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Book review – Rethinking education in the age of technology

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, by Allan Collins and Richard (Rich) Halverson. This book is a worthy addition to any school administrator’s nightstand and should be required reading in university educational leadership preparation programs or teacher education programs’ history of education courses.

What I liked about the book

rethinkingeducationThe authors blend a historical perspective on schooling with a keen understanding of the potential of technology for the present and future of learning. Notice the distinction between schooling and learning. In this book, that distinction is important. As the authors say early on, “It is time that educators and policymakers start to rethink education apart from schooling” (p. xiv, emphasis added). They also note that “most of the changes in the way people acquire information are occurring outside of schools” (p. 5) rather than in them.

Collins and Halverson state that our society already made the shift from an apprenticeship model of education to the universal schooling era. At present time we are living through a new shift: a move from universal schooling to an era of lifelong learning. This is resulting in big changes related to responsibility, expectations, academic content, pedagogy, assessment, location, culture, and relationships (see Chapter 6). The authors emphasize that the local school will not be replaced, but the role of new alternatives such as community-based learning centers where students and adults work side by side, workplace learning, home schooling, and virtual schooling “will make us rethink the dominant role of K-12 public schools” (pp. 3–4).

I liked how the authors devoted a chapter apiece to the arguments of technology enthusiasts (Chapter 2) and technology skeptics (Chapter 3). While they are admitted technology enthusiasts, I thought they did a pretty good job of presenting the opposing arguments fairly and thoughtfully, particularly when one also adds in Chapter 7, which addresses what we might gain and lose in a new educational paradigm. I also liked the discussion in the book about the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. As the authors note, “if educators cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, . . . students with the means and ability will pursue their learning outside of the public school” (p. xv). We are not talking enough about these social justice / equity issues.

One of the key points of the book is that there are “deep incompatibilities” between current schooling practices and the “demands” of new technologies (p. 6). Significantly, the authors recognize that technology makes teachers’ work more difficult: it requires instructors to acquire new skills, undercuts the lockstep model of schooling, and undermines educators’ classroom expertise (p. 6). Many technology enthusiasts – including myself – often don’t pay enough attention to the complexity and difficulty of what we’re asking educators to do.

Halverson has done a great deal of work related to educational gaming. I’m glad that he and Collins integrated throughout the book some discussion of the enormous potential of computer simulations for both student and adult learning.

Key quotes

While the imperatives of the industrial-age learning technologies can be thought of as uniformity, didactism, and teacher control, the knowledge-age learning technologies have their own imperatives of customization, interaction, and user-control. (p. 4)

AND

We are not going to fix education by fixing the schools. (p. 142)

AND

Apprenticeship was not a viable pedagogy for mass schooling. . . . The pedagogy of computer tutors echoes the apprenticeship model in setting individual tasks for learners and offering guidance and feedback as they work. (p. 97)

AND

We suspect that someday it will occur to people that these certifications are more valuable than high school diplomas, in the sense that they specify more precisely what a person can do in some area of knowledge. (p. 88) 

Questions I have after reading this book

  • How many parents will really pull their students out of school because of learning concerns? Will credentialing concerns, historical affection for local schools, and/or child care issues trump more abstract issues related to “learning?”
  • Could / will we create certificates of mastery in other fields like the ones that have been developed for information technology professionals? If so, will those eventually replace to some degree the credentialing role that typically has belonged to secondary and postsecondary institutions?
  • Will we see the re-emergence of the apprenticeship model, this time facilitated by online mentors, software, and/or simulations?
  • Are technology skeptics looking at and assessing relevant, appropriate student outcomes? For that matter, are technology enthusiasts?

Rating

This book was probably my favorite educational technology book that I read in 2009. I gave a copy to Will Richardson when he visited Iowa last December and he liked it too. It’s a very thoughtful, insightful work and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I have known Rich Halverson a long time and am absolutely delighted to award his book 5 highlighters (out of 5).

Highlighter5

[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Liberating learning: Technology, politics, and the future of American education

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education by Terry Moe and John Chubb. I posted seven quotes from the book last fall. Several readers asked me to chime in with my opinion of the book. I’m finally getting around to doing so!

What I liked about the book

Moe and Chubb’s book can be summarized by two quotations from page 145:

  • To the powers that be, innovations of true consequence are not attractive. They are threatening – and they need to be stopped, whatever advantages they might offer to children and the nation’s education system. That is why, in state after state, what we see . . . [is] political action by the defenders of the system – mainly the unions – to defuse change and keep the system pretty much as it is.
  • There is . . . something unique about technology that sets it apart from the other sources of education reform. It is a social force that is essentially out of control. No one is in charge of it. No one can really stop it.

