Diffusion of Useful Ignorance… and Self Forgiveness

I’ve been inspired to study Thoreau again, and suspect this will generate a number of posts here. I’m heavily annotating what I read and have found much I want to write about, some of which would be in the realm of “and life” posts – though some of it would be relevant to this blog in other ways as well, which is to say it would relate to education and technology. In the interest of getting something posted tonight, I want to focus on one particular idea that has resonated with me. 

The purpose of education might be said to be the “Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” but Thoreau suggests that there is “equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance… for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance?” Elsewhere he asks, “how can we remember our ignorance, which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all the time?”

In short, as educators, it is often difficult to admit that we are ignorant… but of course, no matter how learned we are, everyone is always more ignorant than not. If we are to be true educators (and if we are to grow and learn ourselves – and be lead learners) we must embrace our own useful ignorance. But we must also work to diffuse this mindset within our institutions – and among our students. Helping them to adopt an attitude of useful ignorance might be one of the best learning tools we can offer to students – and one of the best gifts we can offer them in life.

I’m not drawing this from Thoreau, but I’ve found that this attitude works well hand-in-hand with the practice of forgiving yourself for your own shortcomings. Together these two attitudes can help a learner (or members of an organization) to not only let go of preconceptions, but also to let go of the burden of needing to be responsible for having preconceptions (or accurate understandings) of the world to begin with. This makes it easier to accept the world as it is, to learn new things from new experiences, and in short – to grow.

I think Thoreau means many more things when he talks about “useful ignorance” (including his believe that there is a “subconscious magnetism in nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright”), and I suspect I’ll return to these more abstract ideas, too. But in the meantime, I’m finding this simple reminder to embrace and diffuse useful ignorance a pragmatic source of clarity, particularly in the context of sharing increasingly intoxicating information technologies with others. :)

21st Century Skills for Teachers: A Graduate Level Class

Hello, learning network. I’ve been working on the early stages of designing a graduate level class that introduces teachers to the concept of 21st century skills and how to help students develop them. This evening I’ve completed the “design document” and I’ve decided to share it here in hopes of receiving feedback from some of you: 21st Cent Literacy Design Document

While I was working on it, I pushed a couple of questions out on twitter and thought I would also aggregate those here so that others can respond later:

  • What’s your favorite information literacy framework besides the Big 6?
  • Do any of you teach “risk taking”? If so, how do you approach it? Any frameworks? Or personal lessons learned?

I’d also like to add a few others. I’d be stoked if any one of these catches your interest enough to inspire a comment:

  • What is your favorite framework for 21st century skills and why? (I’m especially interested if it’s not enGauge or the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)
  • What multimedia skills do you consider critical? (And if you teach graphic design at all, what framework do you use?)
  • What are your favorite digital storytelling resources? (And do you have a favorite digital storytelling framework or philosophy?)
  • If I could only share 1 site to communicate how the read/write web changes education, what would it be?

And these last two may be the most important – and most difficult:

  • What metrics or evaluation tools do you use to assess 21st century skills?
  • What organizational changes have happened to make this possible for you? (Or, what organizational changes need to happen to make this possible for you?)

As always, I hope this might make interesting reading for some of you, and that others might be able to find this post in a time of need when it might help. Meanwhile, I thank you in advance for any feedback you might leave for me as I continue working on this course.

21st Century Skills (LONG)

Back on April 12th I posted a “one page” overview of 21st Century Skills (with respect to video games in education). This week I finally fleshed out that section of my literature review. Though it is a bit long at 18 pages, it is one of the better organized sections I’ve written because the framework provided by the enGauge 21st Century Skills served as a fairly specific outline for me to follow.

For the time being, I don’t think I’ll be taking the time to break this up into individual posts, but I’ll share the entire word doc incase anyone is interested in reading it – or incase someone is searching on this topic in the future. Of course, if you check it out, I’d love to hear any feedback you might have. Also, I’ve once again updated the reference list.

21st Century Skills LONG – 55 KB doc

References – 138 KB doc

21st Century Skills (In A Nutshell)

Since it’s not evident in the title, I should point out that this post continues my series of “one-page” overviews that explain important properties of a constructivist learning environment (as part of the writing process for the literature review of my dissertation). Like the other overviews, this one will soon be fleshed out with detailed citations and references to constructivist theorists, educational technologists, and video game scholars. In this case, though, the overview is already clearly structured according to the enGauge 21st Century Skills framework.

If you’ve got any insight or feedback to offer on the subject, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Though it may not be considered a fundamental property of a constructivist learning environment, any environment designed for 21st century students can also be designed to help them develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the 21st century.

