The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course : NPR #edtech #edchat

The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course : NPR.

I work at the intersection of culture and technology in the field of education. There has never been a better time for professional educators to take the lead in shaping the future of education. In order to do this, they must commit to changing educational beliefs and practices with regards to digital technologies.

The NPR article cited in this blog post highlights the emerging complexity of institutionalized education. At one time the challenge was equipping educational institutions with digital technologies so that teachers could ‘keep up’ with evolving societal engagements with digital technologies. The development and promotion of MOOCs illustrates an extension of this problem: the commodification of educational ‘products’ purported to replace social and relationship-based educational processes. If teachers perceived their roles and responsibilities were threatened to be usurped by machines and software in their schools, that issue pales alongside the threat of teacher presence being replaced by websites and online discussion boards.

Educators’ response to these changes and challenges in the past has been to say, “This is not my concern,” or, “I don’t teach that way.” However, teachers’ non-involvement with digital technologies is a tacit form of approval for the incursion of digital technologies from other professions – business, computer science, economics, and administration. By actively avoiding the development of a coherent response to digital technologies in education, teachers have endorsed others to do so, and the results have everything to do with profit metrics and very little to do with real teaching, learning, relevant curriculum development and evolving pedagogy.

There is much for educators to do, first and foremost, to become leaders in their field: to bring masterful knowledge of the social life of teaching and learning, highly sophisticated understandings of the relational intricacies that foster enthusiasm for learning, commitment to endure the difficulty of learning, and self-efficacious practices to accomplish sometimes dull, sometimes systematic persistence to complete learning projects. The digitization of learning activities does not equal good learning, just as sitting in a classroom does not denote exceptional learning experiences. These are not mutually exclusive enterprises, they are, however, contested and demand a vigorous educational response.

I argue that the field of education has done a great disservice to itself in its failure to appreciate the significance of teacher learning and teacher education. I have just completed reviewing over 3,000 titles of education research pertaining to digital technology published in since 2010. On average, the ratio of research topics pertaining to student learning in relation to teacher learning and teacher education is extremely out of balance, in the order of 20 titles pertaining to student learning with digital technologies to every title addressing digital technology in teacher learning and teacher education. This preliminary finding leads me to conclude that the field of education is not well informed about teacher learning and teacher education with regards to digital technologies. I propose this lack of information is contributing to a lack of real leadership and direction from educational practitioners when it comes to shaping the future of education in the digital age.

The above mentioned article about MOOCs and online education highlights the problem. The absence of adequate and substantive, ongoing research into teacher learning and teacher education with digital technologies means there is a gap in knowledge about teaching and learning. Until teachers take up the challenge of researching and publishing their own findings on the significant aspects of learning as philosophical, social, cultural, relational, psychological, curricular, and pedagogical expressions of complex inter-personal communications, there is going to be a continued absence of this knowledge in the field.

Lectures are not inherently bad, although boring lectures are very difficult to learn from. Online resources are not inherently good, however exceptional online resources can foster learning in ways unimaginable. In class learning relationships are not inherently productive, and dynamic face to face learning encounters can inspire a lifetime of inquiry. Communicating through network media is not necessarily anonymous and anti-social: networks of learning relationships can yield knowledge and information unavailable within local geographies or social connections.

There is a profound need for educators to take up the challenge of providing learning leadership in the digital age. To take up this challenge, educators need to consider their own professional learning through, with, and about digital technologies as an ethical imperative of the profession, not an add-on to existing practice. We cannot predict what changes this conceptualization of the profession will entail. We do know what will happen if we maintain the status quo. The work of learning and shaping our future social consciousness will fall to those whose primary motivation may or may not hold the social good as its guiding principle. Whatever the intentions that motivate these non-educators, they cannot possess the hard-won knowledge of building productive learning relationships that is at the heart of every passionate educator. These are the professionals that we need to bring leadership the field in the 21st century.

