The Digital Age and Curriculum in British Columbia

I: The Digital Shock & Curricular Reinvention 

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race,” declared Clay Shirky in his 2008 tome Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (Shirky, 2008). In the intervening years we have continued to see an emphasis in curricular thought and reform which seeks to realize the potential of a dawning Digital Age. In blog posts and cable news investigations, parent-advisory council meetings and teacher professional development events, academic scholarship and TED Talk distillations, discussions about curriculum struggle toward consensus on what might constitute an education for the 21st Century. Such a time is fraught with both possibility and peril.

Simsek and Simsek describe the Digital Age as a time when “forms of information have changed drastically” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013), so much so that they are capable of inducing a state of shock:

“Information is an integral part of daily life in today’s society in order for individuals to survive against information-related requirements. Production of knowledge requires different skills than those necessary for producing goods. Thus, the concept of shock could be interpreted partly as the feelings of the confusions of people, being aware of not having necessary skills for the new literacies” (p. 127).

In contemplating the nature of shock as might effect curricular reform, it can be helpful to consider Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, wherein she presents the rise of neoliberal capitalism and its champion Milton Friedman’s ideas across the latter half of the twentieth century. Friedman, Klein observes, looked to the onset of crises and shocks as opportunities to radically intervene in the reform process, noting his admission that “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around (Klein, 2008).”

Looking toward the unique challenges presented by the Digital Age, David Perry recommends taking “note of the plasticity of digital forms and the way in which they point toward a new way of working with representation and mediation, that might be called the digital ‘folding’ of reality, whereby one is able to approach culture in a radically new way” (Perry, 2011).

As this ‘folding’ of reality administers structural changes across society, curricular reform lies at the center of digital reinventions of politics, economics, creative expression and collaboration, the natural sciences and perspectives on the nature of life and consciousness itself. However, such broad educational considerations are hardly novel, as Egan noted in 1978 that once started down the path of inquiry into the methodology of education, “there becomes little of educational relevance that can be excluded from the curriculum field” (Egan, 1978). Thus, the regeneration of our curricula to suit the Digital Age is something that ought be carefully engaged to ensure an authentic expression of society’s best intentions for education.

Ralph W. Tyler’s Principles of Curriculum and Instruction outlines a rationale for viewing, analyzing and interpreting an instructional program as an instrument of education. Tyler notes “no single source of information is adequate to provide a basis for wise and comprehensive decisions about the objectives of the school,” (Tyler, 2013), and advocates for a comprehensive discussion of curricular purposes from each of the progressive, essentialist, sociologist, and educational philosopher’s perspectives:

“The progressive emphasizes the importance of studying the child to find out what kinds of interests he has, what problems he encounters, what purposes he has in mind.

“The essentialist, on the other hand, is impressed by the large body of knowledge collected over many thousands of years, the so-called cultural heritage, and emphasizes this as the primary source for deriving objectives.

“[Sociologists] view the school as the agency for helping young people to deal effectively with the critical problems of contemporary life. If they can determine what these contemporary problems are then the objectives of the school are to provide those knowledges, skills, attitudes and the like that will help people deal intelligently with these contemporary problems.

“[Educational philosophers] see the school as aiming essentially at the transmission of the basic values derived by comprehensive philosophic study and hence see in educational philosophy the basic source from which objectives can be derived (p. 4-5)”

This paper seeks to examine the Government of British Columbia’s Education Plan (BCEdPlan) from each of these perspectives with the hopes of furthering discussion of the potential of curricular reform in the Digital Age within the province.

II: Principles of Curriculum and Instruction in the BCEdPlan

In 2012, the British Columbia Ministry of Education began consultations to bring about changes in the province’s K-through-12 curriculum. Guided by the Premier’s Technology Council 2010 report, A Vision for 21st Century Education (Council, 2010), the BCEdPlan was published in 2013 and shares the province’s vision for teaching and learning in the Digital Age, with reforms set to address curricular goals and assessments, graduation requirements, transitions to post-secondary learning, parent-communication, and even the physical time and place of formalized schooling (Government, 2013b). These changes are guided by the EdPlan’s Five Key Elements (p. 5):

  1. Personalized Learning for Every Student
  2. Quality Teaching and Learning
  3. Flexibility and Choice
  4. High Standards
  5. Learning Empowered with Technology

“While a solid knowledge base in the basic skills will be maintained,” the BCEdPlan admits that better preparing students for the future will require greater emphasis on teaching “key competencies like self-reliance, critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and technological literacy” (p. 4).

At the time of this writing, the Ministry of Education has begun posting draft versions of subject and grade curricula from grades kindergarten to nine. The intent of this section of the paper is to investigate the formally published BCEdPlan with the hope that this discussion might lead to a similarly critical analysis of subject curriculum as it comes more clearly into focus.

Progressive

In its advocacy on behalf of student choice and flexibility, the BCEdPlan may be seen to embrace tenants of the progressive mindset. By looking to develop students’ passions, self-reliance, and personalizing the learning experience of each individual, the focus on role of the child in the schooling process is soundly rooted in progressive principles.

While the BCEdPlan does state its intention to prepare students to “realize their full potential and contribute to the well-being of our province” (p. 5), less well emphasized are the democratic traditions of the progressive movement. The words ‘society,’ and ‘democracy,’ do not appear in the BCEdPlan; however it does state as an objective for further action that “We will work with our education partners to identify the attributes of an educated citizen and how that will be articulated throughout the education program culminating in graduation” (p. 5). Curricular discussions in British Columbia might delve further into the progressive promise of student-centered learning characterized by John Dewey, who warned of the danger that increased personal independence could decrease the social capacity of an individual” (Dewey, 1916):

“In making him more self-reliant, it may make him more self-sufficient; it may lead to aloofness and indifference. It often makes an individual so insensitive in his relations to others as to develop an illusion of being really able to stand and act alone — an unnamed form of insanity which is responsible for a large part of the remedial suffering of the world (p. 42).”

Essentialist

Essentialists, meanwhile, may not see their approach as integral to the BCEdPlan, which cites as an operating premise the idea that “The world has changed and it will continue to change, so the way we educate students needs to continually adapt” (p. 5). The impetus for the education revolution in British Columbia and other jurisdictions around the world is an acknowledgement that the Digital Age has so fundamentally changed the nature of society that new skills and knowledge(s) are required for tomorrow’s citizens. And while it may include traditional values and legacies such as cross-cultural understandings and assurances that core knowledge and “basic skills” such as literacy and math will be preserved, the BCEdPlan looks to create and define new skills and proficiencies – e.g. “innovation” and “creativity” – which essentialists may view as components of a much lengthier cultural heritage.

For example, the essentialist may view the advent of new communications technology as an opportunity to apply the lessons of past revolutions in reproduction and collaboration to contemporary curriculum. Providing an education in the background of the relationships between advances in technology and human creativity, for instance, could prove a valuable instructor for young people learning about literacy in the Digital Age. Bruner describes undertaking such a task as learning about “not only the role of tools or language in the emergence of man, but as a necessary precondition for doing so, setting forth the fundamentals of linguistics of the theory of tools” (Bruner, 1966).

