Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Educational  Philosophy and IT

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne 1623 "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions"

It is clear that social connectedness is critical for our collective well being although we seem to manage to forget it so often. Donne said it best. We depend on cooperation and collaboration for organisation for survival, for growth, for intellectual stimulation and enjoyment. Community is an(the?) essential aim of education.  Education IS conversations. Started with Aristotle.

We do not know what we ought to be learning in 5, 10, 15 or more years ahead. We do know the key is deep learning or learning for UNDERSTANDING.*  Hence, learning how to learn is even more important than simply memorising material.  We know that understanding and the disciplines of knowledge are a critical entry point and we know that multi-disiplinary thinking and higher order thinking is essential for the information age of today.  We also know there are many ways to those learning ends not just standard class instruction.   These principles form a partial basis for revising the design of learning organisations and learning pathways.  We know we owe all souls the best education possible. 

Educators understand that a core educational issue in schools is that individual learning needs are more complex than how we structure our school learning.  Schools are standardised with factory type reproduction of teaching and learning. We know individuals learn in many different ways and yet we have largely routinised and standardised classes and teaching methods.  We are class focussed not student focussed: we can do better. Standardisation is necessary but it does not suit all learners, just most of them, Teachers simply can not deliver the time or effort that would successfully catch all of their learners.  

Our schools are not structured to deliver individualised learning plans and individualised learning enviroments or pathways that cater for multiple routes for progress through the educational sectors and through life.  In general, schools educate well for citizenship, morality and spiritual well being both at the individual and community level.  And in the main they succeed. Schools have many talented teachers and outstanding programmes that deliver great results: however at every school there are those that miss out through individual learning needs. Further where is the lively inquiry learning, the project based efforts or promotion of sheer intellectual curiosity? Where are the constructive learning relationships and where is the time to invest in the magic of teaching and learning?

There are many schools that cater for disadvantaged or difficult students and the results, in spite of the amazing dedication of the teachers,often through hardship, are not impressive. Women are invisible in some situations and respect is very absent let alone focussed learning activities. The challenge is to use available technologies to meet these individual needs in every school but especially where the local family or culture does not encourage or allow education. We have disruptive technologies available that can deliver learning to those who do not succeed conventionally. Schooling can be improved for all learners (including teachers!).**  There is a serious paradox here as this focus on individuals must not be at the cost of community building and well being! We must aim to educate for community through better services to individuals. One way of capturing this is to look at the idea of connectedness.

IT Advances and organisational and Cultural impacts

There have been amazing and rapid advances in technology with global impacts. Not just in computing power but also in rich amplifying capabilities in infrastructure via developments in architectures and processes. Information architecture, service oriented architecture, blade computing, cloud computing on top of the huge power of computers and in particular connected computers - i.e. the internet had brought huge changes to the business world.  The price drop in laptops, the rise of net books, the possibilities of being always connected with mobile broadband, the progress of open source (Moodle, Open Office document management, Google docs and mail, etc), wireless technologies@coffee shops and shopping centers all add up to vastly new experiences and possibilities. And so it goes.  

Web based collaboration and communication technologies are changing the way we do business, the way we learn (but not necessarily in schools). Social networking, blogs, instant messaging and visual tools such as digital media with shared access via flickr and other video sharing tools are allowing different forms of content creation and learning in addition to the basics of numeracy and literacy. Visual learning is growing - mindmaps, presentations and digital works can be collaboratively be created and shared online. Where as content creation was a specialist activity by professional artists, journalists, writers and others because of the cost of tools or production now it belongs to anyone with a laptop.  The essence of this is empowerment of individuals to connect in meaningful ways outside of traditional organisational means.  Here we can tap into ways of gaining social capital not just outside traditional organisations but within them as well if we approach it carefully.

