Open Thinkering


Education: it’s what you can’t see that counts.

I had a great, wide-ranging discussion last night with Bud Hunt (@budtheteacher), Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) and Steve Hargadon (@stevehargadon) after the second day of the DML Conference 2012. Much of it focused on the role of technology in educational reform with much of it sparked by an excellent keynote panel of which Connie Yowell (MacArthur Foundation) was the star.

To me, the whole problem with educational reform is that what matters can’t be seen or touched. It’s physically intangible.

What do we tend to do? We focus on the things that we can see. As Bud pointed out, teachers in his district will sometimes point to discrepancies in access to technology as being a limiting factor on their performance. Others look at the material conditions of one learning environment and attribute ‘success’ to these easily-observed factors.

We should be used to this by now. Living in a world of networks (and networks of networks) we know that it’s the invisible bonds, the weak ties, that connect us to people and ideas. As Connie Yowell pointed out it’s this kind of innovation that scales. Audrey Watters extended this point when she commented that technology scales vertically, whereas people scale horizontally.

So what can we do about this? The first thing we need to do, I’d suggest, is to surface processes and networks. These both need to be as open and inclusive as possible and we need ways to talk about them to make them more tangible.

Any suggestions? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

12 thoughts on “Education: it’s what you can’t see that counts.

  1. I think you’re on the money with these thoughts. I find that the answers are all out there: twitter, facebook, blogs, pinterest, atomic learning. The trick is to support our colleagues in stepping out of their comfort zones, knowing it will take mental energy on their part to begin a routine of accessing and contributing to these resources. Our role is to guide them, stepping away from the excuse of a lack of ime and resources. An internet connection, a good guide or mentor and mental energy are what it takes to get going.

    1. I suppose what Audrey was getting at is that technology allows you to scale a particular thing in a digital way (think Amazon EC2 hosting). Theoretically, there’s no technical problems with going from a platform supporting 5 people to one supporting 5,000.
      The issues are ‘people problems’ – the horizontal ones. These involve culture, analogue replication of norms, and tensions between homogeneity and heterogeneity.
      But I’m reading that into Audrey’s comment – she may have meant something different!

      1. Ah, this makes sense.

        One piece that started flickering as I read your response was Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth. While there are certainly detractors from Campbell’s work, it would be interesting to consider things like the Hero’s Journey and how understanding larger mythos could be an avenue for scaling networks.

        Religion has understood this for thousands of years, right?

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