the perspecitive of an instructional designer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tomorrowland vs. the Apocalypse...Which is it?

Today, I decided to find out what "YouTuber's" had to say about the future of education. First, it must be said that nobody was very happy with the current state of education. I couldn't agree more. Our school system is, for the most part, controlled by entrenched interests and bureaucracies. The bean counters and technocrats are running the show.

Any Answers?
The second thing I noticed was that nobody really had a solution. Rather, I noticed two schools of thought. The first school of thought hearkened me back to watching Walt Disney's Tomorrowland videos. They were inspiring and made me feel good about the future, but they were wholly unrealistic. The same would be said for Evolution of Teaching and Technology or A Vision of K12 Students Today. These videos are interesting in terms of inspiring people to not give up hope, but they are based on idealized views of children and their abilities.

Kids are Kids
Having taught for 13 years in third, fifth, seventh, and eighth grade technolgy, I can testify that children are very much like they have always been. Yes, they have access to new gadgets, but they are not these amazing little prodigies that are constantly producing, collaborating, and yearning to transform their world. The reality is that they are kids who, just like generations before them, only want to do as much work as they have to. They can be motivated and spurred on by fantasic teachers, just as students have been motivated since the the time of Socrates.

Little Zombies
The second school of thought has our schools and children heading straight into the apocolypse, and dragging our nation down with it. According to this school of thought, our schools are creating mind-numbed zombies who will most likely ruin our nation because they have been prevented from achieving their full potential. Now, I must be honest and admit that I've probably labeled a few kids with this term while explaining certain student's educational status to fellow teachers, but it is probably a slight exaggeration. If you are persuaded by this school of thought, however, you may want to watch How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse. It is very informative.

Anyways, back to my point. A Nation in Crisis: America's Educational System is Broken takes the "you are making zombies" approach, and paints a very bleak picture for education and our nation, without offering any real answers. The only answer I noticed in this video was that a parent revolt was needed. On that point, I agree since it probably would take a political revolt to change the current systems. That, however, is unlikely to happen so we probably need to work from within the system to bring out transformational systemic change.

Another Youtube video that depresses me is PayAttention. Now, I must admit that I love that video.

It is not accusing schools of creating Zombies, per se. Rather, it points out all the many things that teachers could do in classrooms if....
  • students all had i-Pods, cell phones, laptops
  • school districs allowed i-Pods, cell phones, and laptops to be used in school
  • teachers had the knowledge and expertise to utilize these tools.
So when reality sets in, I only get depressed or frustrated from watching this video, and other videos like it.

Is the Future Bleak?
So you probably assume that I have a bleak view of the future. The reality is that I don't. I think eductors are changing and school districts are changing. It tends to be incremental, and often on a class by class, or school by school basis, but change is still happening nonetheless. Maybe there will come a politician someday who has the foresight to institute a policy of transformational systemic change for every district in the country. Maybe..., but I'll probably go watch that video again for inspiration. You know, the one on fending off Zombie attacks.

Note: This post was published in response to 795B Futurewatch 1.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Smashing a District!

Oh yeah baby! Let's take a sledge hammer to a few (errr...., most) school districts out there and see what happens. Am I sadistic? Possibly. I do get a small amount of joy imaging the process, but of course I am not actually talking about wielding a sledge hammer on brick and mortar buildings. Nor am I talking about just rearranging the track options for schools. Rather, I'm talking about adminstering ecological systemic change throughout the whole district.

Ecological systemic change is defined by Peter Eckel, Barbara Hill and Madeline Green, in their 1998 American Council on Education article, On Change: En Route to Transformation, as "change that alters the culture of the institution by changing select underlying assumptions and institutional behaviors, processes and products; is deep and pervasive, affecting the whole institution; is intentional; and occurs over time." Frank Duffy, professor at Gallaudet University and author of Dream!Create!Sustain!Mastering the Art & Science of Transforming School Systems describes this type of change as transformational change that,

"creates a school system that continuously seeks an idealized future for itself; and creates a future system that is substantially different from the current school system. That is, the system must be transformed."

Of course, this type of change is easier talked about than actually done.What Duffy is referring to is examining EVERYTHING in the district and starting over with a vast majority of district employees buying in. From my perspective, this is where the job gets hard. Teachers can be very difficult to change. There is on saying that teachers joke about in break rooms that "teaching would be easy if it weren't for the kids." The saying could be turned on it's head to say, "running a school district would be easy if it weren't for the teachers."

The tension is obvious. Like the proverbial horse being led to the water, teachers can't be forced into doing anything, even if everyone knows it is good for them. Teachers must be brought on board and WANT the change. This only happens when their is a very inspirational leader at the healm of the district, and most inspirational leaders tend to seek after the money, glory, or power. Some get all three...as in the case of President Obama.

So this brings me full circle. Everyone wants to smash their local school district, only to build it back up, but who is going to do it.

chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp

Of course, not many volunteers will not be forthcoming, so in the meantime, you can ponder what you are NOT going to look for in a leader by watching and reading about Steven Sonsino's Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders. So when we know what we are not looking for in our tranformational leader, we can begin looking for leaders who are not "really useless" that will begin the tranformation process. Ha! Let's put that on the job description. "Looking for a leader who is not really useless."

Note: This post was published as a blog response number 2 in Edtec 795B. It focuses on ch. 21 from Trends and Issues in Instructionl Design and Technology.