The first step to enacting the transformation of the education is to talk about the condition of the field, digital cultures and technologies, and learning. We need these conversations to begin the process of critically inquiring into our own philosophical, social, cultural, curricular, and pedagogical transformations, and consequently, the transformation of the field. Through these conversations we build our own professional learning relationships sustained by networked media and our intrinsic belief that the contribution of educators is imperative to the future of the field of education. As we implement changes to our practice, we have a system of support enacted through personal learning networks online and in our local schools. We develop the enthusiasm, commitment, and self-efficacy to endure the uncertainties of bringing digital technologies into school settings, the ambiguity of conducting formal learning through online connectivity, and the sometimes dull, sometimes intriguing processes of learning with, through, and about digital technologies in the education profession.

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The problem to be addressed #edchat #edtech

My research addresses the problem of teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices assumed but not prepared. This has led to a continuing problem of teachers’ lack of innovative uses of ICT in their professional practice. With this lack comes an undeveloped technological disposition in the cultures of schools. Despite billions of dollars invested worldwide in equipping schools with digital infrastructure, there is evidence that these investments have not been utilized to actually influence the emergence of social learning practices. More troubling, these investments have not resulted in a teaching cohort with sophisticated knowledge of digital technologies and their significance in the formation of future human societies. At present we do not have adequate leadership to develop sophisticated understandings of the significance of digital technologies as an apogee of human connectivity and communication. Instead, we have corporate and government initiatives that would assign our technological communicative capabilities to serve the interests of administrative expediency and market messaging.

We have a problem with in-service teacher learning regarding ICT perspectives and practices, we also have a problem with pre-service teacher learning ICT perspectives and practices. This makes sense, because the teacher education system is a quasi-mentoring system: more experienced educators teach pre-service teacher candidates how to teach. If the more experienced educators have not developed an innovative ICT disposition and an ethical commitment to ICT leadership as an integral component of the teaching profession, they are not going to be able to convey these dispositions, and ethical values to a new generation of teachers coming into the field.

However, we can interrupt the cycle of non-ICT engagement in the teaching profession, and we have a very real opportunity for the teaching profession to assume a leadership role in education citizenry for the 21st century. At present, there is no system in place to: 1) address the problem; and 2) implement a systemic intervention for change.

Part of the problem is that traditionally the teaching profession has been concerned with a very narrow realm of educational activity. Specifically, educators have been concerned with conveying pre-determined knowledge about pre-determined disciplinary fields (e.g. math, science, language arts, etc.). It is only in recent decades that teachers have been given the responsibility of more diverse topics and issues (politics, the environment, ecological studies, social justice, etc.). Throughout the history of the field of education, technological knowledge has been relegated to hard sciences and vocational studies. There has never been an educational focus, or leadership, investigating our social uses of technologies, including digital technologies. However, at this point in our human evolution, we must pay attention to our human involvements with technologies, all technologies, as it is through our technological phenomena that we are destroying natural resources, habitats, human populations, and the humanities.

What is at stake, as we consider preparing teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices isn’t simply figuring out how to load a powerpoint lecture into Slideshare, or reversing instructional activity using Khan academy videos. What is at stake is the kind of human societies we want to create as we evolve as a species. Our involvements with digital technological phenomena signify a developmental ‘level-jump’ at a par with the invention of the Guttenberg press. We absolutely need a cohort of educators capable of providing leadership and instruction to our citizenry to ensure the amplification of human communicative capabilities made possible by digital technologies is used for the betterment of living conditions for all humankind, and not to simply empower and enrich a few, at the expense of the many.

Pushing through #dissertating

My workflow was interrupted last week with a trip to the university and now it is time to take up the traces once again and continue to plough this field and sow these seeds.

I notice this clarity of purpose is starting to imbue the work as a matter of course rather than a sentence by sentence battle of wills. I wonder if I can write a conceptual summary.

My thesis is concerned with the lack of preparation of teachers’ information and communication technologies (ICT) in the field of Canadian teacher education. Canadian teacher education signifies a greater problem, the lack of preparation of teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices. It is this greater lack that contributes to the situation in the field of teacher education in Canada. Additionally, the lack of teacher ICT preparation is not limited to Canada, but has been reported for decades in educational institutions around the world. The problem is recognized by UNESCO, which authored ICT Competency Standards for Teachers in the form of a framework, policies, and instructional modules.