It remains to be seen the amount of influence these and other cultural legacies will exert in the pending British Columbia curricula, however the tenor and intent of the BCEdPlan as stated casts its gaze decidedly toward the future, potentially at the expense of the vast cultural learning about the past.

Sociologist

The BCEdPlan adopts a sociological lens in developing curriculum that is part of a broader government agenda to confront the perceived needs of our historical moment. As part of its Jobs Plan (BCJobsPlan), the Government of British Columbia declares that it is “reengineering education and training so that BC students and workers have the skills to be first in line for jobs in a growing economy” (Government, 2013a). Within this broader context, the critical contemporary problems British Columbian curriculum intends to address come into clearer focus, as education is redrawn from the bottom up, in three stages:

  1. A Head Start Learning to Hands-on Learning in Our Schools that will “give [students] an earlier head-start to hands-on learning, so [they’re] ready for the workforce or more advanced training when [they] graduate” (p. 8);
  2. A Shift in Education and Training to Better Match with Jobs in Demand to [maximize] spaces available to provide the programs [students] need to compete successfully in the workforce” (p. 8); and
  3. A Stronger Partnership with Industry and Labour to Deliver Training and Apprenticeships to “better connect [students] with the on-the-job and classroom training [needed] to boost […] skills or achieve certification” (p. 8).

Sociologists may be encouraged by the consideration of such economic metrics to guide the creation of British Columbian curriculum. However, by viewing the BCEdPlan as embedded within the government’s more comprehensive BCJobsPlan[1], they might find the purview of this sociological study to be narrowly focused or to ignore altogether areas of potentially more pressing contemporary importance. “To make the most effective use of our education and training resources,” the BCJobsPlan notes, “we will rely on the best data and […] the most up-to-date labour market information […] to guide government decision-making and to determine spending priorities” (p. 7).

Further sociological study may seek to critically address 21st century problems such as inequality, environmental degradation, or the degree to which our education systems help actualize the democratic ideals enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada, 1982) or Multiculturalism Act (Canada, 1988).

Educational Philosophy

While the first of these three lenses might assert different resolute perspectives toward the creation of curricular purposes, the educational philosopher approaches the discussion in the tradition of the humanities, and is thus “committed to the concept of knowledge as interpretation” (Drucker, 2011), as well as the idea:

“That the apprehension of the phenomena of the physical, social, cultural world is through constructed and constitutive acts, not mechanistic or naturalistic realist representations of pre-existing or self-evident information” (par. 7).

Educational philosophers may be critical of the BCEdPlan’s reliance on “the best data and labour market projections” to direct educational resources at the expense of allowing a more broadly constructed view of education’s role in democracy into the decision-making process, as this data assumes a market-oriented solution to a perceived educative problem. Others may highlight the similarity between this practice and the economic project authored by Milton Friedman in the form of neoliberal capitalism, “the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action” (Harvey, 2005).

The educational philosopher may also challenge the symbolic representation and meta-messages about the nature or purpose of education communicated in the language and design of schooling, as Giroux has noted that the “survival-of-the-fittest ethic has replaced any reasonable notion of solidarity, social responsibility and compassion for the other” (Giroux, 2012).

Image by Alan Levine

III: Further Discussion

Analyzed through these various perspectives, the creation of 21st century curriculum in British Columbia can be seen to highlight aspects of both the progressive and sociological perspectives. While each of these lenses could be explored further, a more comprehensive approach to addressing essentialist and philosophical concerns would allow a more broadly constructed view of curriculum in the Digital Age. In implementing its notion of 21st century learning, the government of British Columbia should be especially willing to experiment with new technology in developing a curriculum reflective of the digital medium’s message (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967), lest our collective aspirations for the future be limited unnecessarily by perceived economic realities.

The ‘shock’ of the Digital moment provides an opportunity for both critique and the establishment of new myths surrounding education, the broader enactment of which Michel Foucault described as Enlightenment (Foucault, 1984), or critical ontology, something that should “be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating,” but rather, “a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

Paulo Freire described a similar sense of enlightenment at the root of an emancipatory critical praxis, whereby “critical percep­tion is embodied in action, [and] a climate of hope and confidence devel­ops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations” (Freire, 1970). This emancipation constitutes an active citizenship that continues to transform reality, “and as these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts” (p. 99).

By applying such critical discourses to the negotiation and expression of societal interests with respect to curriculum, we are presented with one of the unique democratic opportunities presented by the Digital Age itself. Indeed, as Simsek and Simsek point out, “the free flow of information through new technologies is consistent with the requirements of deliberative democracy.” However, as the man largely credited with the developing the World Wide Web, Tim Berniers-Lee, recently noted, “Unless we have an open, neutral internet […] we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture” (Kiss, 2014).

In encountering the Digital Age, educators and those interested in constructing curriculum are well-served by embracing the spirit of the open and interconnected web, and playing what Jim Groom and Brian Lamb call for as “a decisive role in the battle for the future of the web” (Groom, 2014). They write, “It is well within the power of educators” to engage in this struggle, though admit that it “will require an at-times inconvenient commitment to the fundamental principles of openness, ownership, and participation.”

As the Ministry of Education continues to unveil its vision for the future of education in British Columbia, these and other questions, perspectives and concerns raised in the discussion of this paper are presented with the intention of further engaging an ongoing discussion of curricular purpose in the province.

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction (Vol. 59): Harvard University Press.

The Constitution Act, 1982 (1982).

Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988).

Council, Preimier’s Technology. (2010). A Vision for 21st Century Education

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan.

Drucker, J. (2011). Humanities approaches to graphical display. Digital Humanities Quarterly, 5(1).

Egan, K. (1978). What is curriculum? Curriculum Inquiry, 65-72.

Foucault, M. (1984). What is Enlightenment? . In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon Books.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans. 30th Anniversary Edition ed.): The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Giroux, H. (2012). Education and the crisis of public values. Peter Laing, New York.

Government, B. C. (2013a). BC Jobs Plan

Government, B. C. (2013b). BC’s Education Plan Province of British Columbia.

Groom, J. L., Brian. (2014). Reclaiming Innovation. EducausE review, Online.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism: Oxford University Press.

Kiss, J. (2014, March 12, 2014). An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web. The Guardian

Klein, N. (2008). The shock doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism.

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the message. New York, 123, 126-128.

Perry, D. (2011). The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities. Culture Machine(Spec. Issue ).

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations: Penguin.

Simsek, E., & Simsek, A. (2013). New Literacies for Digital Citizenship. Online Submission, 4(3), 126-137.

Tyler, R. W. (2013). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction: University of Chicago press.

[1] Where the BCEdPlan runs just under 8 pages, the BCJobsPlan measures just fewer than 50.

