Zoe Weil: The world becomes what we teach

From Zoe Weil:

At the end of this school year approximately three million students will graduate from U.S. high schools. They will not be ready for what awaits them. These are the students who have passed their No Child Left Behind tests year after year. They are verbally, mathematically, and technologically literate. They have been successful at meeting the requirements of our educational system. Yet, for the most part, even our highest performing graduates are unprepared for the important roles they must play in today’s world…

We must embrace a new and bigger purpose for education: to provide students with what they need to be solutionaries for a better world through whatever careers they choose…

Rather than offer unconnected academic disciplines, imagine if each year of high school covered a single overarching issue, such as Sustenance, Energy, Production, or Protection. Teachers with expertise in different subjects could provide students with the skills to conduct research into current systems and articulate new viewpoints, understand and use scientific and mathematical equations and methods to solve systemic problems, and draw upon history, politics, economics, psychology, sociology, and geography to analyze, assess, propose and create new or improved systems. And the arts, relegated to the chopping block because of budget cuts, could find new life as vehicles for expression of visionary ideas…

If solutionary education became commonplace, students everywhere might revamp their school buildings for renewable energy sources. Or transform their food service systems and cafeterias so that they received healthy, sustainably and humanely produced lunches. Think what the students would learn about chemistry, ecology, biology, physics, business, farming, architecture, and construction from just these two projects alone. Imagine how fully the teachers could contribute their knowledge and passion for the subjects they know best. There are already teachers who do such projects with their students within the constraints of the current public school system, but they face perpetual hurdles. When we hear about them, we laud them in the news. But their work shouldn’t be newsworthy; it should be the norm.

Maine Education initiatives profiled by Creative Commons

Maine has been a leader in adopting educational technology in support of its students. In 2002, through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), the state began providing laptops to all students in grades 7-8 in a one-to-one laptop program. In 2009, Maine expanded the project to high school students. The one-to-one laptops paved the way for open education initiatives like Vital Signs, empowering students to conduct their own field research in collaboration with local scientists, and make that research available online. Recently, Maine has been engaged in some interesting and innovative projects around as a result of federal grant funds…

Jeff Mao and Bob McIntire from the Maine Department of Education … offer a vision of a classroom where students gather in small groups, talking, exploring and building projects and investigating ideas together. There is no lecturing, and open educational resources integrate with classroom instruction seamlessly. As most kids are naturally inclined to try to find information online, teachers can guide students in using high quality, adaptable OER…

Investigating crowd-driven, symbiotic innovation

“The internet has caused an economic shift every bit as important as the Industrial or Agricultural Revolutions. Thousands of bottom-up solutions are leveraging mobile and social media, open-source values, collective intelligence and other emerging patterns.

“These crowd-driven innovations are combining – symbiotically — into a truly novel way of living and doing business.

“Symbionomics is part online media project, and part feature length documentary film. We intend to highlight the emerging patterns, cultural trends and business models that will take us into a deeper relationship with wealth.”

What college students want from websites

“Teenagers prefer websites that have dynamic and engaging interactive activities, such as quizzes and games….

However, “college students are much more goal-oriented. They like interactivity only when it serves a purpose and supports their current tasks. At the college level, users make a separation between play and work and don’t require websites to entertain them at all times. Instead, students consider websites as tools. A good site is one that helps them quickly accomplish their goals….

Students often judge sites on how they look. But they usually prefer sites that look clean and simple rather than flashy and busy. One user said that websites should ‘stick to simplicity in design, but not be old-fashioned. Clear menus, not too many flashy or moving things because it can be quite confusing.’…

“Students don’t like to learn new user interface styles. They prefer websites that employ well-known interaction patterns. If a site doesn’t work in the expected manner, most students lose patience and leave rather than try to decode a difficult design….

“Students associate Facebook and similar sites with private discussions, not with corporate marketing. When students want to learn about a company, university, government agency, or non-profit organization they turn to search engines to find that organization’s official website. They don’t look for the organization’s Facebook page…”

Video mashup: The Great Turning

“Our global society faces the challenge of moving from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining society. This shift is often referred to as ‘The Great Turning.'”

