The Spark, the Confusion

Over the holidays I did my best to forget about education, technology, and everything in between. 2013 was an epic year of various successes, and I needed a break. But it’s impossible to escape from the things you’re passionate about and my work is one of those things (otherwise, why do it? duh.) This post is a bit overdue, but…

The Spark.

Spark Wallenda
Spark, an Internet cat. (Photo credit: Dave Hogg)

First, the reason I do this at all, the spark an educator or a technologist gets to see when someone is excited about their learning. I showed a nine year old, the son of an old friend, Webmaker. He can’t really interact with English, though he’s learning it in school (he’s knows some animals, months, common beginner phrases in English). Our German translation is only at 75% (fluent in a language other than English? Help Webmaker localize!), but I was determined to show him anyway.

He was playing games, and watching him, I knew he was bored. After half a day hearing from his dad how into puzzles and legos he is lately, I thought he might like coding. I showed him Thimble, and he spent the rest of the time I was there playing around, editing, trying to make a Subway Map perfect (he made three different maps because, apparently, this 9 year old is also into cartography). Three days later he had called me twice to ask me how to do this, how to do that. Checking in on his Profile Page (I showed him how to make things public), he’s made more stuff.

What I DIDN’T do is ask him “Do you want to learn something?” I didn’t prove how competent I am at webmaking by driving the mouse or showing things that he wasn’t interested in. I didn’t try to trick him into caring or even gently push him down a path I established for him in my mind. I let him play, ask questions, explore and fail. I had no expectations for his learning, I just put him at the center of it.

This is something I’m learning: Let expectations go. You don’t really need them. If you have expectations you’ll be disappointed when they aren’t met, and if they are met, you’ll have expected it, so there will be no warm fuzzy surprise.

The Confusion

Confusion !
Confusion (Photo credit: bob august)

Later in my break, I had a rather long debate in which I stood alone while five educated Germans misunderstood what I was proposing as an educational ideal. I explained my views on Connected Learning, shifting dynamics, the issue with standards, and how many policies make progressive and learner centric pedagogies difficult. I vocalized arguments from far smarter people than myself, referenced research, talked about education at a philosophical level, yet I couldn’t seem to make the point that we have an opportunity to redesign our understanding of what the system is. I couldn’t seem to make the point that in education it isn’t all black and white – what it means to “be educated” is the grayest of gray with all the cultural implications, contingencies and opportunities. I’m not against forward facing pedagogies, I just think they don’t work for everything. I’m not against testing, I’m against a certain test being the primary indicator of someone’s performance (be that “someone” a learner, a teacher, a school, a district). I’m not against standards, I just think standards should be flexible.

In these sorts of conversations I find that what people understand is that their education was “wrong”, and that’s offensive to them because they are, actually, educated. We underestimate what we’re doing. Changing education is about remixing a “working” system. We’re messing around with the system, but it looks like it works because people go to school, and they are taught things, and they are assessed, and they grow up. People don’t necessarily see education as being broken because the system and its contingent systems haven’t collapsed. Surely, if it were broken, the entire economy would fall apart.

Non-educators (or, perhaps, non-connected Educators, non-American Educators, non-??) and/or non-techies don’t have the cultural understanding that it could be optimized. We don’t have this problem because our cultural understanding of “open” is that we are allowed to iterate, we are encouraged to try to break systems, and we are always looking for ways to improve things. Maybe most people are uncomfortable questioning systems or authorities in realms were there were never told “you’re an expert”?

In any event, the confusion and debate around implementing more ideal learning environments has been going on for centuries, so there’s no reason to expect it to let up any time soon. I find it encouraging that people not in our direct target audience are interested enough to have the debate in the first place.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I think that 2014 is the year we win.

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The Spark, the Confusion

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