This year’s new Dylan: Design Thinking

Image by David Kernohan

I’ve quoted D’Arcy Norman’s MSc thesis here before. However, newly immersed in the introductory strides of Design Thinkingcourtesy of UVic and #TieGrad’s EDCI 335 course, I think the following bears on our emerging discussions:

…educational technology can be prone to cycles of hype and fetishism, where new tools and applications are rapidly adopted by individuals who are seen as innovators in the field, with little time for thorough or rigorous investigation of the pedagogical strategies that may be enabled by the affordances of these new tools.

Not explicitly a “technology,” per say,  a quick Google search reveals Design Thinking as a possible blank-filler in the educational Mad Lib of How ___________ will revolutionize education! Within this wider family network are pedagogical approaches: project-based, inquiry or experiential learning; tools: Twitter, Blogs, Skype in the Classroom; or the more nebulous -ifications: Gamification, MOOCification, Learnification… 

An Emerson quote I find myself falling back on in such moments of cynicism goes something like, “At the periphery there is infinite complexity, yet at the center, simplicity of cause.” In other words: might each of these various revolutionary manifestations be riffs on the same basic principles?

And might these principles be part of larger intellectual traditions that will provide us a better understanding of learning, society and education than venture-backed entrepreneurs?

As Bill Storage points out in a particularly scathing historical critique of the design movement,

“The term [design thinking] has been redefined to the point of absurdity. And its overworked referent has drifted from an attitude and guiding principle to yet another hackneyed process in a long line of bankrupt business improvement initiatives, passionately embraced by amnesic devotees for a few months until the next one comes along.”

Principles of Pedagogy

In my final presentation in our last course, Social Media & Personalized LearningI attempted to frame my views of learning and the potential of new media to continue to inspire the original tenants of the Project of Enlightenment. The basic underlying principles – which in turn created the elements of design in my courses and informal learning spaces – concerned themselves with the generations-old philosophical traditions of the enlightenment movement. These principles of pedagogy addressed concerns that were:

  • Epistemological
  • Metaphysical
  • Aesthetic
  • As well as Social-Political

Epistemologically speaking, my “design thinking” is rooted in an emergent view of knowledge whereby “knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next.” This is supplemented by the metaphysical premise that we know ourselves by knowing others, and that new ways of knowing others create new ways of knowing ourselves, which in turn becomes a question of human aesthetics as the search for new and evolving selves continues.

Each of these ideas culminates in the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment revolutions in Europe: the creation of the democratic public sphere:

…an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action.

Douglas Kellner talks about how the advent of the bourgeois public sphere brought about the possibility of,

[f]or the first time in history, individuals and groups [shaping] public opinion, giving direct expression to their needs and interests while influencing political practice. The bourgeois public sphere made it possible to form a realm of public opinion that opposed state power and the powerful interests that were coming to shape bourgeois society.

Many of the different pieces we’ve been supplied as part of our reading on Design Thinking poises it as a revelatory challenge to the project of democracy and enlightenment birthed in the 1700s. Bruce Nussbaum wrote in 2009 about how

“… it is the evolution of design into Design (with or without the “Thinking” term) to redesign large-scale social systems in business and civic society that has folks moving to embrace it. In this era of melting models and flaming careers, of economic uncertainty and social volatility, Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.”

(Nussbaum has since called “Design Thinking” a “failed experiment.”)

Harvard’s Peter Rowe, who first introduced the concept of Design Thinking in 1987, characterized the phenomenon thus:

“Quite often references are made to objects already within the domain of architecture. On other occasions, however, an analogy is made with objects and  organizational concepts that are farther afield and outside of architecture. Sometimes these analogies serve a designer’s purpose for more than a single project and thus become incorporated as a central part of that individual’s design thinking.”

If this sounds familiar, Don Norman is quick to point out that “radical breakthrough ideas and creative thinking somehow managed to shape history before the advent of Design Thinking.” He continues by saying that, “‘Design Thinking’ is what creative people in all disciplines have always done.”

This raises a few questions for me:

First, what are these dispositions then, I wonder, that compose Design Thinking / Creativity / Interdisciplinary Learning / Project-Based? Aren’t collaboration, creativity, social responsibility, cultural understanding, communications, innovation, and critical thinking (all taken from the BC Ministry of Education’s Guide to 21st Century Learning) at the heart of John Dewey’s vision of learning? Immanuel Kant’s? Socrates’?

And secondly, from whence does the compulsion to endlessly repackage, repurpose and re-sell these ideas emerge? In this vein I wonder why we are so reluctant to acknowledge the longer traditions that these intellectual pursuits have enjoyed?

The question begged by these others, I think, is that of who benefits from presenting the nature of learning with such a historical myopia?

Social Media and Personalized Learning Project(s) Update

ThursdayRun

Given the way my own learning had unfolded this semester, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that I would be coming to identify (and experiment) with the idea of emergence in my classrooms and the extra-curricular projects I’ve undertaken. My goals of a month ago talked about my intentions:

“to create [...] space to reflect on this year’s learning environments, and gradually engage in a manner that seems most appropriate to my own learning and thinking about teaching, facilitation, and collaboration.”

What might otherwise be seen as a failure to commit to any one thing in particular is something I’ve found aligning with emergent educationists Gert Biesta and Deborah Osberg:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

I’ve been thinking about how this type of emergence arrises in transformative learning on both an individual and a cultural level, and how the skills and behaviours required for this type of ongoing, lifelong learning might also be a requisite societal competency in maintaining a democratic society. Paulo Freire has added to these ideas, as has (again) Gert Biesta, who cites Wilfred Carr and Anthony Hartnett‘s assertion that citizenship education is a process by which

“individuals develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

These are a few of the ideas guiding me with the various threads I’ve been exploring in my classrooms and other learning spaces this semester as part of my personal learning project.

Philosophy 12 

While it might not qualify as Massive, my ‘open learning’ coursework this semester has found a natural home in critically reflecting on my work teaching and learning in the open with a group of grade eleven and twelve students (and occasionally Stephen Downes) in Philosophy 12. Setting out, my hope was

“that as we move[d] forward, both this semester and into future cycles of the class, we have an organic means of establishing a set of pathways for future exploration of the site, and the philosophical knowledge that is discussed, shared and stored on the site’s various pages and posts.”

But this direction didn’t seem inclusive of the – very real – hybrid nature of the classroom environment; Philosophy 12 has never been composed merely of its online components, but exists fundamentally between the connections of its daily face-to-face participants. In the class’ study of Metaphysics, I was particularly aware of Jesse Stommell’s post on Hybrid Pedagogy:

“When we build a hybrid class, we must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Here, the class’ personal studies went into the wild (with #PhilsDayOff), and returned to the classroom to be shared in a process that was both individually, and collectively, an act of synthesis. All of it was documented and ‘captured’ on the class site (and live on the web as it unfolded).

But this only accomplishes one aspect of the task: to cultivate – alongside the present artifacts of learning – a set of navigable pathways through the layers of annual learning ‘objects’ the course site will continue to house.

