Education Evolutions #128

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Person looking at smartphone in the dark flickr photo by
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It has been a long time since I sat down and collected readings and thoughts about them with the intent of sharing. When everything went sideways in the spring there was just so much noise that I really did not want to contribute to it and put this project on hiatus. I could be wrong but it seemed like the last thing anyone wanted was a newsletter dropping in the email box when they were just trying to figure out what was happening.

Now that things have at least regulated somewhat, I figured I give it a go again. This is still a pet project of sorts that remains kind of an experiment, but a few people asked me about it recently which made me feel like it was worth continuing. I will try to resume on Sundays again. This week it just took a little longer to kick the rust off and get the wheels turning again.

I hope this message finds you well and in good spirits, as well as gives you some food for thought.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one, only because it might be the most practically useful for most people right now. It is a pretty quick read and offers some immediate takeaways that can be adopted or adapted. Yet, if you are not a classroom teacher, the other two articles are excellent looks into teaching and edtech on a higher conceptual level respectively.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

All of Us Are Smarter Than Any of Us – Alfie Kohn blog – Alfie Kohn (11-minute read)

I am a pretty regular reader of Alfie Kohn and have often mentioned how much I like his thinking and work. This post is no different, offering a tightly focused insight into some of the factors that compromise our current cultural moment but have been bleeding into education for quite some time. The “conflation of achievement (doing well) with competition (beating others)” might well be the best way to frame something I have thought for a long time but been unable to articulate quite as simply or elegantly.

America has spent over a century building the concept of the individual into a cult-like phenomenon. As Kohn explains, “Most of us are no more aware of the individualistic worldview that shapes us and defines our culture than a fish is aware of being in water.” While Kohn discusses things in an educational context, I would submit the consequences are far more grave. We have now reached a point where our collective inability to see beyond ourselves and engage in cooperative learning is actually resulting in death.

However, this article exposes some different viewpoints that we have even held within our own predominant culture, even if only fleetingly. There are plenty of other ways to teach and assess students beyond a hyper-focus on the independent work of an individual, as introduced here. Of course, that would seriously impair our ability to rank and sort privilege. Plus, I couldn’t help but wonder how many wealthy, well-connected parents who can afford to line their children up with non-paying, elite internships are ever referred to as “helicopter parents”?

Ed-Tech Mania Is Back – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Justin Reich (5-minute read)

It is fair to say, the pandemic crisis has reinvigorated the edtech world in a way that no one could have properly predicted. Like so many areas of our lives, the current situation has highlighted in relief just how reliant we have elected to be on technology to simply operate on a day-to-day basis. Schools have felt this pinch perhaps most acutely. Reich’s article uses Morgan Ames’s concept and recent book, The Charisma Machine, to frame three major stances toward edtech: charismatic, skeptical, and practical or “tinkering.” It definitely offers a good starting point to think about our approaches to the extraordinary current edtech resurgence, both collectively and individually.

Reading, I have to confess that I think I have migrated through all of these individual stances at various points. Early in my career, having spent some years working at an edtech consulting company, I was much more in the charismatic camp although never entirely comfortable. There is always a nagging skepticism in me I find impossible to shake. I will chalk that up to my incessantly curious nature and having some exceptional teachers in my life. Yet, if I look closely, while I have swung between charismatic and skeptical, leaning increasingly toward the latter, I have spent most of my time on the middle tinkering path for better or worse.

What Reich does exceptionally well in this piece is offer an explanation and some background to how these stances have played out, at least at the higher ed level. I would suggest that it is pretty similar at the K12 level too. What needs to be remembered above all is that most new technology is rarely as revolutionary as we think in the near term, as research and experience proves “most teachers used [computers and digital tools] to extend existing practices.” The pandemic has seen an expansion of the proliferation of those digital tools to be sure and made skepticism more challenging but we definitely need to maintain it if we have any hope of deeply understanding the consequences and potential regulatory changes required on the horizon.

8 Strategies to Improve Participation in Your Virtual Classroom – Edutopia – Emelina Minero (4-minute read)

As more of our instructional time has been moved online, whether working in remote or some kind of hybrid model, there are definite adjustments that need to be made. Having been lucky enough to teach in an online, asynchronous environment for ten years and a bespoke hybrid model for nearly the same amount of time, as well as the traditional face-to-face environment, I have learned a number of things through those experiences. Contrary to prevailing opinion, I do not see learning online versus face-to-face in some quality battle of what is better for students, at least at the secondary level and beyond. They are simply different modes and students both benefit and suffer in each, depending on a variety of factors.

What this Edutopia article does pretty successfully is show how some typical instructional strategies that work in a face-to-face environment can be modified to work in an online one. Rarely does anything move between the environments without some warranted modification. Again, the environments are just different. Separating the strategies into synchronous and asynchronous delivery is also a nice touch.

I can personally attest to using at least three of these eight before ever seeing the article. Number two, “using chat to check for understanding” is an easy thing that anyone can do in a formative way, especially if you are unable to see all online students at once. While I have not done number four, “adapting think-pair-share to Zoom,” in exactly the same way, I regularly try to remind colleagues that working synchronously can revolve around a live document, not just a videoconference. I have seen colleagues use number six, “online forums create back-and-forth dialogue” exceptionally well in face-to-face environments for years. This year I adapted a simple check-in form that I use in all my classes (remote, hybrid, whatever) to help me address attendance issues but also as a kind of one-to-one back channel between students and me which has already proven incredibly useful. Plus, as an English teacher using writing to connect and reflect, even as a precursor to speaking is kind of bread-and-butter teaching move. Hopefully, these are useful or at least open some possibilities that can be easy to miss in all the madness.

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