Replacement Theory and New Ideas
When discussing new technology or a related approach with colleagues and friends, I often encounter uncertainty that manifests itself in many forms. As I watch the processing move across their faces, I’m often met with a brief furrowed brow and a light of uncertainty that flashes in their eyes. Many times mouths open to begin to say something but quickly snap shut. Next body postures turn, often very slightly, away. Standing or sitting, they often create space between the two of us, usually by sitting back or by crossing arms and/or legs.
This bothers me. I have considered multiple reasons: bad breath, voice, delivery, context, and on and on. I may have a hunch; I call it Replacement Theory and it works a little like this. When we hear new ideas and are trying to assimilate them into our understanding, we try to fit those ideas into the framework of our prior knowledge and sometimes our preconceptions. Upon familiar association we take those new ideas and attempt to completely replace our existing constructs. For example, when I tell people that I’m working on the development of an online high school, I can almost see how they replace their current idea of “school” with their now-forming conception of an online school. Different people use different mechanisms for this and their questions reveal their station of operation. Educators, of varying expereinces ask questions that seem to be founded in outdated concepts of correspondence courses or in irrelevant industrial models of schooling. Some ask me questions rooted in control: “How do you know if the kids are doing their own work? How can we make sure they are spending enough time on the…?” Current students ask me questions about dances, clubs, activities, and other opprtunities for social interactions.
I think most people are trying to see the entire picture even though they don’t have all the pieces. They either use their existing conceptions to fill in the pieces or simply leave the holes. Either approach often leaves irreconcilable gaps that form into impossibilities and those manifest themselves in the initial facial distortions and closed body postures. Almost all try to understand and their questions are insightful and helpful; however, when trying to put themselves into their newly formed conceptions, they cannot always make the leap. In the face of that uncertainty, they assume incompatibility and many times, failure.
My job is to educate, purposefully. It was like that when my content was English or technology. That has been my focus regardless of job title or assignment. That part -purposefully -encompasses many facets of the educational process, but ultimately I have to connect the prior knowledge and experience of the learners to the new. I can assist them in their journey of understanding in being deliberate, thoughtful, and innovative in my approach. If my goal is deep understanding and thoughtful response, I am obliged to purposefulness. If I’m simply a fact distributor, my usefulness ranks lower than a computer with an Internet connection and bookmarked wikis. It’s only through the higher levels of thinking and interacting that we will accomplish our educational intentions and overcome Replacement Theory and some of the automatic assumptions of failure and incongruency.