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 3.43.29 PMOn the Philosophy site, there are already a number of means by which online participants and visitors (as well as for-credit face-to-face students) can locate content relevant and meaningful to their own exploration of philosophy. The Widgets sidebars on the home page have organized content by Recent Comments, Units of Inquiry, and a Tag Cloud of topics, themes and ideas generated over the course’s one full-semester.

This year I have looked to integrate ongoing class assignments into the connecting and filtering of course content by assigning for-credit students to act as members one another’s comment groups (so far either randomly drawn or organized by themes of inquiry). These groups are responsible for engaging one another in discussion and dialogue that will further the author’s exploration of the Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.11.11 PMoriginal topic, and help put each assigned post into context with larger class themes and ideas; we have also begun experimenting with a rating system of both posts and comments (corresponding to class-generated criteria) that introduces site visitors to a class-sourced collection of recommended site content.

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.13.05 PM

Finally, as we approach the course’s mid-term, and a unit on Epistemology, participants are preparing portfolios of their collected work throughout our units and various assigned or unassigned blog posts. While serving as individual records of progress that will allow for ongoing reflection and the synthesis of summative learning assessments, the linked and communally curated portfolios will allow future Philosophy 12 participants (from for-credit to one-time visitor) to navigate the complexities of knowledge archived from year to year.

TALONS.bc.ca 

My learning intentions with regards to the fall curriculum in my TALONS classes has shifted somewhat from the heights of maintaining personal cyberinfrastructure to the creation of awareness around Bonnie Stewart’s ideas of “an ethos of participation” in blended online spaces. In adopting a communications approach, Bonnie “focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement,” which is an idea I’ve incorporated into a redesigning of the TALONS’ Eminent Person Study this time around.

“Because we hope to be transformed positively from this experience, each of us. But if we are to make these journeys, and come to these new perceptions, there is an almost moral obligation to share that wisdom with others who might make the trip themselves, something I’ll be interested to see unfold in the coming weeks.”

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.30.23 PMAlready, as the Yahoo Pipes have aggregated the class initial explorations of their selected Eminent People, the corresponding RSS feed of blog comments has ballooned with the back and forth discussion of Individual Education Plan goals, notable biographies, and reflections on research adventures in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

In the coming weeks, the TALONS will engage in a portfolio cultivation of their Eminent Study not unlike the undertaking in Philosophy 12; in reflection and curation, the present learning will become the pathways for future TALONS learners and collaborators.

The Lunchtime Jam

Lunchtime Jam on @105theHive

Alluvium live on @105theHive

While outside the realm of an ongoing curricular project, I’m no less enthused about the development of Gleneagle Music‘s Lunchtime Jams on K12 distributed web radio station 105 the Hive. Something in Biesta’s citizenship education strikes me as relevant here, where he discusses that

“it can be argued that citizenship learning pervades all aspects of young people’s lives because, in principle, any aspect of their lives can be relevant for their growth as democratic citizens.”

On the other hand, he admits,

“there are very few experiences and events in young people’s lives that are ‘labelled’ as opportunities for citizenship learning.”

Lunchtime Jam

So it is that as I’ve watched various players from our school’s musical community stop by the music wing to create some spur-of-the-moment live radio for anyone who wants to tune in, I think of Bonnie Stewart’s “Trojan Horse” for literacies of participation, and how the emergence I’m perhaps most concerned with helping to facilitate and participate in is that of a more participatory democracy.

It is here, I believe, that my various learning projects this semester find common ground in striving to create opportunities for:

“individuals [to] develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

In his essay Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics Daniel Schugurensky talks about cultivating societies that

“generate public spaces of social interaction in which discourse is based on finding agreement, welcoming different points of view, identifying the common good in the myriad of competing self-interests, searching for synthesis and consensus, promoting solidarity, and ultimately improving community life.”

This potential creation of public space seems to mirror not only the implicit elements of the Philosophy 12 curriculum, but the aims of the TALONS blogged artifacts, and the shared rhythms of live jazz:


Metaphysics Unit Reflections and Feedback

Who do you think contributed to your study of Metaphysics?

Who / what do you think contributed positively to your study of Metaphysics?

Having come to the conclusion of our Metaphysics unit in Philosophy 12, I asked the group to respond to several reflection prompts in a Google Form posted on the class site. Some of the questions addressed individual growth and learning related to participants’ chosen philosopher and activities undertaken during the unit; others focused on the actual process of collective learning that emerged out of a growing investigation in metaphysics.

As we move from Metaphysics into Epistemology, I think this type of feedback will be particularly useful in adapting the course structure to its current participants: allowing us to tailor classroom (and blog) activities to the group’s strengths, abilities, and areas requiring further growth. Because even as the Discussable Object travels into our rearview, it is another piece of the class’ foundation as a collective built of individual strands of inquiry, one that will allow further deepening and richening of the class’ learning opportunities.

The survey-nature of the course – which moves from What is Philosophythrough Scientific Philosophy, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Social & Political Philosophy in a matter of a few months – enables the development of just this sort of cultural creation and cultivation, where individuals are encouraged to create habits of mindfulness at the heart of philosophical inquiry. The ongoing inquiry process continues to establish new individual paradigms of thought about the self and its relationship to society; and in engaging this individual journey against those of a group of similarly dedicated peers, the implicit curriculum becomes rooted in the processes by which we each relate to the world, and one another.

Below are a selection of the participant responses to the reflection questions. I’ve created a few word clouds to aggregate responses to a few of the questions, which are linked from the headings; as well, I’ve highlighted the contributions recognized by peers in a post on the Philosophy site itself.

What were the main questions you set out to answer during the course of the unit

How do suffering and pleasure play a role together, individually, and synergistically?  What is it that makes up the world? How can we live to cope with the subjectivity of life?

Does sympathy connect everyone in life?

Is reality objective or something created within us?

Without the divine control and outright fate, why do we continue? What causes us to continue? Will we ever stop continuing? Do different time periods change these answers? Is essential human purpose objective or subjective?

Do you feel as though you have answered them to any satisfaction? 

 I think I’ve not so much answered these questions as these questions don’t really have an answer, but I’ve more clearly made sense of how I view them. From reading about philosophers, participating in group discussions, and individual research and reflection I’ve been able to sort out these questions in a way that they make sense in my mind.

Unfortunately with these sorts of questions, I do not believe that I will ever answer them to any sort of satisfaction; however, I now believe that I have a far greater understanding of metaphysics and will continue to think about these concepts for a long time. 

I do not think that these questions can ever be answered by anyone, however I have developed a personal “answer” to these questions throughout this unit. I believe that there are multiple realities, some that are external, and some that are internal. External realities are the truths that exist whether we like it or not, such as gravity and natural disasters. Internal reality is how we personally interpret and respond to the external realities. Both of these equally contribute to the make up of today’s world and society.

Agree or disagree with the statement, “Knowledge only exists in our participatory actions.”

I think before this unit I might have had a different view on this, having not really ever thought about it before, but through this unit I would have to say that I do agree with this statement. The various group discussions and blog comments I think showed me that knowledge isn’t something that can exist by itself as a thing. Knowledge isn’t an actual thing itself, but instead what we take away from something.

