Posts Tagged: #deepstructures

QQ: Does this mean the end of (strict) subject-based teaching in schools?

Corey Hesse


Source: John Seely Brown quotes Hesse in his presentation, Reimagining the University.

Or, maybe, K12 education is about subject-based teaching and universities are the place to step free of that? Dorothy Sayers wonderful essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, suggests something like that. I say something like that because organizing curriculum by chronological age, rather that developmental age, is a problematic assumption.

This has big implications for well-established programs such as the International Baccalaureate program. Maybe we will see it’s excellent inquiry-based approach in Primary Years Pr0gram extend all the way up to its Diploma Program?

The New Learning Ecology

What Developing States Might Teach Modern Edu About Mobiles

on mobiles, in MISC mag

Inspirations reading Collings, Patrick. “Africa: Innovating the Mobile Consumer Experience” MISC Magazine. Fall 2014: 65. Print.

On the African continent, “Education is the second largest application of mobile connectivity behind messaging.” So, the question I have is whether that means the phenomenon of mobile delivery of education is simply better than nothing–and so give their druthers, Africa states would adopt our brick-and-mortar model–or if their might be something we in the developed West can learn about thinking differently about what it means to be going to school.

Several things make me wonder:

This 1964 CBC Massey Lecture series, The Real World of Democracyby C. B. Macpherson. Delivered at the height of the Cold War, Macpherson’s lecture explored the rival ideas of democracy–communist, Third World and Wester-liberal–and suggested that the West has nothing to worry about if it is willing to change its values. I read the transcript back (way back, but not that far back) in university and need to reread it now because the details of his argument have faded. Nevertheless, the Real World of Democracy was a bucket of cold water in my face. The seminal read made me look for the first time at the contextual complexities of the real world and the possibility that my world view and my values might not be as neutral as I believed. That idea transfers to ideas about education, too.

This is reinforced by this morning’s reading of Carol Black’s Occupy your Brain: On Power Knowledge and Re-Occupation of Common Sensea critique of introduction of centralized control of education in traditional cultures and, by extension, of our own modern culture. It’s not easy to stand against the idea of a global standard (or any standards in education)–there are some things that every human ought to know, aren’t there? But Black isn’t taking issue with what people should know but about who controls that knowledge and the delivery of it:

Once learning is institutionalized under a central authority, both freedom for the individual and respect for the local are radically curtailed.  The child in a classroom generally finds herself in a situation where she may not move, speak, laugh, sing, eat, drink, read, think her own thoughts, or even  use the toilet without explicit permission from an authority figure.  Family and community are sidelined, their knowledge now seen as inferior to the school curriculum.  The teacher has control over the child,  the school district has control over the teacher, the state has control over the district, and increasingly, systems of national standards and funding create national control over states. In what should be considered a chilling development, there are murmurings of the idea of creating global standards for education – in other words, the creation of a single centralized authority dictating what every child on the planet must learn.

We’d be wrong to take say Black fails to appreciate the social contract that is public education. To see the danger, Black asks us to look at the difference between public-supported education and centrally-controlled education

The crucial confusion here is between the idea of publicly supported education and the idea of centrally controlled state-administered education.  To really get your hands around this distinction simply replace the word “school” with the word “radio” in the following sentences and see what you get:

I am in favor of publicly supported radio.

I am in favor of centrally-controlled state-administered radio.

Not the same thing, are they?

This brings to mind an old post, Public Education is Like the Roman Empirein which I say schools ought to run more like cities and less like empires. “Cities work because they create conditions, rather than outputs, and because civic governments largely stay out of the way of the people they govern.”

Macpherson’s and Black’s message takes a sharper edge in this video, Why is my curriculum white?

And the same message gets a laugh from my friend, the very witty Yong Zhao, who calls standards-based education, sausage-making:

Zhao keynote

Changing the education question from “What is…?” to “What if…?

Some quick sketchnote captures at the the Apple Education Leadership Institute last week.

My favourite line of the event, for the way it drops the full weight of what we do on our shoulders: “…the way we design our classrooms today will ultimately define our future…”

John Couch

apple eli

More sketchnotes on my Pinterest page.

Thinking Out Loud – Forget 1:1, Build a 0:1 Laptop Program

Disclaimer: I’m saying all this in full recognition of the financial and practical problems with implementing mobile programs.