The problem I am addressing is one that was identified by Larry Cuban in his landmark study, “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cuban identified three key elements to the lack of engagement on the part of teachers: 1) historically the field of education has not placed great emphasis on our human involvements with technology, particularly in the ways human learning and teaching are shaped by technology; 2) teachers did not play a part in the deliberations or decisions that led to the introduction of digital technologies into educational venues, they do not share a common vision of what it means to use digital technologies in their professional contexts; and 3) teachers do not feel adequately prepared to re-cast their teaching practices through the incorporation of digital technologies within their educational institution, nor their professional cultural beliefs and values.

The background of the problem shows educational researchers reporting a continuing problem with teachers’ and teacher educators’ uses of ICT: 1) a lack of congruence between ICT policy frameworks and day to day teachers’ practices; 2) the use of ICT in the service of traditional learning activities; and 3) the absence of innovative uses of ICT that actually change teachers’ and students’ roles and responsibilities as learners. The background of the problem also shows how these issues are also found in teacher education programs.

The background of the study reports our research experiences from a two-year pilot study that preceded the implementation of the three year full study reported in this thesis. The focus of the two-year pilot study was to introduce ICT mentoring to teacher educators as an in-class service to support their uses of ICT. As teacher educator mentors, we were involved in observing teacher educators’ instructional designs and offering suggestions for enabling, enriching, or enhancing learning through the use of digital technologies. After these consultations, we supported the teacher educator as he/she learned to use digital technologies, and learning to teach with digital technologies in their teacher education courses. Concurrently, the pilot study also worked with the teacher candidates. The teacher candidates spent time with the research team in the computer lab, learning with, about, and through, the uses of digital technologies. They were encouraged to develop their own instructional resources that utilized ICT to enable, enrich and enhance learning. When these teacher candidates went out on their extended practicum, they had the services of the research mentors available on request. Research mentors attended their classes in their practicum schools and supported their fledgling uses of ICT in these varied contexts.

We learned several important lessons from this study, which we incorporated into the design of the full study. First, if teacher candidates do not have an opportunity to learn to use ICT, and develop their own instructional designs that incorporate ICT, they are not likely to use ICT on their extended practicum. The schools in our local school districts did not have an even distribution of ICT resources at every school site, nor did they have timely, appropriate support for teaching with ICT in school settings. Without exception, the elementary sponsor teachers overseeing our teacher candidates’ practicum teaching were not regular users of ICT. In fact, we had at least one instance where one of our teacher candidates’ was prevented from using the ICT instructional design because her sponsor teacher did not want her to set up expectations of the students that the sponsor teacher would not be able to continue after the practicum was concluded.

Second, we learned that teacher educators in the teacher education program were not regular users of ICT in their teaching. Those teacher educators who did use ICT were most likely to use it for powerpoint lectures. There were no examples of innovative uses of ICT for teaching and learning demonstrated by the teacher educators. Moreover, when offered the services of the research mentors, several teacher educators were enthusiastic to challenge their regular teaching practices to try using ICT. That said, of those teacher educators who were enthusiastic to try new ICT practices, their efforts needed to be ‘shoe-horned’ in to their existing curriculum and teaching. There was no systemic provision or requirement to prepare teacher candidates’ to learn to teach with, through, and about, ICT. Interestingly, we found the teacher educators who already used ICT for powerpoint lectures were unlikely to be interested in more innovative uses of ICT. They believed they were already accomplishing that in their practice. We also found teacher educators who were not only resistant to using ICT out of fear because their own skills and knowledge were so undeveloped (one teacher educator did not use email), we also found teacher educators who believed the use of ICT in society was a problem and they did not see a value in using it in their teaching practice.

Third, the policy conditions for the use of ICT were not conducive to innovative uses of ICT. Provincial educational policy did not require ICT skills or knowledge for teacher accreditation. Although provincial educational instructional resource packages included limited uses of ICT, these were not required for course completion, thus, the IRP aspect of provincial curriculum did not mandate ICT curriculum as a requirement in the teacher education curriculum. At the level of the Faculty of Education, there was no ICT policy articulated for the preparation of teacher candidates. The informal policy at the Faculty level was to have individual departments and teacher educators include ICT on a case by case basis. Thus, there was no Faculty level policy compelling teacher educators to include ICT as a required component of their courses or their teaching and instructional design. At the level of the teacher education program, ICT proficiency was not a requirement for being hired as a teacher educator. Additionally, ICT proficiency was neither an admissions criteria, nor a graduation requirement for the teacher candidates.