  • Video from Blip.tv
  • Source materials from WGBH Lab Sandbox, CC Mixter, Flickr Creative Commons, and Shift in Action

Beautifully-animated dance: “Thought of you”

From Open Culture

“Ryan Woodward has worked on the art direction of many big name Hollywood films – Ironman 2, Spiderman 2 & 3, The Iron Giant, the list goes on. But he had an idea for a short animated film, a love story expressed through dance, and it led to a fruitful collaboration with dance choreographer Kori Wakamatsu.”

  • “Thought of You” video from Vimeo

The Banker on YouTube

“Campaign video by Richard Curtis and Bill Nighy, about the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny tax on bank transactions that could raise hundreds of billions for public services and to tackle poverty and climate change at home and around the world. Add your own voice to the campaign

Broken Land – The Adventures (1988)

These are the games we played at school
Our hands raised in despair
With no exception to the rule
These times are not changing…

This boy had learned to fail
In times like these to cry seems so absurd
His own life’s crisis pales
In the shadow of this truly dying world…

Show me the love to keep us together
Open up your hearts don’t turn me away
Comfort me through this stormy weather
From where I stand, I see a broken land…

Order is in the eye of the tagger

From David Weinberger’s introduction to Everything is Miscellaneous (2007).

The majority of taggers may tag “las vegas” as “vacation,” but those who think of it as “sodom” can find their way through the data as well.

That’s the big change the rise of the miscellaneous brings. We’re adding massive amounts of metadata — tags, links, playlists, even taxonomies — to all of the resources available on the web without prior planning and coordination, making a huge mess. But, that mess actually enhances the available ways we can find and make sense of what’s available to us. All that unplanned metadata lets us pull pieces together, and then it helps us contextualize and understand those pieces.

Until we started digitizing everything, we organized either the physical things themselves (what Everything Is Miscellaneous refers to as the first order of order) or we physically separated the information about the things and organized that (the second order): Think of books and card catalogs, or merchandise on racks and a catalog of products. With the third order, for the first time we can organize information, ideas and knowledge free of the limitations of the physical. And that enables us to get past the notion that there must a single right order, whether it’s Aristotle’s, God’s, or Linnaeus’ best guess.

A month inside walled gardens

For some time, I’ve been concerned about the loss of creative work inside corporate social networks, so I’ve avoided posting unique text or images into Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

I didn’t want to give away my rights — give away a part of myself — every time I posted in a walled garden. Besides, the manic  stream of trivia whizzes by without much opportunity for contemplation. That’s not social media, it’s oversocial media.

Of course, simply autoposting my microblog content on those services missed opportunities for interaction. So I thought I’d see if thoughtful conversation was possible inside the walled gardens, and whether I could archive those discussions outside on the open Web. About a month ago, I decided to conduct an experiment.

Starting October 22, I began carefully reading the streams, looking for opportunities for meaningful discussion. I checked my TMI filter at the door. I came across some pretty spectacular emotional train wrecks and a few too many updates about cats-in-boxes.

However, I did find people who were willing to take time to craft thoughtful responses and sustain conversation threads. I soon got into some interesting discussions about the election, education, and politics (a few excerpts will follow), and it was really fun and stimulating.

Since I spent a good bit of time crafting well-considered prose, I tried to find software that would capture and preserve my words outside the corporate walls. I didn’t have much luck, except with one attempt: after Twitter deleted 3 years of my entries — and then brought them back (which I discovered was not uncommon) — I did find a PHP script to archive my tweets. However, for Facebook, I had to go old-school: I copied and pasted my comments into Open Office.

Now the month is over. I’m glad Facebook and Twitter sparked my interest in threaded discussions, and I enjoyed participating. However, that content would have been lost — locked up forever in a space where I could not protect it — if I hadn’t worked to save it.

At the beginning of my experiment, I responded to Wired’s debate about the open Web and the closed Web, and, last week, I read Tim Berners-Lee’s case for openness and transparency. I know that the proprietary world of Apple apps and the preferred-bandwidth model of commercial ISPs is more lucrative. I know the pendulum spirals between “information wants to be free” and “information want to be expensive” and I think we come out at a more expansive level most of the time. It’s just that the exclusionary approach makes me nervous.

