Shift: A Final Reflection

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

As I sit and reflect after reading the final chapter of Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm, one thing comes to mind:  paradigm shift.  November gives a lot examples of teachers using forms of technology to reshape their classrooms, but really what is happening is that teachers are shifting from a traditional approach to a new hands off experiential model in which students begin to own their own learning.  November’s final example of Garth Holman and Michael Pennington sums this all up perfectly.  These two teachers through the medium of online tools have completely shifted their teaching methodology from teacher centered to students centered in which students created and took responsibility for their content and learning.  Holman and Pennington’s students creation of, and the motivation to create, their own online textbook, again,  dovetails perfectly into Daniel Pink’s motivators of mastery, autonomy and purpose.  It is important to be aware that it is good design and pedagogy that has created the awesome learning environment.  This vision combined with the embedding of technology into the design is the key.  As Kathy Schrock says in her video Connecting Your Classroom to the Future, “Technology does not drive curriculum…curriculum drives technology”.

So what are my predictions for the future? Well I think that the following video, that a fellow learner in this course Stacey Johnsen, reflected upon in her last post Digital Communication and Collaboration, speaks very strongly towards what I would like to see education become.

For me, what Pat Bassett talks about in the above Tedx talk manages to capture a lot of ideas that are constantly swirling around in my brain that I can never get a hold of all at once.  Ideas from my own reflections, ideas that I’ve read, seen or heard about. Ideas from my experience that I never have had a chance to articulate because they are fleeting.  I love hearing that education is no longer owned by the teacher.  Bassett says, “subjects will be in the service of creation”.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Knowledge to imagine and create.                     Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I love that he says students should do something with their imaginations and knowledge.   No longer will students just “know stuff”, but they will need to create – to engage in real world problems – and have real world solutions.  I want to be a part of a movement that can get beyond high stakes testing and move into “High Value Demonstrations”.  It’s exciting.

That is the education future that I want to be part of.

Who Owns the Learning? Chapter 2: The Student as Tutorial Designer -How Do We Show the Value?

Students, in my experience always want to help each other, so it is no surprise that instead of  making it a problem that classes always want to casually discuss concepts and ideas presented to them, that instead it should be made into an opportunity for improving student learning.  Currently, in my classroom students are always allowed to discuss and help each other on any task or assignment as long as it is not a “test”, and frankly if it was up to me, and me alone, I would create collaborative”tests”.  However, there was a time when it made me uncomfortable when students wanted to help each other.  I was concerned that if they didn’t figure it out themselves then maybe they hadn’t learned it.  I realized that this anxiety wasn’t really about what I really believed,  but more about what I thought other teachers and administrators might think.  When I realized this, I thought more about the real value of students helping each other, and was prepared with the “why” of my actions. So when I think about Alan November’s ideas about students designing learning for other students, I like the idea, and have already thought of some things I can try.  However, in the current school culture I work in I can foresee that their may well be parents questioning why the teacher is getting the students to do what they see as the “teacher’s” job.  Even though I am fully prepared with the “why”, it may be a little far from what traditional teaching is supposed to look like in the eyes of some stakeholders.

Having gotten that out, I think what Eric Marcos has done is remarkable,  and it connects right into Daniel Pink’s ideas of purpose, mastery and autonomy.  What I wonder about is the fact that these students are not graded for their contribution.  I understand that the fact that they are not extrinsically motivated is why they do the great work they do, and no grade is really going to have any real meaning or measure of what they have created.  Furthermore, I buy into this kind of learning. I see value in it, but I can’t always quantify it. This is the difficulty. Their has to be some way of validating this contribution; this value that students are creating.  How do we show the true learning experience of the student tutorial designer?

If the digital Learning Farm became the standard in a school, how would teachers assess if the very act of assessment would nullify student purpose?  How do we measure this success and sell it to the data hounds who show achievement through common core standards and the collection of test score data?  In our current educational culture

Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc

teachers are only held accountable for achievement that can be captured as data, while learning is ignored or not even considered.  So I wonder will the student as a tutorial designer always have to be a sideshow?  Or can the world truly embrace the paradigm shift?

