Image CC BY-NC-SA Samuel Stroube @ Flickr
I don’t usually get involved with things explicitly concerned with education in the USA. But there’s been one issue recently that prompted me to reflect on a wider concern: the difference between ‘crowd-sourcing’ and just being lazy.*
In fact, it’s more than being lazy. It’s taking a concept and twisting it for your own ends to look like you’re doing something you’re not. It’s an attempted shortcut to being seen as ‘innovative’. It’s bandwagon-jumping instead of hitchhiking. 🙁
The current Wikipedia definition of ‘crowdsourcing’:
Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model. Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users—also known as the crowd—typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones.
When done well, the results can be outstanding. Take, for example, The Guardian‘s decision to open up and make available the 700,000 documents involved in the UK MP expenses scandal. They received over 20,000 responses highlighting irregularities.
However, crowdsourcing is something that can be done very badly and for the wrong reasons. Take, for example ISTE’s decision to ‘crowdsource’ the Keynote speech for its 2010 conference. On the face of it, and for those involved with ISTE, the idea must look cutting-edge and innovative. It’s got a Digg-like voting system for proposals and has created a buzz about the conference on Twitter and blogs. However, although it looks as if it’s ’empowering’ people, it’s actually doing the opposite.
As Miguel Guhlin points out,
…I’m tired of hitching my carriage behind some writer’s idea of what could be in business but is designed for education since they’re the chosen keynoter. While research may say something, the fact is, research has been speaking up for years in school change and reform…and you know what? People aren’t listening.
Go and read Miguel’s post in full, but to summarize it briefly here, he says that expecting a keynote to change things at the coalface means putting faith in the following process:
- Educators go away and learn how to use a tool to the extent that it becomes part of their practice.
- The tool is appropriate to use within the context of their school and educators are free to use it as they wish.
- Educators are able to get their school leadership onboard and stay at the institution long enough to make a difference.
- Parents offer little or no resistence to flattening the walls of the classroom through the use of Web 2.0 tools.
Put in that way, it’s clear that ISTE’s decision is far from revolutionary. As Miguel states, it’s time for a ‘radical reboot’ in national and interational approaches to innovation in education. Isn’t it ironic that we use a lecture format to encourage teachers to be innovative and move away from such a format? 😉
So if you’re a leader and are looking to be innovative, please do look about you to see what others are doing. But once you’ve done that, go back and think about what the objectives of your organization/business/conference/whatever actually are. Then see if the process/innovation/tool that you’ve come across is appropriate. Ask yourself if you’re going through the process/using the tool for the right reasons.
Do you know of any other examples of thinly-disguised laziness?
* That thinking was started by reading Charles Leadbeater’s We-Think: mass innovation, not mass production (my review forthcoming)
I’m sure that I’m not the only teacher sick of wave after wave of governmental reforms, tweaking and general tinkering about with the education system in the UK. We all know it needs changing, but it needs changing root and branch, not some remedial (and expensive) tree surgeon work!
The trouble with tinkering is that it prolongs the problem and means that year after year of students entering school for the first time don’t start off on the right foot.
It hit me in the shower this morning that the model Thomas Kuhn set out in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions applies here. For those (like me) who find diagrams easiest to understand, here’s one that gives an overview:
Think of Einsteinian physics replacing the previous model based on Newton’s work:
- Normal science – everything seems to work under Newtonian physics so people get on with ‘doing science’.
- Model drift – some anomalies mean that some ‘fiddling’ has to be done or scientists have to compensate for the shortcomings of Newtonian physics.
- Model crisis – there are now so many anomalies that it is interfering with ‘normal science’ taking place. This would happen at the atomic level with Newtonian physics.
- Model revolution – a time of great upheaval where scientists propose new theories and models to explain the phenomena. Think of the early 20th century when Einstein came up with his Theory of Special Relativity.
- Paradigm change – a model that explains the phenomena and allows science to move forward is settled upon and ‘normal science’ begins again.
I hope you can see already how this model pertains to educational reform. Although Kuhn’s model is of the order of a ‘grand narrative’ there is, I think, much explanatory power behind it.
If Kuhn’s model is applied to top-down government-funded educational reform then ‘normal education’ (akin to ‘normal science’) cannot progress. Teachers (akin to the scientists in the original model) have very little or no control over where their discipline is headed. There’s also the lack of an adequate feedback loop to explain the anomalies.
Finally, the clincher for me under this model is that governmental top-down reforms in education don’t take into account context. This is of fundamental importance and the biggest reason, to my mind, why such reforms fail. Using the Kuhnian model, the length of ‘normal education’, the number of anomalies, and the possible alternatives are dependant upon any number of local factors and features. In fact, not only is every Local Authority likely to be different, every school is likely to be different.
(read more on Kuhnian paradigm shifts here)
What are YOUR thoughts? Does the Kuhnian model work for you? :-p
(image credit: Failing Street by Chris Daniel @ Flickr)
‘There is something about the Procrustean bed about schools; some children are left disabled by being hacked about to fit the curriculum; some are stretched to take up the available space, others less malleable are labeled as having special educational needs.’ (C. Bowring-Carr and J. Burnham West)
I mentioned the above quotation in a blog post way back in 2006. I was concerned then about the various ‘agendas’ in education, and that’s even more the case today. The ‘personalising learning’ agenda is supposed to be about tailoring educational experiences to each and every child yet, in 2009, we still have classes of 30 or more children with one teacher standing in front of them. The focus seems to have moved onto technology as some type of ‘saviour’. In that respect, it’s sad to see Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), compulsory in English schools since the beginning of this academic year, being used simply as file repositories.
Whilst some schools may talk about ‘appropriate’ or ‘accelerated’ entry, it’s difficult to see how this is in the best interests of students. In most cases it’s a strategy for schools to squeeze as many exam passes from their students as possible: whilst those studying the highest level of exams have extra lessons in those subjects, those at the other end of the spectrum are re-taking basic examinations until they pass them. It’s hard to see how this completely examination-focused approach is ‘personalisation’ in any important, meaningful sense.
What is needed is a complete rethink – of the curriculum (based on competencies?), of learning spaces (like any of these Futurelab suggestions?), of the structure of the school day, of staff/students ratios and relationships, of the nature of ‘schooling’ and education in the 21st century.
What do YOU think? Is ‘personalisation’ working in YOUR school?
(image taken from this university course page – assumed fair use)