Chapters 3 and 5 elaborate most fully on the first premise. Chapter 6 is where the authors explain most of their second premise. I agree with the authors’ assertion that technology is

an exogenous social force that originates from outside the education system, is transforming nearly every aspect of American . . . life, and will keep transforming it in the decades ahead. (p. 151)

I liked the authors’ discussions of both virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation. I didn’t always agree with what the authors said on these topics but they gave me much food for thought.

I also appreciated learning more about the two charter schools in Dayton, Ohio that the authors profiled. I’d like to learn more about those schools’ day-to-day operations in order to get a better sense of the students’ experience.

The authors gave me LOTS to think about in this book. Several of their perspectives on educational technology are ones to which I hadn’t given much attention. I’m not informed enough yet to have a definite opinion about some of their assertions, but at least I now know that I’ve got some new cognitive roads to travel.

What I didn’t like about the book

I was really excited to read this book after Chapter 1, which was a short, 12–page introduction. Chapter 2 was fine (and expected): a restatement of international test results and other indicators of American schools’ current struggles. Then I read Chapter 3, which was essentially a 27–page rant against teachers unions:

if anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

Although I got the authors’ point (quite clearly!), and even agreed with some of what they said, I thought that the tone and overall approach of the chapter was over-the-top. Many educators will not make it through Chapter 3 because they’re too disgusted – not with what the authors say but how they say it. This is too bad because I think the book is definitely worth reading.

The other main problem I had with the book is that the authors seemed to make a large jump from correlation to causation in Chapter 5. They had several graphs that are intended to illustrate teacher unions’ resistance to desired reforms. However, I would have liked to have seen more concrete examples of teacher unions’ opposition to various educational technology initiatives. Although they do this somewhat within the contexts of virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation, those are only two of the many, many issues related to P-12 educational technology. It’s a leap to say that unions’ objections to certain aspects of these specific reforms are equivalent to an overall resistance to technology integration in the classroom. I have yet to see many teachers unions at any level come out with explicit policy statements or bargaining actions against classroom-level uses of technology (if you have some, I’d love too see them).

Key quotes

See these quotes from last fall:

AND ALSO

Teachers and administrators . . . are subject to expectations all around that they modernize their schools and keep up with the times. They also live in the same technologically oriented society that parents, students, and public officials do. . . .  they have good reasons to seek out technology on their own, and not to remain permanently stuck in the outdated pencil-and-paper mode of yesteryear. The problem, however, is that they only have incentives to make the most incremental of changes – changes that are helpful but don’t threaten anyone’s jobs or established routines. Their approach to technology is rooted in the status quo. It is about how to make the existing system work better without really changing it. (pp. 104–105, emphasis added)

AND

The common theme [of student surveys] is one of frustration. Students complain that there are too few computers, too many limits on computer time and Internet use, and too little reliance on computers for class assignments and research. . . . What they want is a technology-rich educational environment in which they have the freedom to roam and discover and interact. What they get . . . are limited computer and Internet resources, lots of restrictions, teachers who lack knowledge and interest in technology – and an approach to education that looks pretty much as it always did. (pp. 105–106).

AND

The long-standing idea that there is something intrinsic to schooling that makes it immutably labor intensive and immune to technological change is simply not true. Maybe it was in the past. But it isn’t now. Technology can be substituted for labor. (p. 157)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • Are teachers’ unions really against educational technology generally or do they only oppose specific aspects of specific reforms?
  • Are teachers’ unions really against educational technology generally or are they mostly ignorant of / apathetic about the true issues?
  • Are most teachers’ unions thinking or talking about educational technology issues and the potential impact on their classroom practice or job security? [I’m guessing not]
  • How long will it take for the elimination of geography and time as barriers to learning to truly impact most teachers’ jobs or school systems’ day-to-day practices? [the authors guess 20 years or more]

Rating

I give this book 4 highlighters (out of 5). Although the incessant bashing of teachers unions gets old pretty quick, the authors also gave me many new lenses through which to view educational technology policy and reform. Take Chapters 3 and 5 with a grain of salt, but don’t avoid the book because of them.

[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Ignore everybody: And 39 other keys to creativity

I’ve set an ambitious goal for this June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. I’m going to start with what probably was my favorite book from last year, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity, by Hugh MacLeod (the author and I are not direct relatives).