If I had a do-over at my school, or any school, I would skip laptops altogether and build a mobile program. That would put my school in a much better position

At one point, I was arguing we should build an ∞ : 1 program. This was my way of saying 1:1 thinking is limited thinking because, wherever we happen to start the journey, we are all moving toward a single user working with multiple devices (a result of the consumerization of technology) and we had to begin building–now–ways of exploiting that in schools. 1:1 is not an end game.

I still say 1:1 is limited and limiting thinking but I’m reversing directions and saying I think we can dispense with laptops altogether. A laptop is a peak technology, a highly refined articulation of a mode of thinking and knowledge structure that is being disrupted by newer technologies, principally the web and mobiles. (See David Weinberger’s, Too Big To Know, for a discussion on the changing structure of knowledge.) They make sense if we want to continue doing things as we have, which is not all bad, but I suspect they might actually inhibit innovation in the classroom. Laptops have been around for a while now. While technically brilliant, their form is not appreciably different from a typewriter and, by and large, I don’t think they’ve transformed or moved our teaching and learning beyond typewriter thinking. (The usual criticism I get is that you can’t write an essay on a smart phone.) Oh sure, they’ve made things more efficient, which is good. But notwithstanding some innovative work by some brilliant teachers here and there, I’ve not seen any systemic transformative change come about by the implementation of a 1:1 laptop program.

Mobiles, and smart phones in particular, are products of the emerging knowledge structure.

Connecting ideas I need to think and say more about:

knowledge structures
the evolution of the laptop; I think I can argue is it based on the form of very early books
typewriter thinking
per Twitter chat with @jonpratt, need to look at whether a laptop program is a necessary step, a catalyst for tech thinking, so to speak, or merely a circumstance of history; could a school go directly to mobiles?
Things I want to try:

A laptop v. mobile smackdown

Make your IT Dept. a Creative Dept.

cio v cmo


It occurred to me in this session at the a16z Tech Summit last year that there is a parallel between CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) relationship in business and the IT manager and teacher relationship in schools. Historically, the two roles, CIO/IT managing tech and data on one side and CMO/teacher facing the “customer” on the other, have been at odds.

Business is redefining the relationship, recognizing that the the CIO and CMO have more in common than not. It was this session that convinced me education needs to rethink the relationship, too. At Mulgrave School, where I work, that means transforming the IT department from a maintenance team to a creative team of coders and developers working directly with teachers to come up with creative technical solutions for classroom problems. I see IT writing code to connect, say Twitter and SIS APIs, or writing script for a Google sheet crunching data gathered from students in different cities, or developing mobile apps for particular courses. Ultimately, my role of Director of Educational Technology should be replaced–and expanded–by the IT team.

Education is not a business. Except when it is.

Jordan Shapiro’s piece in Forbes, You Are Asking the Wrong Questions About Education Technology, is a great reminder to me that education is much more nuanced that we commonly acknowledge. We too often speak too broadly, forgetting or ignoring that K3 students are very different creatures from PSE students and that the immediate educational needs of the developing world are different from the developed world, for example.

We forget, too, that there is a difference between what teachers do and what schools do. Teachers teach persons and schools teach individuals. The gap between those is very difficult to cross and is an example of a well-known problem in the social sciences, namely that we are very good at understanding and predicting the behaviour of a group of individuals and very bad at understanding and predicting the behaviour of a single person. Misunderstanding that problem, as Shaprio points out, leads to the “plague” of high stakes testing or, I will add, to taking the value-added movement too far.

small v large scale behaviour


But we shouldn’t take that to mean education does not have some business-like aspects. In my new series of posts on my time at the ah16z Tech Summit that I am asking what can education learn from the business world. Because I think there is something to learn, especially on the operations side.

The trick, as Shapiro reminds us, is to keep that gap clear in our minds and know when we are talking about persons or individuals.

Posts on the ah16z Tech Summit:

Software is eating the (education) world. #100convos

Software s eating the world, says a16z’s Ben Horowitz, yet you can’t get the innovation you need for your business from tier one software vendors. The reason, he explains, is that the VC/startup environment has fragmented the industry creating problems of proliferation, scale, viability and incompleteness.