This is the basic rationale for my thesis.

Organizing Theories and Concepts

I have been working on this sub-section for a month now and continue to struggle with getting it written up. I have been trying to identify the organizing theories and concepts in the field of education and it is very challenging. I have gotten as far as identifying key features at the government, institutional, and education professional levels, as gleaned from government documents, institutional statements, and research literature. I just can’t figure out how to represent what I have found in a coherent way.

In particular, I don’t know how to name what I have found, with regards to philosophical, curricular, pedagogical, and ecological concepts.

Here is what I have found: government policy in Canada and in British Columbia contains antithetical incoherence, sometimes from one paragraph to another. For example, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) published their vision for the future of education in Canada: Learn Canada 2020. In this document the CMEC juxtaposes two ideas about education that are incoherent to each other. In one instance they envision education that is knowledge-based, knowledge generative, lifelong, and focused on social processes of learning. This vision accounts for the proliferation and ubuiquitous use of ICT in society, and the ways our Canadian society is evolving cognitively, culturally, and technologically as a result of our involvements with ICT. In the next instance they envision education that is based on pre-determined knowledge-objects, knowledge transmissive, and validated through standardized testing. There is no indication in the vision document that the authors realize these two approaches to education are antithetical and philosophically incoherent. Ironically, standardized testing is a process that is easily mechanized through the use of digital technology, making it easier to generate tests, process test results and manipulate test data to derive interpretations about the state of education from that data.

In the Province of British Columbia the situation is worse. The Ministry of Education is implementing a new education plan based on the recommendations of the Premier’s Technology Council 2010. This new education plan is based on our social, cognitive, cultural, and technological involvements with digital technologies in the knowledge age. The slogan for the BC Education Plan is, “the world has changed, the way we education our children should to.” The main features of the new plan are personalized learning for every student, quality teaching and learning, flexibility and choice, high standards, and learning empowered by technology. If we examine these features, the first, third, and fifth are dependent on sophisticated uses of digital technologies, similar to the ways we are learning through digital technologies in society outside the realm of educational institutions. The second feature, quality teaching and learning, would seem to be a given for any education system, whether there is digital technology involved or not. The fourth feature, high standards, refers to the use of standardized testing, which, as mentioned earlier, is also a use of digital technology, but for the opposite effect of items 1, 2, and 3. The fifth feature, learning empowered by technology, provides an indication of the importance of the digital technologies in the successful implementation of the BC Education Plan.

However, according to Rod Allan, the plan is going to be implemented without any discussion about ICT in education, and, there is no money for technological infrastructure to support implementing the plan. At the same time, the BC Ministry of Education is investing 10s of millions of dollars to revise a centralized learning management system for the province. So, on the face of it, the BC Ministry of Education is playing lip service to contemporary concerns about the relevance of formal education by announcing that it is implementing a new education plan based on knowledge age sensibilities and 21st century competencies, while at the same time, it is investing in industrial age infrastructure and systems of control, as well as standardized testing, which constructs learning in particular, non-innovative, non-personalized, non-flexible ways, and ensures the standards by which education is implemented in this province are well out of step with knowledge-age social, economic, and civil needs.

But it doesn’t stop at the level of government. At the level of educational institutions, the organizing theories and concepts with regards to educational involvements with ICT are equally incomprehensible and incoherent. For decades educational institutions have been investing in ICT infrastructure because it was going to ‘improve learning’. This reveals a technological deterministic view, “if we build it they will come” (ie. teachers will use the technology). At the same time, institutional guidelines have not focused on the preparation of teachers’ philosophical, curricular, nor pedagogical uses of ICT, but rather on providing one time only professional development exposures to ICT, and then individual discretion on how, when, why, and where teachers might decide to use ICT. At the same time, the provision of ICT infrastructure in educational institutions has been based on the use of global learning management systems. These systems were not conceived as knowledge-generative, innovative, critical creative systems for the social construction of learning, but rather they were initially used to for the administration of educational information such as student records and registration. Adapting these administrative systems to learning systems meant turning learning activities into data objects that could be processed through the structure of the learning system. The learning has to be designed to ‘fit’ into the structure of the learning management system. Learning management systems have been making efforts to become more flexible, and allow for knowledge-generative social learning activities, but at the heart of the structure is a system design to process data objects, and those data objects must be pre-programmed to fit into the data categories and data formats of the pre-existing system.

