Tipping Point Continued — and being Mislead by Words

ListenChris Harris, the leader of a regional school library system in New York, wrote yesterday (Blog Tipping Point) about Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point concept. Evidently, Harris has had a good week with an unusual number of his constituents asking for guidance in setting up blogs and other collaborative tools (wikis, Moodle, Drupal, Blogmeister).

What continues to concern me is that educators are still thinking about technologies. “I heard about blogging, and I want one.” “I saw this presentation about Drupal. Show me how to have my own web page.” “I can teach my students to blog? What’s this Blogmeister thing?” “I need to Moodle my class.”

What scares me is that too many teachers are going to adopt these technologies without really understanding why, and that they are going to fail, and we’re going to lose momentum. Chris Harris certainly gets it. He’s a librarian. And I know that Gary Stagger gets it and is a fantastic evangelist (not to mention master trumpet player).

It’s probably the aging part of me that seems to want things to slow down a bit. At the same time, I feel a genuine sense of desperation, that we aren’t moving fast enough, that our fall as a nation is accelerating, and that we are wasting too many good minds, because we are measuring learning with a scale that is much too narrow.

It’s the words. They seem not to be sufficient any more for what I feel needs to be happening in our classrooms.

  • Teaching: It’s too active. It places too much of the responsibility and focus on the figure who isn’t going to be around when the student leaves the classroom — but continues to need to learn.
  • Learning: It’s too passive and final. “I’ve learned this, this part is over, let’s go to the next part.” Nothing’s over any more.
  • Technology: It’s only the tool, the conduit, the pen and paper. It’s the color we paint the walls. It’s the windows, the door, and the motors we don’t see. But not much more.

So what happens in between. I don’t know what to call it. But I know its sound. It’s conversation. It’s a new conversation between students and teachers, and it goes both ways. It’s new conversations between students, conversations between students and “experts”, conversations between classrooms and homes, and conversations between schools and their communities. It’s a national and international conversation about what and how children need to be learning and ongoing conversations about solving new problems answering new questions and accomplishing new goals.

I hear conversations! what do you hear?

Am I getting cranky?

10 thoughts on “Tipping Point Continued — and being Mislead by Words”

  1. Those aren’t really new conversations. The conversations about education are OLD. They’re important, but they’ve been important for a long time. Technology is adding a new facet, but it is not a novel subject.

    OTOH, if these conversations are new to you, it sort of undermines your authority as an expert on education, doesn’t it?

  2. Thanks, Tom! You make my point perfectly. You are a highly respected, thoughtful educator, with a unique grasp of how the tools (technologies) working and our task as educators. But you missed the point it as well, as we all do.

    You say that…

    Technology is adding a new facet, but it is not a novel subject.

    If it is true that technology is what has changed things, the the solution is simple. Teach technology skills to our kids, and that solves the problem.

    It’s not the technology. It’s change! Technology is part of the reason for the change, but it’s change that challenges us. This is the reason that the blogosphere is so important, because sometimes the best answer for a new question, solution for a new problem, or strategy for a new goal will not come from people steeped in decades of study, but to the beginner who happens to look at the situation from a different angle — and the beginner’s ideas come from the new conversation.

    We can’t rely solely on five year old standards nor five year old books. The content that we teach from, and the learning experiences that we craft for our students, should be taking place within conversations.

    How do we do this from the isolation that schooling has existed in for centuries? We can’t. We must communicate better, more richly, and as an ongoing part of being an educator and a part of the broader education community. New Conversations!

  3. Dave, maybe there are real reasons to feel cranky. I believe we were both at NECC last year when the point about Wikipedia “being a conversation about knowledge” was made. I agree with this, as far as “adults” are concerned in their contributions to and use of Wikipedia.

    For our students, of course, different standards have always applied. With our students, the current status is more “negotiation” instead of conversation. Michael Lewis made an interesting point about this in his book “Next: The Future Just Happened.” Basically, all the tools for individual empowerment and new levels of achievement are here already. However, they aren’t necessarily embraced by those in authority, who in many cases would prefer to believe that they didn’t exist.