Education is always in a participatory manner. The act of learning is to gain foreign information. The only source of foreign information is gained from other sources. Whether you’re reading a book, blog, or looking at a painting, you’re having a discussion, the basic form of exchanging knowledge. Discussions or conversation is the exchange of ideas. You require two parties. It is regardless if the other party is a person, a painting or a blogpost. The exchange is happening. Knowledge cannot be shared, used, or exist if it is not participating in active thought. 

I agree with this statement to an extent, however if you want to get into technicality, the statement is false. Knowledge exists within all of us, but it is our choice to share that knowledge. For example, in our large group discussions, I’m sure that many of us had knowledge that we chose to keep to ourselves. Even though there was no participatory action in this situation, it doesn’t mean that the knowledge disappeared into thin air and ceased to exist. The knowledge just failed to be relayed to others.

I agree that knowledge only exists in our participatory actions. As my group discussed in our discussions and as some people alluded to during the discussable object creation, knowledge only exists when you show it and are able to fully explain something to someone else. It is only when you demonstrate your knowledge that it truly exists. When you engage on the blog and in the comments that you demonstrate and essentially create and show your knowledge therefore making it exist.

I think this is true to an extent; knowledge exists and is ameliorated by participatory actions but it is possible to acquire knowledge on one’s own. Knowledge is not synonymous with truth. Someone who lives alone in a cabin in the north pole is able to amass a wealth of knowledge about his surroundings which could be testable and observable but not necessarily true. He may understand that snow and blizzards exist, which is a form of knowledge, but he may be incorrect about what it is made out of, how vastly it exists, and how many people live in the world. This knowledge would have been ameliorated through participatory actions with other people.

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 10.58.00 AM

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 10.58.56 AM

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 10.59.41 AM

If you could keep one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

I would keep the idea of “Phil’s day off” and the final class discussion. To me, I highly enjoyed the freedom we had to go about this unit and the opportunity to basically act like our own philosophers when thinking about certain questions.

Phil’s Day Off and the whole concept of the object. I thought that this made the assignment personal and gave us all a chance to really reflect and be creative. I would not have done Phil’s Day Off had it not been for homework simply because I’m lazy. Making it homework made it necessary and ultimately I’m glad I had that experience.

Group discussion was excellent. It facilitated a deeper understanding of themes and objectives. I think doing a #philsdayoff with out groups included and maybe even mixing up groups would’ve made it interesting.

I think the freedom aspect of Phil’s Day Off really helped the class think more about the conversation that we had the following week. It’s really fresh to have such freedom in a class, and it kept me engaged in my topic. 

I really enjoyed the group discussion because it was very enlightening and approached the topic in a different way that was more engaging than just writing about it in the blog.

the collaborative unit planning.

If you could change one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

Thorough instructions, more expanded, straight forward.

I really find the idea of comments to be essential however I dislike the idea because sometimes it is hard to post some. If you are in a group were most of the blog posts are written up later than they were supposed to it makes it very difficult for me to go search for them and then comment on them. Also when your group mates don’t really comment on your post either its very discouraging.

I would have liked to see a little bit more structure in this unit. Because a lot of the things we were to do were up in the air, there were times where the unit got very confusing and hard to follow. Maybe next time, instead of giving us the full freedom to discover metaphysics on our own, it would be more effective to teach a lesson on the unit before letting us “be free” so all of us have a clear idea on what we are doing.

The amount of time we spent making a criteria / brainstorming exactly “what” it is we would be doing.

I think it would have been really cool if you did the whole thing with us. Chosen a Philosopher, contributed his theories to the discussions, been a part of the circle thing on the last day. If you’re really trying to step back from the whole teacher dictatorship role, the next step would be to get on our level.

I kind of thought the phil’s day off was redundant. the idea of thinking in a different view was good but the whole show and tell part was silly in my opinion because when it came to the discussion, the object we collected on phil’s day off was useless.

If I had to choose one, I would say that I would change it so that there was a little more time for a larger group discussion at the end. For example, making the discussable object activity maybe stretch out over two days, but that’s also only if there was enough content for that to be able to happen.

Literacies of Participation | Bonnie Stewart & the MOOC as Trojan Horse

With thanks to Michael Wesch

With thanks to Michael Wesch

Alongside my focus this year in TALONS on the concept of engagement, I’m buoyed to read Bonnie Stewart‘s paper in the MERLOT Journal of Online Teaching and Learning which looks at MOOCs and the open course structure as “a Trojan horse for an ethos of participation and distributed expertise.” Bonnie begins with an acknowledgement of the popular discourse surrounding open courses and how this distracts from the conversation the original authors of the MOOC story were having:

This variety of responses to MOOCs is indicative of the fault lines becoming increasingly visible in the terrain of contemporary higher education. The term MOOC gets conflated with online education, with globalization, and with networked learning – to the point where public conversation about the topic becomes what Jackson (2013) calls “that most dangerous topic of discussion: a subject about which everybody needs to have an opinion” (para. 2).” “

Some voices position MOOCs as synonymous with the privatization of higher education (Bady, 2013), while others – looking at very different course models – claim that they do not so much change the game of higher education as they are “playing a different game entirely” (Downes, 2012, para. 4).”

Rather than wade into this arena of the debate, Bonnie looks at the implicit ends of learning in the open:

“This position paper takes up MOOCs neither as the future nor the death of academe. [Instead, it will] consider the possibilities of the phenomenon, in all its forms, for the sociocultural growth and spread of digital literacies. Rather than argue for or against a single perspective on MOOCs, my premise is that it may be productive to consider their potential as large, immersive – and largely unintentional – environments for acculturating people to new digital literacies.

I get a similar distaste for conversations about educational technology that revolve around this sort of Savior / Beelzebub duality, and am generally much more excited to conceive of the ways in which digital tools can support and extend physical communities. We spend a lot of time in my classes working on group processes, collaboration, communication toward a synthesis of ideas; and I like to think that taking these skills – some of which are outlined in our courses’ prescribed learning outcomes, some of which fall beyond their scope – onto the web bears immense potential for the state and future of our global community.

What is exciting about teaching courses like Philosophy 12, or Introduction to Guitar, or the TALONS Socials cohorts in a blended – face-to-face and online atmosphere is in one sense the support digital tools bring to the course’s content areas. But I think my real passion is lit as I see the implicit ethos of the web finding its way into my students practices, online and off.

In other words, the implicit focus of the course moves beyond information to communication: 

When communications are seen as key to learning, the numeric focus of the information-centered paradigm cannot be reconciled with the significant and varied body of educational research which foregrounds the importance of interactive (Dewey, 1938), situational (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and critical (Freire, 1970) perspectives on learning. The communications approach focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement. “The Internet encourages discussion, dialogue and community that is not limited by time or place. The role of educators in this world is to facilitate dialogue and support students in their understanding of resources” (Weller, 2007, p. 6).

