An analogue meal with kindred digital educators

connectA couple of days ago I attended a dinner with a world-renowned educator and presenter Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, her family, and a few fellow Perth bloggers and ed-tech enthusiasts. The company included a famous chocoholic and THE Edublogger Sue Waters, whom I met personally for the first time, Jean Anning, Jane Lowe and Paul Reid. The evening was very enjoyable and sprinkled with a wonderful dose of fun-spirited Aussie/American bashing and ‘war stories’ – all in all, we hit it off well (I am just not sure how much Sheryl’s family members enjoyed our passionate and often noisy rants, complaints and (mutual) inspirations).

I was particularly pleased and in many ways reassured to hear Sheryl’s passion to push for greater use of ICT and particularly the Web 2.0 (for lack of better word) tools with ‘tough’ schools and kids like ours (see my previous, cathartic post for details – thank you good people for your comments). And as we started getting into the thick of discussion, we recognised that not only the group of people present, but a wider community of bloggers, ed-tech educators etc. (you know the labels…) is vulnerable to the ‘echo chamber’ effect. We all pretty much agree on many things, we fuel each other’s passion, we share and exchange ideas, in short – we ‘get it’. That’s all good but we act mostly in our own individual spaces, despite creation of large (inter)national networks, so easily afforded by the tools whose usefulness and transformative power we try to unveil to others. We are doing great things but without generating the amount of synergy that would make powers-that-be stand up and go beyond, in the words of Seymour Papert (thank you for correction Bryn) ‘strapping a jet engine [of technology] on a horse and cart [of 18th century model of education]’.

Why is that?

For my 20 cents – it is because we have not got yet a generation of decision-makers, the real powers-that-be, who have directly benefited from the ways of learning (or I dare say schooling) we talk about and put to work every day with increasingly awesome results and with growing numbers of educators on board. To use an analogy, can you imagine a (prime) minister or head of corporation, for example having a successful organ transplant using an innovative use of new technology in a skilled way that allowed him to live and thrive – and then arguing, funding, even legislating for the older, ‘back to basics’ way of doing these kinds of transplants. I don’t think so!

The changes many of our leaders have in mind when talking technology and education may be massive, expensive but generally still quite superficial. The devil lies in pedagogy not instructional technology. We are asked to do old things in new ways, with many not realising that a flashy PowerPoint presentation can be far more disengaging than a well constructed class debate, questioning session or even a well constructed and useful pen-and-paper worksheet. Doing old things in new ways can (and often does) ultimately turn people off technology and completely undermine the possibilities it offers to do new, different and very powerful things that simply cannot be done in any other ways.

The voters and consumers have still ‘all been to school’, we ‘know how it has worked for centuries’, which makes us all experts (or at least opinionators) on education. Yes, it has worked but so had mercury and lead fillings in people’s teeth (for a while…).

During the conversation, Sheryl urged for greater and continuous collaboration across schools, states and nations, doing ‘stuff’ that a set of textbooks simply can’t enable and provide. There are literally thousands of us across the world who agree on that (and the number is growing) but the crusted views and attitudes and systems they underpin remain formidable obstacles for our voices to spill beyond our echo chamber.

But you know, people put in their best efforts at times of either great adversity or great success – not mediocrity and simply doing things like they have always been done. I recognise that it is bloody hard to get ourselves and our fellow teachers (and students) along while under the spell of endless compliance and inherently political ‘performance indicators’ – but it’s a fight worth picking and not one to give up easily. For kids’ sake!

The much touted Digital Revolution may not be digital in the binary yes-no sense (bang a few computers in class and voila, we can tick that revolution box) but messy, uncertain, organic and inherently analogue, just like we all humans are. But as readers of history would remind us, such ‘analogue’, grassroots revolutions work better in the long run because they are owned by people and not imposed from top.

Or as a colleague Tony Searl would say ‘that shared beer is going to taste wonderful’. Cheers.

PS Sheryl – you rock (for an American 🙂 … !

4 comments

  1. Sarah Hackett

    Dear Tomaz

    Your comment about ‘acting in our own individual spaces’ is exactly what it feels like for me at the moment. http://www.lol4life.co.uk My efforts at video lessons are massively time consuming, hugely expensive on equipment and server storage and as yet I have no idea whether I will ever be able to earn a living from it or even part of a living!

    What’s stopping other people in their ICT tracks? I sense, especially in England, that teachers are beset by the changes constantly demanded from them by Government. The present culture massively driven by the meeting of targets plus the continuous testing of students that pervades the education system, reduces the time/energy teachers have to spend on working towards radically changing their approach using ICT. Lack of training is also an issue.

    If like me you’ve undertaken learning online, you know the benefits that the Moodle environment can afford and yet even I cannot demonstrate it to start with. Until I have enough students signed up to a course to generate a discussion, it is not obvious to those who haven’t experienced it what can be achieved. Chicken and egg…….or some sort of leap of faith on the part of others.

    If you’ve got any students who want to have a go at a sample free course posted on my website then point them in its direction and, in the spirit of unashamed advertising as I have so little time for pr, why not link together with other schools in Australia, the Southern Hemisphere, the world, the universe……..and give it a go!

    At the moment a kindred spirit trying to break out.

    Regards

    Sarah

  2. pamjoyce

    Hi Tomaz,

    So glad to have stumbled upon your cathartic rant! You are not alone. In fact, I will seek to emulate your proven leadership in all things 2.0! Coincidentally, my high school’s name is Belmont Secondary (in British Columbia, Canada) and I’m embarking on a ‘viral journey’ and your blog was just the insight I was searching for. I’ve dabbled in wikis, podcasts, google docs and voice threads but haven’t had the nerve to reach out beyond my classroom walls – sounds silly, doesn’t it?
    While contemplating a project-based learning experience for a grade 12 class, I was looking for examples of moderated discussions, on a digital platform, to prompt students to voice their opinions about how they might change high school, and why. I am most interested in the feedback your question generated.
    On another coincidental note, I was approached to lead an inservice on the ways technology can support diverse learners. Since you’ve been there and done that, any advice? I’m definitely not a technophile but I have become fascinated with the level of engagement on the part of students when they use technology to help them ‘show what they know’. I won’t lie – I also appreciated how the wiki made assessment, editing and feedback a much less onerous task.

    Cheers,

    Pam

  3. Bryn Jones

    Hi Tomaz

    Would have loved to join in your meal but I was on the other coast at a conference. Look out for the next Wordstar Users Group at Little Creatures.

    Just for the record, I don’t think that Chris or I can claim “strapping a jet engine onto a horse and cart” as our own. I thought it was Seymour Papert maybe.

    I’ve certainly seen it around for a long time with cartoons too.

    However a Google search for “strapping a jet engine onto a horse and cart” leads straight to Chris’s words referring to my list at various places so there’s the proof!

    All the best

    Bryn

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