Freshman Year 2.0: Introduction

I have been re-reading the book Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins and it is as eye-opening the second time through as it was the first. I am struck by a concept that seems to keep coming back to forefront of my thoughts and shaping my ideas about education . . . “participatory culture.” Current trends in society are pushing most aspects of life toward a more participatory culture – life should be participatory, but what about school?

Who participates? What defines the participation in school? In the model that currently pervades, the participants are the teachers and administrators. These individuals do the planning, the administering, the teaching, the grading, the assessing . . . and students attend and simply follow and do as they are told. Okay, maybe it isn’t that simple and maybe far too many students don’t even engage to the point of “following and obeying,” but the fact remains that there isn’t much participation on the part of students.

Participation requires some level of control by all the parties involved in an endeavor. In school, administrations decide what will be taught and by whom. In the classroom teachers decide the flow of curriculum and implement the directives from above. Students only control is to buy into the plan and then learn what is “taught”, prepare for and perform well on tests, and do it all in the way prescribed by teachers and school administrators (this includes administrators all the up to the US Secretary of Education).

What I hope to outline in this series of posts is way to more evenly distribute control of the learning experience among the individuals involved. The solution, as I see it, to improving the educational experience and results in the US is not going to be found in more dollars. Sure, more money would mean more “things” to teach with – but if there is no concrete plan on how the “things” are used, no vision for a different way of “doing school” . . . then the money will be spent, but never lead to anything better. One of the first steps to a new vision of education is to redistribute power/control over the experience and let it evolve.

Education isn’t about proprietary thinking and behavior, it’s about thinking. I recently twittered, “TWIT [This Week In Tech, a podcast by Leo Laporte and friends] is talk about tech for tech/business, they
ignore edu because by its actions edu has asked to be ignored, demanded
as much, too bad.” My friend, and fellow edtech evangelist Joe followed that with a blog post extending the lament. The problems with technology never truly gaining traction in education is not because it doesn’t fit – it is because it is eschewed. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I would argue that the one at the heart of the matter is a belief that the methods of education are not broken, so, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Education continues to increase the amount of content required to be covered, demands more standardized testing to gauge improvements, and bellies up to the cash bar with the textbook publishers and curriculum mills. Folks, it is broken, but it doesn’t need fixing.

You don’t fix things that have obviously been replaced by innovation. For instance you won’t fix a old IBM Selectric typewriter unless it is for nostalgic purposes or to re-purpose it (such as using it as a “guest register” at home for visitors to leave a little note when they visit). There are a myriad of other innovative options for writing. Education needs innovative thinking, thinking that goes past the “How do we use this new stuff to keep doing what we have always done” attitude. What is a new picture, vision, concept of education . . . how do we innovate education?

I think students today already know how. The problem is they have little if any control over their education and have to leave their tools behind as they enter the school each day. “There is a forceful interplay between society and its technologies. Society creates technology, but society is also created by technology.” says Lloyd Morrisett in a paper titled “Technologies of Freedom?” So how can students and technology innovate education today? How can teachers, in concert with students, use technology to innovate education? They can’t unless the administrations that oversee the process are not willing to give up some of their control to allow for innovation to occur.

No, not an overthrow of the administration building or a peaceful sit in. “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.” Administration needs to see teachers and students as partners in the process of education and allow these “in the trenches” partners to have control over designing how to meet the expectations set by administration.

In the next six “chapters” I want to begin laying out the seeds of a vision for innovating education, hopefully to start a rapidly increasing dialogue and subsequent action toward innovation.

In the mean time, you might want to check out what Abilene Christian University is trying to do with iPhones in education. It is a nice step in the right direction.

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