Which brings me back to engagement, and learning design as a means of bringing about positive collective engagement, in the physical classroom, and beyond its walls.

The skills learned in one realm cannot help but influence the other.

Here’s the full pdf of Bonnie’s paper: Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? 

TALONS Panel: Open High School Learning

I had the great pleasure this morning to speak with TALONS alumni Liam St. Louis, Jonathan Toews, Clayton Dowdell, Megan Edmunds, Zoe Fajber and Iris Hung (along with Verena Roberts & the #ETMOOC crowd via Google Hangout) about the experiments and experiences in Open Learning we’ve embarked on in their four years at Gleneagle.

We mostly worked chronologically from the introduction of the TALONS blogs and RSS feeds (which coincided with Jonathan & Liam’s arrival in grade nine more than four years ago), to the creation of the class blog, Defying Normality, and how these publishing channels contributed to learning in and around the classroom. We talked about publishing work in public, the other mediums that could ‘work’ in lieu of text-only posts, and what it means to blog ‘authentically,’ before moving into a discussion about Philosophy 12’s open structure, Stephen Downes, and the value (and drawbacks) to learning on the open web.

Many thanks to Verena for moderating and inviting us into the #ETMOOC conversation, and to the TALONS who brought their incredible insight and voices to the discussion.

Making the Learning Visible: TALONS on the American Revolution

Initial Questions about the American Revolution
Questions after reading homework from 2011

As part reflection on a statement made during the introductory session of Alec Couros#ETMOOC, and part synthesis of the TALONS introductory blogging and commenting on the American Revolution, I wanted to highlight some of the recent dialogue and discussion going on in the TALONS classroom these last few days.

Someone noted during the first #ETMOOC meeting that part of open learning revolved around making the learning visible, and I think a major contributing factor to the success of the TALONS blogging community is an evolving ability to present and share individual and collective learning. But something I have come to appreciate lately is how this knowledge has grown alongside an ability to meta-cognate, and build upon the lessons of networking norms explored by the last few years’ classes.

Old and Bold
Image edit and Interview synthesis by #Talons Yilin, Hayley, Max and Kyler

Now three full years into the class experiment in conducting and presenting our learning on the public web, the community has cultivated an understory of class discussion as the architecture of the initial thinking and conversation allows it to be visible and accessible as it is being created, but also indefinitely into the future

Since we first began experimenting with the form, the TALONS have each maintained an individual blog with EduBlogs, which the class has subscribed to (comments as well) using Google Reader. Every year, links and archives of posts from each of our units of study accumulate across our subject Wikispaces, Delicious bookmarks, and these blogs to become the fodder and foundation of the next year’s learners, and it is striking to see what is possible as these years have begun to accumulate.

The class began this last week with the assigned readings of a host of 2011 American Revolution posts, and a few questions:

More Questions about the American Revolution

    • What is the author’s main idea, or thesis in the post? 
    • How do they support this claim?
    • Who are the key figures / what are the main events discussed?
    • What conclusions about the American Revolution does the post give you? 
    • What questions about the American Revolution does the post give you? 
This led to many new questions, which then erupted in a weekend’s blog posts and commenting.

 

TALONS grade nine Alyssa highlights the Seven Years War as a key ingredient in the outset of the Revolution:

 

Over the course of thirteen years, the American revolution raged on between the British, and the American colonists.  But what were the reasons that brought on one of–or even the most–important revolution? What could could set flame to such a fire that a nation could split in two?

To discover this, we must trace back to the where the first larger scales of disruptions of peace started, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, in 1763. Just twelve years later, the American revolution officially started in 1775.

Picking up where the thread, Sierra does an eloquent job of creating context beyond the Seven Years War to reveal the colonies as anger and violence bound to boil over:

After the Seven years War, the British Empire was markedly fatigued, as the war had, among other things, caused great financial hardships to Britain. This meant that Britain was relying more and more on America, raising taxes to compensate for the splurge. They began enforcing new laws, such as the Navigation Act, prohibiting colonists from shipping and trading with countries other than Britain. Then they began implementing taxes, such as the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend Act, taxing everything from printed materials, to lead, pain, and tea.

This angered some of the American colonists, and the propaganda began. Britain began sending over troops, to prevent violent protests, and in 1768, four thousand redcoats landed in Massachusetts to help maintain order. However, despite this, in 1770, on March 5th a rebellious group of American colonists clashed with British troops. Five colonists died in the confrontation, and the event became known as the Boston Massacre.

Following the horror of the Boston Massacre, Owen explains how a revolution about human dignity and democracy is still often seen to revolve around tea:

Nearly all the taxing acts were either reduced or completely dropped, proving that the British still had some leniency to the colonies, which the colonists did not appreciate completely. Wealthier men and others who relied on illegal trade were especially displeased with the taxes on goods as it would eat into their profits. Tea was the only trade item that was left taxed and was sold by the East Indian Trade Company at low prices. Of course, the rich and greedy men who sold smuggled tea could not afford to lose competition. Men like Samuel Adams were essentially so jealous that they organized a raid on the Boston trading ships that saw all tea content dumped into the harbor.

But there are other conversations, and other threads being pulled, with conversations on Monday afternoon exploring ideas of unity, hypocrisy and the nature of historical mythology and symbolism during and since the Revolution.

Marie’s post, Equality? has at present gathered an impressive 21 comments. Among them such insights and questions as the ones Kim addresses here;

Something I have to add is that women in America were fighting for their rights in the American Revolution, and they did win back some rights that should have belonged to them from the very beginning. Do you feel that the American Revolution opened the door for female rights in the future, or do you feel that no change was made (impacting the rights of women)?

Kim’s own entry came in the form of a fictionalized letter from an anonymous woman during the revolution:

As the war began to grow, so did the group of ours efforts, along with women across the country.  We spun thousands upon thousands of yards of yarn, stitched hundreds of clothing items, and took our time knitting far too many stockings for the American men in battle.  We fought to be able to fill the shortage of workers in jobs that were usually occupied by men, but were then left empty during the war, and we won the battle. I took on three jobs during that time: a blacksmith, a ship builder, and a writer.

Many people were not aware that women had made a difference, and had done anything other than sitting at their home raising a family.  Women clothed the armies, signed the petitions, and wrote the books. You would not be able to hear about the war today through the original documents and encyclopedias, if it werent for the dedicated women writers. Through these small actions that we took during this rough time, we opened the door for female rights to come.

Another grade ten, Bronwyn casts her gaze on the men at the center of the struggle to forge a way out of the war with Britain:

After the war, there was much social, political, and economic disorder. It was a country of thirteen governments, each trying to help itself at the cost of the others. Nine states had their own navy and each state had its own army.  Without changing their political and governing system, America was on the road towards anarchy. The saviours of the new independent country were people like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, who worked endlessly to convince a sceptical nation of the concept of unification. Finally, a form of working democracy was created. However, it took them thirteen years of unrest and negotiation to create this government.  Thirteen Years.  Was America’s new governing system a system eight years of fighting and killing and then thirteen years of internal unrest? This is not a question I can really answer, but what I can say is that people’s quest for the perfect government and democracy came with a hefty price and most people believe that it was worth every penny.

