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 Educators, of varying expereinces ask questions that seem to be founded in outdated concepts of correspondence courses or in irrelevant industrial models of schooling.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.
Seth Godin’s post on Monday, January 7 about lessons that can be learned from the music industry turns a bit uncomfortable when you substitute “education” for “music” and “educators” for “musicians” and conceptually replace similar educational themes with his referenced music themes. Really, how many of his list below have a direct connection to education? Obviously some of them have a pretty strong connection and others you have to stretch a little for an application or analogy to education. I added a little something extra to each one for our education discussion. If I overgeneralize in some areas, it’s to make a point or point out commonly held perceptions.
0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.
-How many of us have outlasted the next thing because we (or those initiating) lack the fortitude to commit to seeing something through?
1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success
-I wonder of current performance is a guarantee of future success…
2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream
-I can see some significant issues here. If we keep trying to protect facts, statistics, algorithms, and other outdated ideas regarding the dispensation of knowledge from the “menaces” of wikipedia and Google searches, we’re doomed. It’s not about the distribution of information anymore; it’s a raw material from which we synthesize new ideas.
3. Interactivity can’t be copied.
-We still need our teachers and mentors. Our roles will must change.
4. Permission is the asset of the future
-Seth describes this in part “…delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” The industrial model of the comprehensive (high) school can’t work any longer. If we don’t make our educational opportunities personal and relevant, someone else will. (Again see below).
5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.
-Translation: A frightened learner is not a happy learner. We are stuck on ideas like seat time = education and other assembly line principles. We make statements like “How can you give credit to someone who completes an online course in a few weeks when there are kids in school who spend 18 weeks on that?” Outdated Carnegie thinking only serves as a consequence hammer, essentially scaring families into, consciously or not, choosing the same old model, reinforcing it over and over and over.
6. This is a big one: The best time to change your business educational model is while you still have momentum.
-Momentum feels good; it’s how we were successful. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is broke -always has been.
7. Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record monolith, it’s a movement.
-One size (set of courses, times of day, methods of delivery) doesn’t fit all. Our kids are all different, will lead different lives, and need more than the canned canon.
8. Don’t panic when the new business model isn’t as ‘clean’ as the old one.
-See 0 above.
9. Read the writing on the wall.
-It’s been there long before a Nation at Risk, we did nothing about it then, so we have NCLB now. It’s our own fault; we should have developed our own systems of excellence and accountability. How much longer before the changes we should be implementing are legislated for us?
10. Don’t abandon the Long Tail
-Seth says it well “Do a great job, not a perfect one. Bring things to market, the right market, and let them find their audience. Stick to the knitting has never been more wrong. Instead, find products your customers learners want (and need).”
11. Understand the power of digital
-It’s not going away. Educators often lament their unappreciated status in society, but are the last ones to catch up with its trends. It’s almost insulting to the society to which we belong to keep rejecting its innovations. It’s definitely a disservice to the kids we release into society.
12. Celebrity is underrated
-But we keep raising new ones up anyway. Instead of being thoughtful and purposeful and having the guts to work through the always-uncomfortable process of change, we look for the next program or method or product or, or, or. No two schools even in the same district are alike; no two kids in each school are alike. Why do we (still) make it to be that way?
13. Whenever possible, sell subscriptions
-Those of us in public schools in public schools have to make it free (or nearly so), but we don’t have to live by the get-what-you-pay-for mentality. The power of subscriptions is in giving people what they want (and need). All good education has a solid foundation in certain essentials; let’s make the essentials great and then add some value by developing what they want (and will need).
Under #7 Seth says “…this is about taking initiative and making things happen.” Are we doing this as an industry? Is it happening fast enough for our kids?