There was, however, an important side effect from my experiment. While paying more attention to the social media stream, I fully reorganized my Twitter lists to capture my recent research on the idea and experience of learning.

I know the pendulum spirals between “information wants to be free” and “information want to be expensive” and I think we come out at a more expansive level most of the time. It’s just that the exclusionary approach makes me nervous. It still does.

I’d been asking: What is learning, really? What are the powerful ideas and approaches that inspire teachers and students? What can I, myself, learn to bring into my role as a father and as a volunteer in a 2nd-grade public school classroom … a classroom of students who will soon enough be part of the high school class of 2020 and the Elderhostel cohort of 2070? (Or, as Stewart Brand would have it, 02070.)

I followed the tweets of Maine’s first TEDxDirigo held in early October. Through the event’s lead organizer, Adam Burk, I found a multiple-author blog about learning and education called Cooperative Catalyst. I read the passionate posts of  people who have been developing and testing and reconsidering their approaches to learning and education for years. They are mentors, teachers, and learners in the best sense.

So, this was actually the highlight of my experiment. Twitter helped me find an organic collective of caring, intelligent people posting and commenting on a WordPress blog. The stream still works best as a pointing mechanism, but I found the meaningful, valuable space … elsewhere.

Now … I wonder what next month will bring.

Excerpts from the experiment

So, here’s some of what I wrote last month inside the walled gardens. (Just so I don’t lose it.) Unfortunately, I do not have the right to republish both sides of these conversations … and perhaps, really, not my own, either! Let’s just say I’m saving this writing for scholarly research.

Facebook – October 22

Twentieth-century marketing used fear — reinforced insecurity and fear of “others” — and mixed it with a deliberate obfuscation of true risk assessment to get attention to sell product, and 24-hour news programming only exists to fill the space between the commercials.

One sign of hope is that programmed-TV-channel viewership continues to go down for younger people. Do you think college students have more tuned hype filters these days? Are they more skeptical? Looking for research …

Facebook – October 22

I’m starting to feel as if I am in a parallel universe: by the time I learn about the scream-of-the-day (from the echo-chamber land of mass media), the hubbub has already died down.

On the one hand, I am relieved to not waste my energy on unimportant trivia. On the other hand, I feel as if I’ve missed out on something: those water-cooler moments. In the old days, they called it the lowest-common-denominator.

With no programmed TV service (broadcast, cable, satellite) in our house, though, I still feel connected, especially with Hulu and Netflix. But am I experiencing the world in a different way than the breaking-news afficianados? From a civic point of view, is this positive or negative?

Incidentally, I also began an experiment one month ago to participate more in the walled gardens of Facebook and Twitter — in conversations like this one — to see if such dialog was possible, and what I was losing by committing my words to proprietary, corporate social media.

I’m writing a summary, and posting what I wrote in a blog entry, and I hope you’ll give me permission to post both sides of this one…

Chronicle of Higher Education – November 4

Of course, education is more than just a commodity or service relationship.

However, if business and marketing are evolving to focus on all types of mutually-satisfactory exchanges between people, then we need more sophisticated ways to evaluate success in the exchange of knowledge and experience between our schools and our students.

Are we creating valuable, meaningful, and authentic experiences through our whole offering? Experiences that will resonate for a lifetime? Experiences worth the cost of admission?

I think Gilmore & Pine on Authenticity is worth a look …

Facebook – November 4

Evolution continues to crush black-and-white perspectives. They just can’t be sustained, and the last gasp of a failing world view is the loudest just before dying away. “Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The world is becoming more complex and interrelated, and fear of the unknown devolves to binary thinking: “you’re with us or agin’ us”, “you were born in some other country”, “it’s all a conspiracy,” “they’re out to control us.” We saw such thinking on all sides this time, including vilification of the “Tea Party.”

But evolution continues to crush black-and-white perspectives. They just can’t be sustained, and the last gasp of a failing world view is the loudest just before dying away. “Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Thomas Frank’s book focused on the midwest, one of the most recent regions to succumb to the fear of “otherness.” If we seek to understand and recognize that fear, we can avoid the same hell.