To recap, at the institutional level, there has been an unexamined idea that ICT will improve learning, a lack of adequate preparation of ICT knowledge and skills in the teaching profession, and the establishment of learning management systems to structure learning with ICT. At the same time, educational institutions have left it up to individual instructors to determine their own uses of ICT in their teaching and learning practices, and this has resulted in a global lack of teachers’ use of ICT, or, when they do use it, uses that replicate traditional learning activities rather than inspiring creative, collaborative, critical, and knowledge-generative evolving communities of practice.

In the profession of education, organizing theories and concepts about ICT in education are complex, contradictory, and confusing. They are complex because teachers know that they need to become sophisticated users of ICT themselves in order to use it in such a way that their teaching and learning are enabled, enriched and enhanced. At the same time, teachers are not taught to take responsibility for their own ICT learning, there is a pervasive belief that educators’ ICT preparation and ongoing professional development with ICT is the responsibility of their institution, and if their institution is not providing leadership in this area, teachers are too busy to take up the leadership themselves. At the same time, teachers’ are wary of ICT in education, in part because of the failed policies of “build it they will come”. Teachers were not consulted in the acquisition of ICT infrastructure in their schools, and there is a common attitude espoused by teachers to, “not use technology for technology’s sake”.

Teachers’ experiences with ICT in education are contradictory because, on the one hand, they have witnessed investments of precious educational resources into the provision of ICT in their schools, at the same time, they haven’t had a say in what ICT would be useful, and why it should be an acquisition priority. Another contradiction is that teachers are told that they should become proficient technology users, but the infrastructure that is provided in their schools is not adequate for ensuring reliable ICT resources for teaching lessons: up to date equipment for the students, adequate bandwidth for Internet access, ICT resource management designed for centralized control but not for constructive pedagogy. The entire prospect of incorporating ICT into teaching practice is confusing because, on the one hand teachers are being inundated with 21st century competencies, and knowledge-generative inquiry based learning activities, while at the same time their students (and they) are being subjected to high-stakes testing, which is antithetical to knowledge-generative inquiry based learning.

So there, that is my statement about organizing theories and concepts. You might ask, well, Jenny, what are the actual theories and concepts that are being applied in these instances? And I put my face in my hands and rock back and forth. That is why this is taking so long.

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baffling contradictions

Here are some examples of concepts and practices about information and communication technologies (ICT) in education that leave me shaking my head in bafflement:

1. ICT is just a tool; using ICT transforms education

This example demonstrates two antithetical conceptualizations of digital technologies. The first example exemplifies as subjective view of digital technologies as a separable tool within the dominion of the perceiving subject. The second example exemplifies a technologically deterministic relationship between our uses of digital technologies and the influence these uses have on transforming educational practice. The first example demonstrates cultural determinism, that is, our human cultural practices determine which tools we may select and why. The second example demonstrates technological determinism, that is, the technologies we use determine the possibilities for human cultures of learning.

2. Learning in educational institutions needs to resemble learning in life; learning in educational institutions needs to demonstrate achievement of standards-based learning assessments

These two points of view are contradictory. The first point of view shows an appreciation for the efficacy and enthusiasm engendered by organic, emergent learning processes that arise from the pursuit of individual interests and curiosity. The second point of view maintains the organizational structure of educational institutions, an organizational structure that is rationalized through assessment processes. If we think about how we take up an interest in life, and pursue that interest to develop knowledge, skill, experience, and finally expertise, we do not need to rationalize our investment of time, energy, and money, because we are responsible for the investments we make in our lives. In an educational institution, the very existence of the institution needs to be rationalized in order to sustain the flow of financial support that makes the existence of the institution possible. Assessments of learning are the criteria by which an educational institution justifies its existence and the investments of stakeholders. Assessments of learning are not in the interests of the learners, they are in the interests of the institution.