And these are only a few. Each of the fifty six TALONS published an initial reflection on the American Revolution this weekend, and three times I have scanned through more than 100 comments in my Google Reader. The class spilled and consumed some 50,000 digital words on different aspects of the American Revolution: themes, opinions, interpretations, relations to current events and personal experience.

Not only is the conversation becoming a sort of living textbook, but it is creating an ecological succession beneath the canopy of the blogging forest that has been established over the last few years. “The learning,” that nebulous, individual struggle for understanding that we negotiate with one another, is visible now and for all of the future TALONS (not to mention anyone else who finds their way into the old-growth forest of now-more than 100 individual TALONS blogs that are still online).

I hope that visitors and residence alike take away that this sort of sharing of ideas and conversation can be a powerful and authentic means of discovery. Like Jabiz says,

…blogging is contagious. As the plants begin to grow, they shield and guide and support the younger saplings. Suddenly we find ourselves in a thriving eco-system of ideas. So I will till the soil, add fertilizer when needed, consider the amount of water every seed will need. I will find sunlight or shade as needed for every fragile sapling. I will wait patiently and stare at what appears to be barren soil. But like every successful gardener I have faith and I have patience. I will wait for every seed to grow.

This year’s individual TALONS blogs can be subscribed to as a bundle by clicking this link. The comment thread is syndicated here

You can keep up with the class’ collective online space, Defying Normality, which was graciously highlighted on the excellent site, Comments4Kids, today, or follow our adventures on Flickr.

Ed-Tech and Media MOOC Invitation

While many of you who find yourselves here may already been in the loop on this, I wanted to take the opportunity to invite readers who may not be yet to participate, lurk, or test the digital waters of an open online learning experience being offered by some of my internet colleagues in the new year. Alec Couros is a professor of Educational Technology and Media at the University of Regina, and one of the pioneers in delivering online and blended courses in an open online format. He and the other course facilitators constitute a veritable constellation of educational innovators and are hoping to bring their shared expertise to the facilitation of an online learning community publicly on the open web, free of charge.

From Alec’s course invitation:

Think of #etmooc as an experience situated somewhere between a course and a community. While there will be scheduled webinars and information shared each week, we know that there is a lot more that we will collectively need to do if we want to create a truly collaborative and passionate community.

We’re aiming to carry on those important conversations in many different spaces – through the use of social networks, collaborative tools, shared hashtags, and in personalized spaces. What #etmooc eventually becomes, and what it will mean to you, will depend upon the ways in which you participate and the participation and activities of all of its members. Let’s see if we can create something that is not just another hashtag – and, not just another course.

Each of the topics will run for approximately two weeks, and class meetings and materials will be archived and posted to be digested on your own schedule if you like. In operating as an ‘open’ course, you can determine your own level of participation, and come and go as you please, truly. Stick around for the conversations, readings, viewings and/or assignments that are relevant to you, and don’t feel bad about tending to your ‘real life’ responsibilities as you must. What may be of perhaps greatest value in participating in the course is gaining personal experience and connections in an online learning environment, and gaining valuable experience with a community of passionate newbies, not to mention very generous experts within the field.

The tentative schedule is shaping up as follows:

  • Welcome (Jan 13-19): Welcome Event & Orientation
  • Topic 1 (Jan 20-Feb. 2): Connected Learning – Tools, Processes & Pedagogy
  • Topic 2 (Feb 3-16): Digital Storytelling – Multimedia, Remixes & Mashups
  • Topic 3 (Feb 17-Mar 2): Digital Literacy – Information, Memes & Attention
  • Topic 4 (Mar 3-16): Digital Citizenship – Identity, Footprint, & Social Activism
  • Topic 5 (Mar 17-30): The Open Movement – Open Access, OERs & Future of Ed.

If you would like to be kept in the loop as the course comes around in January, enter your details in this form.

Sharing Classroom Practice

Open Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Photo by @cogdog

A few colleagues at my school and I are looking to arrange a simple format that will allow a group of committed teachers to drop in on one another’s classes – either while on prep time or covered by another staff member – and to basically know that if our colleagues’ doors are open and the moment is right, would it be all right for someone from the group to visit, and see what’s going on?

Could we observe, jump in, or teach alongside them?

You know: can we visit?

These visits could be brief, and only a few minutes, or last as long as they need to. What the process requires to get started is to see if enough people are interested in being involved in seeing where the idea might take us as a group. While being arranged as the most informal of “Learning Teams,” we are not as concerned with creating a tangible output as we are with creating a shift in our community’s habits of practice, with the hope that such a change could foster immediate benefits in student learning by creating opportunities for:

Meaningful Connections with a variety of adults

One of the chief researched pieces of evidence about the effectiveness of ‘character’ education, and the building of a respectful and empathetic student population is that the cultivation of a variety of meaningful connections to positive adult role models promotes a necessary sense of responsibility and accountability. By following up with our current and former students in one another’s classes, and perhaps seeing them demonstrate a separate skillset than we might have seen in our own subjects – not to mention forming new connections to students we haven’t taught yet – we hope to promote an environment that might create a more interconnected community in our school’s hallways, and possibly allow for a different groundwork for this spring’s (and future) Grad Transition Exit Interviews.

Modeled interest in one another’s areas of passion and expertise

A time-honoured conversation among teachers in which I’ve noticed a sharp uptick over even the last few years has been around student-engagement and passion for course material (or, rather, the lack thereof). While I might usually chalk this up to the type of learning being conducted in school bearing little or no relevance to the learning students (or even adults) engage in outside of school, I also wonder:

  • How much of the passion we might have for our subjects is reflected in the culture outside of our classrooms?
  • How are the various lessons of our individual disciplines supported and reinforced in one another’s classrooms? 
  • What are the implicit messages students receive about the skills and values we say we are trying to teach, by not modeling it ourselves? 
  • How does our English coursework support the thinking we are trying to promote in Math? 
  • What skills are your students bringing from their elective courses into your history class? 

Our hope is that by making consistent appearances in one another’s classroom spaces that we will be reinforcing our explicit goals of promoting lifelong learning and critical inquiry, as well as making visible to our students the implicit regard and respect we have for one another’s role in the learning process as a congruent educational experience.

Demonstration of a community of learning

Most of you who will have read this far may agree that our intention in our classrooms is to create a ‘community of learning,’ and for our students to thoughtfully engage in creative, collaborative activities and ‘construct knowledge,’ whether by using digital technology or the horseshoe their desks are arranged in to share their ideas with their peers. Along with asking kids to “Think Outside the Box” without an example of what this might mean, we similarly limit the potential for collaborative problem solving when we do not engage with and learn from it in our own practice. It is important, as noted above, that we model this behaviour for our students, but also engage in it ourselves so that we might become better guides to them throughout this process.