On Cooperative Catalyst – November 3

Thanks to you and your partners, Adam, for bringing TEDxDirigo to life. I agree that introductions to great ideas, coming from the thinkers themselves, can be a significant addition to education at all levels.

Last summer, Fast Company ran an interesting article on that topic by Anya Kamenetz, author of D.I.Y.U.

The responses were informative. I was especially taken with a comment from Open Culture — which I consider to be one of the best curators of free educational videos from around the Web.

They wrote: “Will watching 18 minute lectures – ones that barely scratch the surface of an expert’s knowledge – really teach you much? And when the 18 minutes are over, will the experts stick around and help you become a critical thinker, which is the main undertaking of the modern university after all?”

That gets back to your proposal, as well as the Innovation Lab in Loveland, Colorado. Once a mind is sparked by video presentations of engaging insights, how do we turn that enthusiasm into sustained critical thinking? How do we teach and model techniques for discarding 99% of the trivial information that crosses the oversocial media threshold and for selecting the most meaningful interactions, virtual and in person?

You are right: it’s not about quantitative standards. But effective lifelong learning certainly does require teachers, mentors, task-masters to show us how to develop and use discriminating reason to pay attention to what’s worthwhile.

Fred Sheahan – November 9

The fields of traditional education and online learning are on a collision course, and I think you’re right: one of the greatest sources of friction is the different pace of each.

Although titles are valuable in providing a context for the work, in a field that is changing as quickly as ours, the responsibilities and the titles will change rapidly, too. At the same time, the slower pace of structural change in educational institutions can prevent the nimble decision-making required in this new environment.

The governance process for online communications at a school — from marketing and engagement, to learning and business processes — is an excellent indicator of whether the school is ready to seize the opportunities.

Find out how institutional strategy and online communications are aligned, and how decisions are made, short-term and long-term. Who are the executive sponsors? To what degree are advisors able to advocate for their own constituencies and also understand and support the overall institutional values and identity.

But don’t worry much about the titles themselves. They’ll be different in 6 months.

Fred Sheahan – November 19

Regardless of whether we are “digital natives” or “digital immigrants,” some people are more comfortable with exposing their self-identities publicly than others. I don’t think age matters that much.

I’d like to suggest that we are hard-wired to be social to some degree and hard-wired to be solo to some degree, depending on the individual and the influence of the surrounding culture. Regardless of whether we are “digital natives” or “digital immigrants,” some people are more comfortable with exposing their self-identities publicly than others. (Some prefer contemplation in life over amassing Twitter followers.) I don’t think age matters that much; these traits are, I believe, deeper personality-based preferences.

In 1961, Jane Jacobs wrote about that dance between public and private spaces in New York.  Just as we benefit from those clear distinctions in the real world, so, too, are such boundaries important in our virtual lives. For example, I think the presence of a private virtual space right next to a public space is an apt application of the “creepy treehouse” effect.

However, having grown up in a medium-sized town where you were always seen and being seen, I can certainly remember feeling like I was in a fishbowl and wanting the freedom of urban anonymity. After that exploration, though, I realized what was missing, and chose to return to small city life and the expectation of responsibility that comes along with being seen by people you know all the time. (A friend of my uncle described that experience in an article she wrote about him some time back.)

With the Internet, we have made effortless the ability to try out new identities online without having to go urban, and such virtual promiscuity comes with little cost. Trustworthiness cannot be easily judged. Even “real-name” profiles can’t always be evaluated: “Is that person really who s/he says?” Multiple identities are easily juggled. I think the only real way to verify that an online profile matches a real person is to meet them in meatspace.

I’m not sure that online services are really ready to provide a real small-town experience. Imagine this: a social network that brings together people with very different beliefs, forces them to interact randomly, imposes severe consequences when they behave outside the norm, and makes it very difficult to leave. Some would choose to participate. Many would grow into stronger, yet more compassionate people. Unfortunately, I suspect most would prefer the online echo chambers of self-selected beliefs and believers. Much easier.

But, they might watch for the vicarious thrill.

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