3. 21st century learning should foster criticality, creativity, innovation and collaboration amongst students; 21st century learning must ensure all student learn core subject knowledge

These two curriculum represent contradictory views of the purpose of education. The first curriculum fosters a student body that is comfortable with change, who is trained and skilled at imagining new realities and capable of planning, testing, and implementing their discoveries. The second curriculum is a conservative program designed to ensure each succeeding generation is schooled in what the previous generation considered important or essential for the formation of a civil society. These two views are not necessarily contradictory, but are potentially at odds with each other, if their natural tendency to form tensions between these two forces are not acknowledged and negotiated. There isn’t anything inherently beneficial about searching for new ideas, approaches, or solutions, however, it is necessary for our human survival to keep searching for qualitative improvement to the perplexing problems evident in our human condition. Similarly, there isn’t anything inherently beneficial in conserving traditions or values that have been shown to be ultimately destructive to human civility, safety, or sustainability.

4. administrators and educators must harness the power of digital technologies and social media; concepts for educational organizational structures are conceived as models and frameworks, a continuous search for best practices to replicate throughout the system

These two examples demonstrate the opposing forces educators find themselves working within. On the one hand, the inexorable changes in human societies on a global scale, as a result of our involvements with digital technologies cannot be ignored. On the other hand, the very foundations of the educational institutions that have formed an edifice to learning prior to the digital age are based on artificial organizational structures, institutionalized interpersonal relationships, and operational protocols that do not exist outside the life system of the institution. If administrators and educators were to truly harness the power of digital technologies and social media, they would be undermining the organizational structures from which they derive their livelihood. When administrators and educators attempt to impose industrial era constructs such as models, frameworks, and universal best practices, they are hobbling the power of digital technologies and social media.

These are the central tensions that I have identified through my review of literature on ICT perspectives, practices, and the dynamic contextual conditions of educational institutions. It is these tensions that I argue must be addressed as politicians, administrators and educators attempt to adapt to the changing cognitive, cultural, technological terrain of life in the 21st century.

Internal coherence : external incongruence

There is ample evidence of a systemic problem in the field of education when it comes to comprehending the social significance of digital technologies, and adapting educational organizational structures to reflect our involvements with digital technologies. I have been conceptualizing the problem of teachers’ ICT perspectives assumed but not prepared as a phenomenon of hidden bias. I am working with Banaji and Greenwald’s work, which explains how the physiological phenomenon of blindspots and blindsight can also be applied to understand hidden bias toward social groups.

A recent example of educational blindspots and blindsight with regards to educational responses to digital technologies and knowledge-age societies can be found in an email broadcast from the President of a large regional university (LRU) in Western Canada. This email announces changes at the university level to implement flexible learning through new learning models and online delivery formats. The president writes, “LRU has long been strong in learning innovation and takes pride in offering a creative mix of experiential learning and traditional lectures to its students.  In areas such as Medicine and Education we are seen as leaders in providing broad access to the best programs through creative use of flexible and distributed options.”

This statement, referring to learning innovation through the creative use of flexible and distributed options in the Faculty of Education, is not supported in fact. For instance, there is no coherent university response with regards to FIPPA legislation and the innovative use of online social resources in public education. Additionally, even last summer (2012), in one of their last courses of their teacher education program, there were teacher candidates who had never used the computer lab at the university for learning in their courses, much less for learning to teach using digital technologies. These teacher candidates were struggling to understand the relevance of learning to teach with and about digital technologies in their teaching practice, much less acting as leaders to guide future social formations in digitized human societies. The President’s reference to “new learning models and online delivery formats” should be a red flag for anyone interested in an evolving education system capable of utilizing digital resources to enhance, enable and enrich learning. The use of the term ‘model’ and the idea of using ‘delivery formats’ speaks to a standardized approach for educational interaction. Institutional standardization is not conducive to flexibility, innovation, creativity, nor criticality. The very conceptualization of structuring the initiative based on models and delivery formats indicates in incongruent conceptualization of the intention of the initiative and the application of the initiative in the real world.