Additionally, there are implications for our own practice that I feel so many of us say we want, and likely spend our careers trying to cultivate to varying degrees of success, but which is difficult to bring about. By this I mean things like:

Practicing ‘Open’ Behaviour 

People we generally refer to as ‘creative’ will often tell you that it is not an innate skill or genetic gift, as John Cleese says in an excellent lecture on the subject (that you can watch here): “creativity is not a talent; it is a way of operating.” Being open with one another about how we go about our teaching will have the immediate effect of informing how we see our own practice: offering a point of reflection, an opportunity to collaborate, or…

… well, nothing.

 Not everything leads to something else, and the ability to ‘think outside the box,’ as they say, has to come as a result of the ability for things to fail, for things to be picked up and ultimately discarded, and is generally brought about by people being open to all of these possibilities, not just the ones that we’re able to prove or demonstrate coming to fruition.

Creating Community Connections

We are hoping to enact a grassroots change of culture that existed in the cafes of Europe at the dawn of the Enlightenment, and is part of the workday at Google (where 20% of employees’ paid time is spent on projects of their own design, irrespective of their failure or success). Because while this spirit of openness and collaborative inquiry might exist in your corner of your school at the moment, I don’t think it is controversial to say that this isn’t an area our buildings thrive in school-wide, and that efforts to change this culture at staff meetings, pro-d and staff get-togethers are isolated opportunities that are ill-equipped to affect a change in the habits we each bring into work every day, and which we could all do more to reflect upon, interrogate, and look to change going forward as individual schools.

Or not.

Because we’re more than OK if others have got enough going on, or appreciate the ability to have their door shut and teach. I don’t think anything less of someone who might delete our invitation out of hand (or even those who might have moved on back there in the first paragraph). But I talk to enough people about enough of the above on a regular enough basis – and hear the familiar refrain that “that wouldn’t happen here” – to know that some people might want to email me back and see where we might take this initiative this time around, who might want to let interested teachers know when they’re going to be having presentations in your class, or debates, or experiments that we might like to watch, or who might want to watch similar things happen in other classrooms.

Are you, or your door, open to the possibility?

Epistemological Ecology

Learning Never Stops

This is cross-posted on the Philosophy12 Blog

There is a certain pleasure in being allowed to start things off in a class like #Philosophy12; while others may garner the satisfaction that comes from rising to the challenge of the various assignments and syntheses of ideas, as classroom facilitator my critical tasks have thus far revolved around the outset of the unit. Having hopefully created the conditions for individual and collective learning, I focus my energy around supporting the group’s thinking, whether in daily activities, viewing or reading materials, or engaging in class discussions about the direction and intentions of the unit or task at hand.

I get to learn a lot, just in seeing how the various branches of inquiry manage to reveal the topics at hand, and the perspectives that bring them to our classroom.

But I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to engage directly with the tasks myself, and I was taken with an idea for Epistemology: to state and support a personal proposition about the nature of knowledge, learning, and the justifications we use to frame these ideas. Within the context of the opening class structure, the unit presented a natural opportunity to turn the teaching of the course into a personal engagement with the material. If I could demonstrate an example of the type of learning I would like to see, would the allowance of the space and opportunity for participants to engage with their own individual creation of knowledge bring about an authentic expression ofsocial constructivism?

“All knowledge begins with experience.”

The starting point for my own epistemological proposition centers around a view of our reason as an evolving structure of knowing that shifts with the acquisition of new knowledge (gained through experience). I have more or less directly swiped this from Immanuel Kant, but I have seen these ideas reflected in the foundations of the post-modern era, constructivism, as well as a frequent touchstone in the class’ conversations about knowledge and knowing. A certain amount of our work in the unit was bound to retread at least some of the contribution he has brought to the field, I figure.

But I am nevertheless grounded in the idea that the structure against which our experience of the world is interpreted – our ability to reason – evolves with our experiencing of the world; as it does our sense of what can be known changes in kind, eliciting further questions, and creating new un-knowing. Jonathan said it well in his first of two Epistemology posts: “As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too.

The sage former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld summarized part of this arc memorably in February, 2002:

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

 

“…the limitation of all possible speculative cognition to the mere objects of experience, follows as a necessary result.”

 

There is something of the snake-eating-its-own-tail that then arises in the compulsion to expand our notions of knowing against an ever-expanding experiential plain. “Essentially, we have proven that no piece of knowledge, whether of reason or of reality, is reliable,”Liam writes in his exploration of Descartes’ Evil Genius theory:”

Really, a more unhelpful and useless conclusion has never been reached. True knowledge, it seems, is nowhere to be found – and because of that, we must accept the flawed, unreliable knowledge that we have and make do with it.
 

The Double Bind

As I began to explore in my initial post and reflections, the contradiction of pursuing a knowledge that evades alongside our mastery over it reminded me of the concept of the Double Bind, introduced to me a few weeks ago by Gardner Campbell at the Open Education conference in Vancouver. According to wikipedia, 

double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response.

 

While the acquisition of knowledge may not be an either\or scenario as described in the double bind, what I found valuable about Gardner’s characterization of the dilemma was the idea that the double bind can serve as a kind or prison, but also create the conditions for an expansion of awareness (or, cognition) that is the process of meaningful learning I hope some of #philosophy12 is providing for its participants. Again from Wikipedia:

One solution to a double bind is to place the problem in a larger context [...] the double bind is contextualized and understood as an impossible no-win scenario so that ways around it can be found.

 

For my own part, the attempt to characterize and justify my own beliefs about knowledge has been vexing in the manner Bateson predicted as one of the responses to the double bind, wherein objective truth “cannot be reliably known, so all [truth] is treated as trivial or ridiculous.” It is admittedly difficult to engage faithfully in a process that seems fruitless from the outset, and for this I am glad to have waded into this experiment alongside the #Philosophy12 class.

Because it is a confrontation with the double bind that a new paradigm, either for each of us personally or together as a society, andisn’t this what I should be doing as a teacher?

Bateson outlines a Hierarchy of Learning in which Learning III (third in a series of IV) represents an ability to develop a “meta contextual perspective, imagining and shifting contexts of understanding.” Learning III puts the individual into a moment of learning with risk, where “questions become explosive,” Gardner says, as the potential to begin again at the base of the pyramid Jonathan outlines here is something that we are not often keen to explore, but central to the learning process.

And I think that perhaps this is both the source and the solution to the double bind offered in our own rational and experiential development. Learning IV – which would be the change enacted to progress beyond Learning III – Bateson notes, “probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth.”

Naturally: once we have solved the initial double bind and reached beyond our present understanding, we are greeted with new incongruities to decipher.

And yet..?

And yet we continue to engage in this process. We continue to yearn for a greater understanding, even while that understanding becomes obscured in the new questions it raises.

“It may be,” Gardner says, “that the evolution of the species represents the emergence of the possibility of Learning IV, as we think together.”

Leaving me again with echos of Kant:

it is plain that the hope of a future life arises from the feeling, which exists in the breast of every man, that the temporal is inadequate to meet and satisfy the demands of his nature.