A Reflection on Alan November’s “Who Owns the Learning?”

Alan November welcomes the reader the to the Digital Learning Farm by quoting Daniel Pink‘s book Drive.  Pink points out that predictors of high quality work are when individuals experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  November then wonders how well our traditional education model allows for these three elements.  Essentially in my mind it doesn’t.  November points out that the idea of purpose is one of the most important predictors of quality work, and yet the traditional education model offers no real purpose for its learners.  For me it is crystal clear why Pink’s three indicators are useful in providing meaningful learning,  and what November is saying about them in terms of his goals that drive the Digital Learning Farm model.  To make myself clear it is necessary to share how my teacher brain was shaped early on in my life.


Photo Credit: Mike Roach Jr. via Compfight cc

Before I became a classroom teacher, and actually quite awhile before I got around to even going to University, I worked as, for lack of a better term, an outdoor educator.  What this means is that I was employed by an organization called the Camp Chief Hector YMCA, which is located just west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  In the fall, winter, and spring seasons we ran experiential education programs for schools in the region, and in summer I ran month long adventure leadership programs for 15-16 year olds.  There is an amazing amount of learning that goes on in a centre like this, and I believe it has everything to do with the fact all the programs, regardless of whether it was a curriculum based program such as the IEE‘s Sunship Earth, or a month long Outward Bound style backcountry adventure, they were designed around motivating participants intrinsically.

In experiential learning environments, learners are given direct instruction on certain skills they will need to be able to participate as the program becomes more complex.  They are given time to practice and become comfortable with their new knowledge and skills (mastery).   Learners who return again  each year are given even more opportunity to develop these skills as they progress through various programs. It is also quite clear (most of the time) that the skills they are learning are going to serve a very clear purpose very soon.  Meaning when the van drops them off 90 km from nowhere, those who were not able to internalize the purpose of mastering the necessary skills and knowledge will soon suffer the discomforts of the backcountry, or the wrath of their peers.

Photo Credit: zkruz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zkruz via Compfight cc

As the programs move forward learners are put into situations where they must take the initiative to use the new skills and knowledge to solve a real world problem.  They may need to lead their peers for a day through the mountains using their map and compass skills, or run a belay station to get their group down a glacier’s headwall.  The sense of accomplishment from being successful, or from experiencing several failures that eventually lead to an accomplishment, ultimately gives that learner a true sense of autonomy;  the sense they can master the world they live in.

To me this is learning.

So as I begin to read Alan November, I see his Digital Learning Farm as the “outdoor adventure for the classroom”.  It’s a paradigm shift for the education establishment.  It’s a shift for both students and teachers.  November talks about shifting control of the learning.  I know from experience trying to give a task to students that involves some initiative and problem solving can be painful for all involved.  This is particularly true of students who expect you to just hand everything out so that they can fill it in and give it back.  The Digital Learning Farm model will take careful scaffolding to bring learners to a place where they can begin to have the skills to take on their own learning journey.  Unfortunately a lot of our current paradigm has disabled students.  They just want to be taught.  This is not their  fault.  It’s what they are used to.  The ideas of the Digital Learning Farm could change that.

For me I don’t need to be convinced of the possibilities of the Digital Learning Farm.  I’ve seen the ideas in a different context work effectively time and again.  I also know that this kind of learning model cannot be taken on by one individual teacher.  It has to be an initiative from educational leaders in schools to shift their learning environments to a place where teachers do not hold all the keys to the learning.  A place where it is ok to lead your learners into the woods, and leave them to figure out how to get back.   A place where students can see the purpose in their tasks, master relevant skills, and feel the sense of autonomy that comes with working through a problem that leads to useful and real outcomes.