The President describes the strategy for implementing these changes on the university campus as, “…we need to evolve our teaching model further to one that more systematically blends traditional classroom environments with online components, interactive distance dialogues, and small support groups.” However, the strategy to ‘evolve our teaching model’ involves supporting participating faculty in transitioning their courses to this new approach. The strategy is to work with faculty most interested in new teaching methods. The problem with this approach is that it does not address the relational aspect of these changes. It assumes that faculty are simply going to re-write their courses to fit new teaching methods: personalized learning, flexibility, and integrating online and face to face interactivity. The President is assuming the social, cultural, and technological dimensions of these changes are going to take care of themselves through redeveloping teaching programs according to individual faculty most interested in new teaching methods.

Unfortunately, the President is implementing a program approach that has been shown to be profoundly unsuccessful in the field of education: signalling technological change without providing adequate preparation to incorporate the change in teaching practice. According to the President, these changes are being implemented as a strategic response to changes in the field of education rather than faculty initiated change in response to philosophical, pedagogical, and curricular needs. If the changes were being initiated because faculty recognized the significance of knowledge-age society and the need for all educators to take an ethically based responsibility for providing societal leadership in the field, the President would not be implementing this initiative. The President would be scrambling to accommodate faculty requests for flexible, faculty-led, online server resources to support their philosophical, pedagogical, and curricular initiatives arising from their student-led experiential inquiry-based learning approach.


If the President truly understood the significance of the change the university needs to undertake, he would not be talking about new learning models, rather, he would be talking about active learning networks, distributed leadership, efficacious pedagogies, and evolving methods of study. Instead, the President is attempting to utilizing existing industrial era hierarchical organizational structures to implement knowledge-based social learning networks. What the President is missing is that these are not simply models that can purchased over the counter and implemented in a learning organization. These are cognitive, cultural, and technological dispositions, that reflect complex dimensions of human interactivity, learning, and connectivity.


This example shows how, from the President’s point of view, a coherent initiative is being implemented to address a problem the university if facing. What the President is incapable of perceiving is the tautological self-reproduction of the organizational structure of the institution, which is antithetical to the very initiative and problem the President hopes to address. For those whose tautological self-reproduction are aligned with the President, this initiative is going to seem coherent and logical. What the President cannot perceive is the unexamined assumptions that are forming the basis for the initiative, assumptions that are incongruent to the espoused outcomes of the initiative. The President is unable to perceive the influence of these unseen assumptions because they are operating below conscious awareness. They are so normalized they are unquestioned.


This seeming internal coherence, however, can, and likely, will, be experienced as external incongruence by those who face the day to day realities of teaching within the organizational structure of the university. They will not have adequate preparation for these changes because the magnitude of change, the complexity of the change process, and the implications of these changes in what constitutes exemplary teaching are so far removed from the day to day realities of teaching within industrial era hierarchies. These are the unseen cognitive, cultural, and technological dimensions that actually constitute life in the institution. If these dimensions remain in operation below the level of change implementation, they will influence the experiences of those who are attempting to implement the changes, even if they are not immediately understood as barriers or obstacles to real, and lasting change.


In this sense, I am applying Banaji and Greenwald’s explanation of blindspots and blindsight operating in hidden bias toward identifiable social groups, and bringing them to help explain why educational change, with regards to the social life of digital technologies in a knowledge-based society, are going to continue to struggle and fail. The internal coherence that has resulted in billions of dollars expended to equip schools with digital technologies only to have them used to reinforce unimaginative knowledge transmission, is still at play in this initiative.

Unfortunately, many people will put their best efforts into making this initiative a success, only to find, in two or three years time, that faculty have reverted to familiar teaching techniques, simply adapting digital technologies to traditional learning activities. The problem facing every educational institution today, is that students have a new power of agency and autonomy with regards to their learning. If educational institutions are unable to significantly adapt to a new reality of human learning networks based on real social imperatives, they are simply going to become an anachronistic institution whose activities are devoid of meaning. What they are doing in that institution might make sense to those who perpetuate the organizational structure and systems of connectivity, but they will appear incongruent to the realities of knowledge-age society facing multiple crisis of human existence.

