A Focus on Individual Learning and Individual Technology

Here is another exerpt from an email… I felt myself going into “manifsto” mode and thought it might be worth posting here. With full knowledge that this might be considered a controversial (or arrogant) stance, I offer this for your comments. (As I get back into blogging, I need to get back into pushing my comfort limits – and into not caring so much if something I post might rub a potential client the wrong way.) In any case, this captures some of my philosophy regarding where I should focus my time, and where I hope the people I work with will focus their time.

1. Our team is explicitly constructivist (and explicitly focused on social change efforts), so I hope you’ll encourage creating environments in which students construct knowledge by making, doing, creating, sharing, and working together on authentic work that matters to somebody outside the classroom. Don’t be afraid to downplay the importance of standardized tests in the lives of the students… and as a legitimate measure of a school system. To be blunt, I’m (at best) ambivalent about the Common Core Standards. Creating standards for a state of 30 million people was a bad idea – creating standards for a nation of 300 is doubly so (if not 10 times as bad). We encourage focusing on systems that allow individualized learning experiences for students – experiences that tap into students’ passions and are driven by their own inquiry. The Common Core can be an excuse for introducing some of these ideas into a school system if it’s a buzz word with some force behind it (since the common core and constructivist techniques are certainly not incompatible), but in the wrong hands the Common Core can also be an excuse to focus on tests and standardized “scope and sequence” or “pacing guide” style systems. If they want Common Core, give them Common Core with a Constructivist spin. If they don’t focus on Common Core, let it be.

2. Our team believes the most important change we can focus on (with respect to educational technology) is to get an internet connected device into the hands of each student… whether it’s a school provided 1:1 program or a BYOD arrangement, I would work to move them as quickly as possible to having every student carry a personal device to school – and home. This could be an iPod Touch, an iPad, a Nexus 7 (or 10), a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, an Ultrabook running Linux (like I use now), a Windows Netbook, or whatever. That being said, we’re sort of partial to Google’s solutions (and open source solutions) for their price, features, scale-ability  and ease of management – and their tight integration with Google’s cloud services, which are important (whether Google’s or otherwise) for ensuring the device doesn’t matter. Naturally, we’re also partial to Google Apps for Education. In fact, if there were one thing I could teach all teachers today, it would be Google Docs – I think it has the most potential to change (and improve) the way teachers work with each other and their students – and of course, the way students work with each other and the world.

3. …Actually, that’s about it. Focus on meaningful pedagogy, and the devices to amplify the individualized constructivist approach. The rest is just details..

 I look forward to the pushback in the comments below… and perhaps some “amens” to boot. 

BTW, I can feel how rusty I am not only at writing, but at sharing. Onward… :)

3 Responses to “A Focus on Individual Learning and Individual Technology”

  1. Maureen Devlin Says:

    I agree with your thoughts–every child needs access to the web and tech at home and at school. At my elementary school we have about 50%-60% one-to-one access during the day and I think that works well as I like having time to focus on other tools and learning endeavors too. I actually like the common core standards at my grade level since they are mainly basic skills that I’m able to embed into meaningful project work, yet I wish the numbers of standards were a bit less leaving more time for invention and scientific exploration in indoor and outdoor labs. Finally, it’s hard to beat Google–they’re upgrading almost every day, and their tools lead to ease of sharing and collaboration in-house and abroad, amazing! Yet, it’s good to diversify too so I try to use a number of tools in addition to Google’s awesome palette of learning venues.

  2. Mark Wagner, Ph.D. Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Maureen. I was a fan of the 1997 English Language arts standards for grades 9-12 the last time around… and I guess I feel the same way about the common core standards in California: they’re pretty good – and I can “address” many of them with any good project. The trouble is this time I find myself wondering who the standards help… creative teachers having students doing meaningful projects will “do” many of the standards (or help their students “achieve” the standards) regardless, while teachers who teach in more traditional passive methods won’t… regardless. I don’t think the standards will convince anyone to change their teaching – or any organizations to change their culture. And I see a lot of organizations wasting a lot of effort on “transitioning” to “the common core” without any significant or meaningful change… or even understanding much about the purpose of the standards. I just hate to see all the unfocused wasted effort, especially in the name of “standardization” in education. We would be much better served to throw off the shackles of such thinking and focus on helping individual students.

  3. Maureen Devlin Says:

    Thanks for your response, Mark. I agree that our work should put students first, and I hate seeing organizations waste time, when there are so many positive ways we can use our time and energy. I’ll keep thinking about what you’ve said as we continue to transition in my system. Take care.