Things I liked about the book

ignoreeverybodyMacLeod starts off with a bang. In the first chapter, he says “The more original your idea, the less good advice other people will be able to give you” (p. 1) and “a big idea will change you” (p. 2). I was hooked from that moment. I’ve been breaking new ground in educational leadership academe for years now and have consistently found that the vast majority of my peers don’t have much to offer me in terms of insight or direction. I don’t know where all of this social-media-and-tribe-building-as-an-alternative-to-traditional-measures-of-success-for-research-faculty stuff is going to go. But it sure is an interesting ride. And MacLeod is correct – it has changed my thinking substantially.

Each chapter is short. Just enough to give you some context and get you thinking about your life and your job. And think you will…

MacLeod is a popular cartoonist. He punctuates his writing with some of his art. Awesome.

Key quotes

Here are a few key quotes:

Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That is why good ideas are always initially resisted. (p. 2)

Boy, I’ve lived this one several hundred times over the past few years. Either I’m ahead of my time (in my field) or I’m completely insane. Time will tell!

AND

Your wee [creative] voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

So you have to listen to the wee voice or it will die … taking a big chunk of you along with it. (p. 28)

The peer-review publication paradigm – where your writing goes in places that educators never visit – never made a lot of sense to me. Blogging and other social media have given me different outlets and a different voice. And I’m much, much happier for it. My wee voice was crying out for something different. I just didn’t know it.

AND

Don’t make excuses. Just shut the hell up and get on with it. (p. 82)

AND

The ease with which a blog (or whatever social medium you prefer) can circumvent the gatekeepers is staggering. (p. 140)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • Am I brave enough to never publish a peer-reviewed article again?
  • Is there enough space in my day job as a professor to accommodate my non-peer-review writing and social media passions?
  • What should I be working on next? Where do I want to go and what do I want to be doing in 5 years?
  • How do I reach school leaders when most are not yet active in social media?
  • How many graduating high school seniors can I give this book to before a parent complains about the language (some of which is a bit crude)?

Rating

I give this book 5 highlighters (out of 5) to reflect a) the amount of yellow ink in my copy, and b) the affirmation of much of what I believe (or would like to believe) about myself and my work. Extra credit for the author’s last name!

Highlighter5

[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

The end of teacher sameness and solidarity

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

[I]n American education, policy making is not guided by what is best for children or the larger public. It is a political process driven by power. And the most powerful groups in that process are special interests, led by the teachers unions, with a stake in keeping the system as it is. . . . Reforms of real consequence are vigorously resisted and watered down. (p. 149)

Traditionally, teachers have taught students face-to-face in classrooms. This is the standard role, common across virtually all teachers, and has allowed for a pervasive sense of occupational sameness that has long been a very good thing for the unions. It encourages teachers to see themselves as having a common set of work interests, as being equally deserving, and as sinking or swimming together. And all of this promotes solidarity, which is critical to the unions’ ability to attract members, gain their financial and emotional support, and mobilize them for economic and political ends. (p. 158)

[T]eachers unions are steadfast in demanding sameness . . . [t]he idea is to minimize all sources of differentiation, because they undermine the common interests and solidarity that so contribute to union success. . . . [H]owever, technology gives rise to a differentiation of roles among teachers. Some may still work face-to-face with students in classroom settings. . . . Some may work with students in computer labs, handling much larger classes than today’s teachers do (because the computers are taking over much of the actual teaching). Some may work with students online but still do it in real time. Some may engage in distance learning but do it asynchronously . . . Some may work mainly with parents, monitoring student progress and assuring proper student oversight. Some may oversee or serve as mentors to the front-line teachers themselves. And more. These and other jobs . . . require different skills and backgrounds, may call for varying levels of pay, . . . offer teachers a vast array of occupational opportunities they didn’t have before, encourage a level of entrepeneurialism and individualism among them . . . The profession of the future will be a much more differentiated and entrepeneurial one, and such a profession spells trouble for the unions . . . it is destined to be a profession that will no longer concentrate teachers in common geographic locations and monopoly employers – and the resulting dispersion of teachers to new locations, combined with the diversity of employers that goes along with it, cannot help but create additional layers of differentiation that affect how teachers see their own interests. (p. 159–160)

[T]he pervasive sameness that the unions have always counted on will slowly fall apart. As the years go by, they will have a harder time generating the solidarity they need to motivate teachers to join, to keep them as members, to mobilize supportive action - and to do the things successful unions need to do if they are to wield power in politics. As sameness and solidarity decline, so too will their political power. (p. 160)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

  5. Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

  6. Greater use of technology allows for decreased numbers, but improved quality, of teachers?

Greater use of technology allows for decreased numbers, but improved quality, of teachers?