It is actually not so difficult to implement these changes when one considers ecological formations of learning networks. But the essential structural component of ecological formations is that the participants whose interactivity and communicativity give the ecological system life. By attempting to individualize the implementation of this initiative, the President has neglected to foster the very properties that will transform industrial era hierarchical organizational structures to evolving knowledge generative learning networks. These networks are not formed and sustained through individual effort, they are the result of collective agency enacted through day to day practice.

Sometimes we have to take a leap #edchat #teched #bcedsfu

I had a great chat with Dan Kenkel, of Valemount Secondary School, in School District #57, on Friday. We are discussing ways forward to address the systemic, interrelated problems of: 1) preparing teachers’ (inservice, pre-service) innovative use of ICT for inquiry learning;  2) preparing teachers’ ICT leadership capabilities to provide Canada with a critical, informed, sophisticated technologically adept citizenry; 3) establishing a national online infrastructure system to support teachers’ innovative inquiry learning processes through the incorporation of ICT; 4) providing alternate educational experiences for educational professionals to address the ‘blind spot’ and seed resilient, self-efficacious communities of practice networks for ICT knowledge generation in the profession; and 5) develop an accreditation system for acquisition of educational innovation and inquiry with ICT that qualify ICT skills, characteristics, social abilities, and innovative capacities for professional educators.

According to my research, there is a vacuum of ICT leadership in education. This vacuum is not attributable to any one individual or organizational entity, as you will find pockets of educational professionals working tirelessly to change the system. Rather, it is a systemic problem that is self-reinforcing, as the very existence of the organizational structures of the education system depend on maintaining existing structures, methods, and organization. 

I read Bruce Beairsto’s book review of Fullan’s Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge in the most recent issue of Canada Education Vol 52 No 5. Beairsto points out an ongoing issue in the field, which is, how to incorporate transformative learning experiences within an organizational structure that is founded on knowledge reproduction rather than knowledge generation. If the education system is going to reform itself, from a self-replicating system of knowledge transmission to an evolving system of knowledge generation, it is going to need opportunities to discuss and apply new understandings of educational philosophy, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment processes, technological cultures, and technological practices. It is possible to accomplish this magnitude of change, but it is not going to be accomplished in a graduated step approach.

There are some changes we can accomplish is small, graduated increments of change, as we consistently change our beliefs and put them into action, over time, we end up with a large degree of change. I’m thinking about sailing, and how one degree of course correction can result in a completely different destination, especially if that change in course is sustained over a long period of time. I’m also thinking about working with my big, reactive, dog, and how I must implement certain attitudes and behaviour everyday, and through my hard work, my dog gradually stops needing to attack any sudden changes in the environment. If I expected him to change in one big jump from one level to the next, I would be frustrated and unsuccessful. My expectations of his ability to change would be out of line with his capacities to change.

But I am also thinking about the renovation we are wrapping up right now on our house. 

When we bought our 106 year old house, we knew the basement was damp, and we would have to do something about the drainage. We attempted a relatively small project of redoing the drain tile around the perimeter of the house, but this was not sufficient, and the basement was still damp. Not only that, there wasn’t enough headroom, it was drafty and cold, the furnace was covered in asbestos and lead paint, and the electrical system was a composite of multi-generations of upgrades, dating back to the knob and tube wiring. We realized any minor, small steps we might take would simply be throwing good money after bad, because the basement itself needed to be replaced. Finally, we simply had to lift the house, scoop out the old basement, and plumbing, and electrical systems, and replace them with new infrastructure. There was not small, incremental steps to prepare us for the moment our house was up on cribs and the excavator grabbed onto the foundation and snapped it out like a stale soda cracker. And there was no going back.

In this case, there was no graduated, step by step course correction or change in attitude and behaviour. If we tried to the lift the house inch by inch, we would have failed. Not only that, our house would have continued to deteriorate in its present condition, and eventually it would have to be torn down. We had to make a big jump from one level to the next, so that our house would be prepared to last another 100 years.

When we look at our early 21st century global societies, we can see the introduction of digital technology into our human existence as an order of change that indicates a level jump, rather than a small incremental step. Now, in our second decade of the 21st century, educational systems continue to struggle to adapt. What we are facing in education is not a gradual, incremental, step by step change in our educational technological cultures. Rather, we are facing a full-scale level jump, and that is what we need to prepare for.