The North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL) and the Metiri Group have defined a broad spectrum of 21st century skills, which they’ve organized into four categories: Digital Age Literacies, Inventive Thinking, Effective Communication, and High Productivity. Many of these concepts might be better called “timeless skills for success” and have been advocated by constructivists for at least a century now.
For instance, many of the Digital Age Literacies identified by NCREL and the Metiri Group were important long before the digital age, including basic, scientific, and economic literacy. Though the increasing rate of technological change continues to transform Technical literacy, visual literacy, information literacy, multicultural literacy, and global awareness, these literacies too have been important for generations. Now, though, video games scholars highlight ways in which games and simulations can be powerful new tools for helping students develop many of these literacies.

Video games are even more powerful tools for developing what NCREL and the Metiri group have called Inventive Thinking. Games and simulations allow students to develop adaptability and practice managing complexity. Learning to master a game can be an opportunity to develop the concepts of systems thinking. Good games also promote self-direction, reward curiosity, and require creativity – not to mention higher-order thinking and sound reasoning. More importantly, games require and reward risk taking, an important (and difficult to teach) skill for success in the 21st century.

Helping students to become effective communicators has long been a goal of constructivist educators. Here too video games can help students develop and practice their skills. Teaming and collaboration are key features in a constructivist learning environment that promotes socially negotiated meaning making and are also key features in many good games, including massively multiplayer online role-playing games. As the games for change movement demonstrates, video games can also be an effective way for students to develop a sense of personal, social, and civic responsibility – or to learn ethics.

As with any educators, high productivity has always been a goal of constructivist educators. In fact, many would argue that their methods would be more effective at producing highly productive students and citizens. Ideally, a constructivist learning environment, including a video game or simulation, will help students develop skills of prioritizing, planning, and managing for results. Just as constructivists hope that students will learn in an authentic context, they hope that students will learn to effectively use real-world tools and be able to produce relevant, high-quality products. Perhaps more importantly, constructivists hope that students will learn to do so in innovative ways, and that their experience in their learning environment will transfer into innovative problem solving in the real world.

I’ve Been Busy Part III: The Infinite Thinking Machine

At the end of a very long two weeks, I’ve also finally managed to get my second post up on the Infinite Thinking Machine blog. This post focuses on 21st Century Skills, and models the use of several search tools to learn more about the topic.

Meanwhile, my fellow ITM bloggers have been generating some great conversation. Check out the reactions to Wes Freyer’s last post. And be sure to check out the second show, which shares a few great search tips, and explores the use of Google Docs (formerly Writely) in the classroom. Good stuff… and short to boot.

Risk Taking and Educational Technology

In preparation for our most recent podcast at the OCDE, I revisited the 21st Century Skill of risk taking.

Visit the link for an overview, but here are some of the points I think we can work on, the prerequisites you might say.

NCREL defines “students who are risk takers” in part as those who “share and advocate ideas they believe in, even when those ideas are unconventional” and who “are willing to be incorrect and willingly take on tasks that might result in errors.” It goes almost without saying that traditional schools do not support or encourage this kind of risk taking in students; they are instead rewarded for right answers and penalized for incorrect answers, and often even incorrect methods as we require they turn in note cards and drafts – or show their work.

Here is the most important ‘take away’ from the enGauge document on risk taking:

In order to take risks that lead to intellectual growth, students must be in environments that they perceive to be safe – places in which to share ideas, reflect on and discuss perspectives, and learn new things.” (p. 42)

This is what teachers can do to help students develop risk taking skills… they must first provide a learning environment that encourages and rewards risk taking. If, instead of focusing on right answers students are “encouraged to engatge in discussions about numerous approaches – and potential solutions – to a problem” we are on our way to a collaborative and open ended education with the power of the open source movement. Open-ended software and open-ended games can help provide this kind of environment and facilitate this kind of thinking. So, of course, can the read/write web, especially blogs.

If this is what teachers can do to encourage risk taking in students, it is also what we as professional developers and educational technologists can do to encourage risk taking in teachers. Ultimately, politicians and their constituents will have to provide the same sort of environment for schools and districts if there is to be any substantive risk or opportunities for change in our educational institutions.

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown (Via The Thinking Stick.) Jeff Scofer: “Education should be continually beta continually trying new things exploring possibilities and looking at the skills our students will need for the future.”

This is today’s “Hallelujah, Brother” referral.

Me, speaking of risk taking in our latest OCDE Podcast (to be released shortly):

There is gonna have to be some experimentation and it’s gonna have to be ok for school districts to try something that doesn’t work. But this is a touchy subject because we’re talking about people’s kids, and their future, and education. It’s no wonder we have conservative educational institutions.

I’m not sure how to resolve this, of course.

Risk aversion=death of ideas

Risk aversion=death of ideas (Via The Thinking Stick.) I’ve said it before, but I love these amazingly simple yet effective graphics. This one depicts a process that makes me sad all too often… especially when it relates to educational technology.

How will our organizations, and the people in them, over come this? As we consider teaching risk taking as a skill to our students, we’d best also consider how to practice it in our educational institutions. Some failure, and some “re-playability” has to be ok; as un-politically correct as it is to say, we must experiment with our schools if we hope to improve.