    So, when I go to a conference session about blogging, and see a big room of teachers seemingly sway to the information like a revival meeting, I’m reminded of all of the previous tools that were never fully utilized or allowed to enable students, and I wonder if blogs aren’t simply the next “thing” that added and then dropped once the “new thing” appears.

    As you suggest, the constant change can be used as a way to ignore underlying issues, even if briefly adopted or debated. Culmulatively, however, I’d like to believe that some forms of lasting change are gradually occuring.

  4. Read Jim’s post. He makes a compelling point for teaching and learning being Negotiation. Here’s the comment I posted on his article.


    I like the term negotiation. It is entirely consistent with what I envision when I talk about teaching and learning being conversation. Negotiation is why they’ll continue to pay us 😉

    I, too, yern for some continuity, for some things to last. I think that it is human nature, which is why I’m not that worried about it.

    Thanks for being part of my learning conversation.

  5. This is a very important line of thought. I’m going to comment on just one aspect of it, and that’s the technology part. You’re right, people do see technology as just a tool. But that is a very, very limited (and in my mind, incorrect) definition of technology. Technology is an “ology” word, and -ology means “systematic study of.” It’s a process of discovery. Technes, the other root, means “art, craft or skill.” Technology is a human process of solving problems, often with tools that result from that process.

    This is the technology that our students understand and live in. It’s the application of tools, materials, and systems to solve problems. It can result in the creation of new tools, materials and systems as well. Adults look at a tool and think to use it for the purpose it was originally designed. Kids look at tools and invent new ways of using it that the designer would never have imagined.

    So Dave, if you say it’s not about the tools, I’m in complete agreement. However, it is all about technology.

  6. I’m teaching a course right now to teachers on how to incorporate all this technology into their classroom. I problem I’m facing and I think the point you are making is that teachers, for the most part, just want the tool. They don’t want the conversation. My class is about the conversation and not about the tool and I keep getting teachers coming to me and saying “So why can’t we just learn how to use it?” They don’t see the need for conversation; to them it’s just another thing they can use in their classroom and not something that can, if used in such a way, revolutionize the teaching learning process. Until we realize the conversation is more important then the tool, we will be stuck in a 1.0 world.

  7. The one thing blogging does is put it out there for debate like never before. The biggest problem I see is the reason for class blogging. If we are blogging because it is the latest, sexiest technology innovation–then we (and our students) are on a slippery slope. However, if we are blogging because it adds value to a comprehensive and well conceived writing program, and we truly teach and attend to a litany of writing strategies, and we guide our students through a recursive process-to-product approach…then we will reap the greatest rewards from this promising instructional strategy. The technology is merely the enabling medium.

  8. our fall as a nation is accelerating
    Oh, Lor’! Sorry, but I get cranky when I see references like this. The idea of a competition between nations…where does that come from? And where has it taken us? And where does it threaten to take us? We are one human family living on one little blue planet that belongs to all of us. It’s way past the time when we could think of nation. We either think of the whole planet or we (and that doesn’t mean just Americans) humans on this planet are sunk. Did we learn nothing from last year’s tsunami? Or the reality of global warming? What good does it do a nation to be “ahead” of others, when the actions of those across the globe affect you and your physical survival?

  9. Marco,

    You’re standing on my soap box now. I could not agree with you more. You may have noticed that I did not use the term “Compete” or any derivation of the term in my post, though “…fall of the nation” certainly implies that. No! I always substitute the word collaborate. “Are we going to be collaborative in the future?”, not “are we going to be competitive?”

    I’m also with you on the nationalism thing, but the fact is that what and how our children learn is firmly, though inappropriately, in the hands of politicians. Therefore, my concern is a future where other nations are producing inventive, adaptive, participants in the global conversation, while we are still stuck with smokestack, industrial age curriculum.

    Thanks for adding this important dimension to the thread.

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