Disruption


Noticeboard cleaned up for the new year

Exitum iudicii foedum et perniciosum levissime tuli; quod quidem bonum mihi nunc denique redundat, ut iis malis rei publicae licentiaque audacium, qua ante rumpebar, nunc ne movear quidem, nihil est enim perditius his hominibus, his temporibus. [translation at the bottom of this post]

I’m hearing now the world “disruption” in relation to learning and teaching, used in the same way that last year we heard “innovation”, and before that, “agility”. It is as if by using a word that connotes change we will achieve that change, and yet a culture of pseudo-certainty makes us want to foreground “online”, “digital” and “blended” learning while studiously backgrounding the unknown unknowns that our learners will emerge into.

The fundamental, and fatal, flaw in our institutional paradigm of direct instruction is that the quality of the learning is then dependent on the quality of that instruction – its development and delivery – in the same way that the quality of your health care depends on your doctor.

To meet the challenges of the Brave New World we live in, we cannot be passive participants. The current tensions across the sector are reflective of this contradiction, with our systems rooted in old ways, while we know they are not as effective as they could be. With attrition rates between 20-30% of first year students, and no real viable post-secondary alternative, our systems is broken at its weakest point.

One of the problems is that we treat post-secondary education like Lotto. “Ooooh, I got 96%, I can be a lawyer!”; “Awww, I got 43%, I guess I’ve have to go into teaching”. There is no reality check with individuals about what it is they aim for and are investing significant dollars in. Both schools and parents buy into this in a big way, because it validates their educational and parenting models.

A perspective on this is that most students seeking post-secondary education do not actually know what they want to do, and in the BNW it is important that they don’t get too invested in it anyway because it, or a substantial part of it, may not exist by the time they graduate. It is also very likely that they are choosing an educational pathway not because they will be good at it, or enjoy it but because they make pictures in their mind of what it means to them.

Son x is a prime example, suffering through Business courses because in his mind he thinks being a stockbroker will make him rich. The question, then, is why do you want to be rich? What does that mean to you? What is the source of those values and beliefs? Are they valid in your context now?

Necessary disruption would deconstruct the whole delusion, and shift the onus of learning directly on to the learner.

  1. Have an actual, individual coaching conversation with each student, inquiring into the beliefs they are bringing to their choices. Encourage them to question, deeply, what moves them, and to understand how their own thinking shapes their decisions.
  2. Ditch the “Learning Management System” which contributes little value to the learning experience and is really only a content management system with less effective analytics. Work with the learner to construct their own individual system, mapping the soft and hard frameworks of what they need to know and where and how they can find that out.
  3. Hold learners accountable on an ongoing basis for their development. Provide constant formative feedback on constant progress in their knowledge construction, not an essay in week ten and an exam three weeks later. Learners need to make learning plans and record when and what they do in order to see how their activity shapes their learning outcomes.
  4. Challenge learners to design their own assessments based on the needs they identified in 2. Their selection of an appropriate mode is intrinsic to their development of self-judgement, as is their selection of an appropriate assessor/audience.
  5. Take away timeframes for learning. Allow learners to continue to develop until they meet their own benchmarks from 4. If they are struggling, first coach, and then go back to step 1 if needed.

This is the heart of agency, epistemic and otherwise. It is internal, intrinsic and individual. It fits learners for the new shared economy and drastically changing employment landscape. It empowers and transforms people. But it also removes power and authority from the currently dominant educational and professional institutions and models. People will say there can be no certainty, that standards may not be maintained.

And that’s the problem with disruption, it’s disruptive. The Latin rumpo is violent to, “break to pieces”, “tear asunder”, and only rarely used in a milder sense. It is, to misquote Mao, not a dinner party. It is a process by which existing institutions are destroyed, not gently and courteously dismantled. And in the context of a national system with multiple complex interdependencies, it cannot be achieved without loss.

The question is, can we afford to wait? The forces that are shaping our students’ future are beyond our control. In our not knowing what is to come, the best option we have is to equip people with self-reliance and discernment, awareness of their own driving force, so they can in turn facilitate our global evolution.

Having written the post above a week ago, I have had the opportunity to reflect on its flaws. I need to develop my style, refine my language and connect to evidence to be a more effective communicator. I think I owe a big thank you to Professor Steve Wheeler, who I’m sure inspired these ideas in a recent presentation on Digital Learning Futures at the University of Southern Queensland.

Cicero is always a good read.

“And this is the advantage which, after all that has happened, has accrued to me—that I am not even affected in the least by those evils in the state and the licentious conduct of the shameless, which used formerly to make me burst with indignation : for anything more abandoned than the men and the times in which we are living there cannot be.” [CLIX (Q FR III, 9) : Cicero to his brother Quintus (in Gaul) Rome (November or December)] from the Perseus Project.

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