We organise to get things into production e.g. schools, businesses, community groups or voluntary groups, politics or whatever.  When we incorporate we limit communications to officially approved channels and content.  The school system is an example of a controlled value chain from text books through curriculum to officially approved school systems. This is not entirely bad:however if there are those not well served by the structure then new ways are required.

These technologies we are speaking about are called "disruptive" as they allow organisation of efforts to occur outside of the normal commercial/organisational means at minimal cost.  We once had to use costly hardware and connections available at great expense to a few: now powerful hardware is available widely.  But is is not just boxes or things. It is the easy to use software tools that are freely available in surprising ways.  

The internet is roughly open and democratic. KM (Knowledge Management) in business has in the past worked to allow formal communities of experts to occur. This meant that sharing and collaboration could produce better results for business efficiency and the IP (Intellectual property).  Collaboration is a multiplier of intelligence and an essential part of human needs.  The strange thing is that this is now occurring outside of the "official channels"!  Teachers, for instance, can freely develop their own professional learning networks.  I can access the best practitioners who use twitter or blogs to gain help and support in my efforts in learning and technology. This is an example of disruptive technology. Here is a simple example of a formal process in KM being available to interested parties in a friendly and open manner. These technologies are allowing CONVERSATIONS to occur with access and participation freely available.

What does this suggest about schooling?  if we can assume the availability of the basics in classrooms, connectedness, devices, internet, wireless, maybe smartboards and maybe but not necessarily LMSs (learning management Systems) connectivity takes on new meanings.  Connect teacher to pupil, pupil to pupil, pupil in one class to pupil in another class, what about pupil to teacher in another class as well as teacher in one school to teacher in another. Getting creation of work and reflection going by use of blogs gets learners empowered and engaged and opens the possibility of feedback and collaboration.  Why cant we  let kids develop their own PLNs (Personal Learning networks)? 

There is still a conventional management role of demonstrating and coordinating "officially documented" learning in the formal manner we are familiar in our educational systems. This implies we rethink assessment: what does assessment mean in a collaborative context?  Business knowledge workers must collaborate and be assessed, so why cant we adapt to this new form of learning?  Moreover we could seek to organise schools on a modular rather than monolithic basic in order to innovate and foster learning.

Online learning raises other possibilities and issues in connectedness.  If we are correct about conversations, community and connectedness then it seems that an essential part of the experience of learning is social and hence inevitably (but not exclusively)  f2f (face to face).  It is the experience of relationship that gives the teacher-learner bond a possible special potential.  Any design with online learning and teaching must retain a healthy relationship between learners and their guides and hence furthering social capital and lasting community value.   Hence a hybrid solution of online and face to face is suggested as the way to maximise technology and learning.  That said, it is online learning systems and use of tracking possibilities of learning management systems that can allow individualised attention to a learner with their special and individual needs.  This may help us cope with the coming loss of many teachers as they retire as new ways of working can easily be established with out full time presence in schools.  And also the unreached: new structures could be found to help those who don't fit the standardised moulds. It may be possible to allow working professionals to be involved with learners on a sessional basis to leverage the expertise of those not in schools.  ( A cautionary tale is told by Tomaz Lasic in his blog http://human.edublogs.org/ )


There is much to learn for schools from the advances in technology and business methods and the many changes in society. We must not forget that any use of technology is a means to the ends of education and never the end in itself. We do not teach much about pencils we use them!

This quote best sums up the context within which we work. (from an amazing book which gives detailed analysis of new paradigms for learning and schooling.)

“To facilitate the outworking of the inherent potential embodied within every child, such that their uniqueness can change the world for the better via their active involvement in their community and their ability to be lifelong learners that are self assured; balancing confidence with humility and having the capacity to apply their  abilities with wisdom.”   Mark Treadwell "School V 2.0"

* Mark Treadwell "Schools V2.0"  is the best articulartion of the new paradigms I have read.

** I do not portray this as the MOST important problem of education there are far more important social problems see  Fiona Stanley on ABC "Risking our Kids" Tues 7th Oct 2008.