I see the same thing in education. We’re searching for a new student information system and so far we’ve found no fewer than 17 offerings. Yet, despite the proliferation, they lack localization. Generally, education software from big vendors is too generic and the companies that make them assume all schools work the same, or at least they’re having to pitch to the widest possible market. This creates two problems:

  1. Schools have to make administrative work arounds and these have knock on effects that create inefficiencies. Our SIS for example, doesn’t handle our complex bell schedule so teachers sometimes have to take attendance manually.
  2. More importantly, when schools buy an off-the-shelf program they are also buying into a pedagogy, one that may not align with their actual practice

On the other hand, software from smaller vendors, which tend to be more flexible, aren’t scaling. The education market is huge. Canadian school boards spend $53-billion and the US–get this–spends a staggering $1.3-trillion. Yet, there is no focussed allocation for the development of software that might improve business. Instead, education seems to wait to be handed software developed by someone else. If Horowitz is right and software is eating the world, this is a significant problem. It’s a bit head-n-the-sand.

Horowitz’s solution is to create a business that curates solutions for you. I wonder if a group of similar-thinking schools, which incidentally could be geographically widely distributed, couldn’t form a curator/brokerage of sorts–the International Baccalaureate schools come to mind as they are a large body of like minded schools with common pedagogy and curricula. Alas, budgets are held to high and need to be pushed down closer to the users–schools–before this can happen.

I don’t know how we get the money out of existing budgets to do this. I do know that the big change in education won’t come from the classroom use of technology. It will come from the administrative use of technology.


buying innovation

Best pro-d of the past 12 months: a16z Tech Summit #100convos #pd

Last fall I was fortunate to attend a Andreessen Horowitz’s TechSummit 2013, a gathering of some very forward thinking people and companies, in Sausalito, California. I mean no slight to the excellent education conferences I’ve attended, but it was refreshing get outside my field and see what other professions are doing with technology.

I get that in education our “product” is different and we are not manufacturing or selling like the companies that came to the a16z Tech Summit. Nevertheless, I came away thinking that education is five to ten years behind in using technology strategically. We have so far spent our time and money on developing a pretty rich conversation around the classroom, or tactical, use of technology. But, however innovative that is, it hasn’t called on us to make any substantive change to the way we conduct our business. The big structures of education remain largely untouched whereas business is creating new models.

I am not suggesting education blindly adopt everything I saw at the Tech Summit. I do, however, find myself asking questions like, Could the GitHub model form a pedagogy? Tests give us the equivalent of transactional data–what would gain from having the same volume behavioural data that Facebook or Amazon have? What might a cloud-based continuous user experience look like in education? What does a mobile eco-system look like in education?

I’ll be posting my sketchnotes and questions over the next week or so. All the sketchnotes are also archived on my Pinterest board, Sketch Notes. Feedback is very welcome.

First up, some opening remarks from Ari Emanuel. The writer is king again, he says, and the channels for distributing his content are changing dramatically. My questions:

  1. Where do we get to if we substitute “student” for writer? Or “teacher” for writer? (I’m oversimplifying to make a point here, but teachers deliver curricula, they don’t write it.)  Alexis O’Hanian’s Without Their Permission touches the same discussion.
  2. Are distribution channels dramatically changing in education, too? Distance ed models and MOOCs etc. are interesting but haven’t penetrated that far yet. What does a new delivery model look like?

Ari Emanuel at ah16z Tech Summit

First thoughts on @FiftyThree’s fantastic new #Mix

With FiftyThree’s new Mix launch today I am already starting to think how might I draw my sketchnotes in such a way that I am not merely sharing them–I’ve been doing that for a while on Pinterest–but so I am actually inviting collaboration. I mean, how would I capture a keynote presentation, for example, while leaving room for others to add their sketches?

It’s more challenging than it sounds: I can easily capture what I learn from the keynote and almost as easily leave room for what I know I don’t know–a point I missed or term that needs defining or elaborating, for example. But how do I leave room for what I don’t know I don’t know–those infamous unknown unknowns? Where do I leave space? I think that instead of seeing my notes as a sort of record, I have to see them as an invitation. What does that look like?

I don’t even have to answer that question to appreciate how it shifts our idea of knowledge itself from something like a collection of discrete facts, passed on like objects, to something that is much fuzzier and uncertain and malleable, and socially constructed.


Maeda on Gardner

@JohnMaeda sent this out Sep. 16. How do I draw a set of notes that says I am interested? If I captured notes as questions, would that work? That’s an interesting idea, now that I think about it: what if we asked students (and ourselves) to write questions, instead of the usual trivial data they capture. I will try that and post the outcome.