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

There is every reason to believe that technology will only become more effective with time. The same cannot be said of the traditional “technology” of education – teachers and classrooms - unless that world changes fundamentally. (p. 77)

Scores of technology-based instructional programs are being used in schools throughout America. . . . A recent survey indicated that the two main issues holding back technology use are “It doesn’t fit in the schedule,” and “There is not sufficient time to train teachers.” Nowhere does it say that the software is inadequate or that technology has dubious instructional value. (p. 77)

If elementary students spend but one hour a day learning electronically, certified staff could be reduced by a sixth. At the middle school level, two hours a day with computers would reduce staff requirements by a third. High schools, with three hours of usage, could reduce staff by up to a half. This level of computer usage is quite feasible given instructional technology that exists today. (p. 80).

The quality of teachers would benefit from the increased use of technology in at least two important ways. Even after investing in hardware and software, which are trivial compared to the cost of teachers, schools would have funds from staff savings to increase teacher pay and to provide more time for teacher training and planning. Added time for professional development, with proper supervision and accountability, would improve teacher quality. Added pay would help attract and retain better talent. Better talent is the most important ingredient of better schools. The [Dayton View Academy and Dayton Academy] charter schools . . . are already demonstrating the feasibility of these ideas – in the toughest of circumstances. (p. 80)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

  5. Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

A. “The average technology score [from Education Week’s Technology Counts 2008] drops as union membership grows. . . . technology seems to be advancing more quickly in states where the unions are weakest” (p. 107). [chart is from p. 108]

Liberatinglearningchart1

B. “The percentage of states with state-level virtual schools drops steadily as the unionization of teachers grows” (p. 118). [chart is from p. 119]

Liberatinglearningchart2

C. “[We] look at the percentage of states . . . that have data systems with the capacity to link students and teachers . . . [and see] the same basic pattern as for virtual schools – which is telling, as virtual schools and teacher identifiers have little to do with one another aside from their impact on union interests” (pp. 138–139). [chart is from p. 139]

Liberatinglearningchart3

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The fact that [technology] offers enormous benefits is not enough to guarantee that it will be embraced by the public schools and its potential fully realized. Technological change will run into the same political roadblocks that all major reforms have run into, and for exactly the same reasons. Powerful groups will try to block it. (pp. 29–30)

It is a fact that the teachers unions have vested interests in preserving the existing educational system, regardless of how poorly it performs. It is a fact that they are more powerful – by far – than any other groups involved in the politics of education. And it is a fact that in a government of checks and balances they can use their power to block or weaken most reforms they do not like. To recognize as much is not to launch ideological attacks against the unions. It is simply to recognize the political world as it is. (p. 54)

If anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The American education system faces much more than a performance problem. It also faces a political problem that, in the grander scheme of things, is more fundamental than the performance problem itself – because it prevents the performance problem from being seriously addressed and resolved. . . .

What sets technology apart from other sources of reform is that . . . it also has a far-reaching capacity to change politics – and to eat away, relentlessly and effectively, at the political barriers that have long prevented reform. Technology, then, is a double-barreled agent of change. It generates the innovations that make change attractive, and at the same time it undermines the political resistance that would normally prevent change from happening. . . .

This will mean real improvement, and real benefits for the nation and its children. It will also mean something still more profound: the dawning of a new era in which politics is more open, productive ideas are more likely to flourish – and learning is liberated from the dead hand of the past. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. 10–12]

It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

Even today, with educational technology in its earliest stages:

  • Curricula can be customized to meet the learning styles and life situations of individual students.
  • Education can be freed from geographic constraint.
  • Students can have more interaction with . . . teachers and students who may be thousands of miles away or from different nations or cultures.
  • Parents can readily be included in the communications loop.
  • Teachers can be freed from their tradition-bound classroom roles, employed in more differentiated and productive ways, and offered new career paths.
  • Sophisticated data systems can put the spotlight on performance [and] make progress (or the lack of it) transparent.
  • Schools can be operated at lower cost, relying more on technology (which is relatively cheap) and less on labor (which is relatively expensive). . . .

Information and knowledge are absolutely fundamental to what education is all about . . . and it would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and not have transformative implications for how children can be educated and how schools and teachers can more productively do their jobs. . . .

Precisely because technology promises to transform the core components of schooling, it is inevitably disruptive to the jobs, routines, and resources of the people whose livelihoods derive from the existing system. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. 7–9]

Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The revolution in information technology is historic in its force and scope: reshaping the fundamentals of how human beings from every corner of the globe communicate, interact, conduct their business, and simply live their lives from day to day. Education has so far resisted this revolution, as we could have predicted. But . . . we believe the resistance will be overcome – not simply because technology generates innovations of great value for student learning (which it does), but . . . because it is destined to have surprising and far-reaching effects on politics and power . . . . Technology will triumph. But the story of its triumph is a political story. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. xi-xii]