Engagement v. Empowerment — continued thoughts (part 2)

If you haven’t already, it is best if you read part 1, first.

I think that what has haunted me about Chris Lehmann’s recent blog post on engagement and empowerment is that the two terms seem related to each other in some logical and almost mathematically way.  But it was like completing a puzzle that is bigger than the only two pieces we have sitting in front of us.  So, as is often the case, I wake up early, on the morning I’m to take off for somewhere (Fort Collins, CO [-14f]) with visions of stuff yet to be done.  And then, my attention shifts to meandering thoughts about Chris’ post.

So I thought I would take this opportunity, early hours of the morning, to map this out and explain it to myself, as a way of processing the parts of the puzzle.  Without belaboring the point, here’s what I came up with, at 3:30 AM:

Now that I look at it, written out, it seems a bit ridiculous.  But let’s play this out.  I can always decide not to post this.

What got me going was that when I think of the way that we seem to talk about engagement and even empowerment, It seems to be something that we want to apply to our students or infect them with.  A more worthy conversation might be to clarify that, which is our over-riding goal — at the heart of every talk I’ve ever had with Chris Lehmann

I express it as E(V), just because I couldn’t think of a better way. The E is for enrichment — another frequent term used in teaching (enriching the curriculum). But in trying to go beyond mere learning, as the goal, it seemed more useful (at 3:30 in the morning) to want our students to be and to feel enriched by that learning. The relationships between the elements of V still seem a bit fuzzy to me, but essentially, it’s New Knowledge and/or (with/without) New Skills equals Value. To feel enriched, the learner needs to feel more valuable in some way to himself, to others, to his environment, than he did before.

Now for the more complicated part.  The elements are:

  • for reference

    IS — started out being just I, for information.  But what’s necessary is an information system, such as a textbook or other packaged instructional materials.  Of course, what is far more relevant today is a socially moderated hypertext environment, such as the World Wide Web or some subset.

  • S — stands for skills: reading skills, reasoning skills, mathematical skills, technological skills, etc.
  • R1 — I ended up with two Rs so I needed an R1 and an R2.  R1 is one of several effects of teacher facilitation.  It’s resourcefulness.  When we do not provide all of the information or even all of the skills necessary for the experience, then we expect the learners to be resourceful in their work.
  • SM — is another creativity-stimulating effect of teacher facilitation.  It’s simple.  Teacher says to the learner, “Surprise Me.”  We shouldn’t want the same thing from every learner.  We should not standardize our expectations.  It is a disservice to them and their future.  We should expect to be surprised.
  • R2 — notches everything up exponentially.  It’s Responsibility.  Feeling responsible to the teacher — well that’s like two to the power of one, and what’s the real point of that?  When the learner feels responsible to himself, that ramps the action up a bit.  But if the learner feels responsible to classmates, or teammates (carrying Chris’ empowering coach metaphor a little further), or some other audience, customer, or community, then we’re starting to multiply the action of learning, times itself — again and again.

So, I’m saying that learner enrichment (newly gained value from newly gained knowledge and/or skills), and its artifacts, result from working accessible information with attained or attainable skills, applying resourcefulness and a whimsical desire to surprise, all to affect somebody in some value-adding way.

If this still makes sense at 9:30, at the airport, then I’ll post it.

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Engagement v. Empowerment — continuing thoughts (part 1)

Go Ahead, by Xavier Donat ((Donat, Xavier. “Go Ahead.” Flickr. 10 May 2009. Web. 8 Jan 2010. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/xav/3519476035/>.))

I’m with Chris Lehmann concerning his sense of discomfort over our recent near obsession with “engagement.”  He says, in a December 27 blog post (Engagement v. Empowerment…) that

“..first and perhaps most disconcerting, is that engagement too often got translated to ‘fun.'”

I agree with Chris that we’re going to lose that battle — and it’s the wrong battle.  We have invaded childhood enough already, and venerating their hyper-connected, hyper-transparent culture as something we need to replicate in our classrooms results in a creepy tree house effect — which just makes us look foolish.

We want our children to learn and we tend to believe that if we see more engagement in them, then we will see more effective and perhaps more relevant learning.  This is possibly true, though I can’t help but feel that the formula that ignites these results is far more complex.  I pulled up the little dictionary app from my dock and read through the definitions of engage in its various forms, and nothing magical jumped out at me.  In fact, most of the definitions seemed to treat the word from the observers’ point of view — we see another person occupied, unavailable, attracted, involved, employed, or having agreed to marry.

Engagement is the learner acting to learning.

Empowerment feels better to Chris, as it does to me.  I see us contributing more to the actions of learning when we empower learners than when we engage them.  It seems easier to facilitate as well.  Lehmann says,

..that in the end, (empowerment) is the word — the idea — that sets us up for a more student-centered classroom because it is about what the students get from the experience once the class is done, not what happens during the class.

What my mind’s eye sees, when I think of empowered learners is that “..it is about what the students are able to do to get (some gain) from the experience once the class is done.”  If students are empowered, as learners, to accomplish learning goals, instead of its being done to them, then fun simply stops being a factor.  Chris writes about the empowering coach who is going to put the team through un-fun and sometimes grueling drills so that they will play their best basketball.  The drill for skills and endurance is work and it feels like work — and, “It’s o.k.” says Lehmann.

..we have to understand that school is work… but that it can be meaningful, powerful, empowering (and even engaging) work.

But my notice that the definitions of engage seemed to be from the observer’s perspective applies here.  The learning experience needs to be meaningful, powerful, and empowering to the learner.  It is not something we should try to see or do, but something the learner should feel.  It’s what fuels the work that enriches the learner in some self-realizing way.

I’m incredibly engaged by my work.  I’m incredibly lucky, that way (see “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades“).  And much of my work is fun, though that’s not important.  Fun can’t really be measured or handed out. What engages me is success, and what enables that success is empowerment (appropriate resources & tools), and what is fun is when my imagination is empowered to make success more certain and more interesting.  ..but that’s me.

I just did a Twitter search for “fun” and before I’d read the first two tweets, that little yellow refresh notifier popped up, telling me that there were 63 more tweets with “fun,” then 132, then 349.  Maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of fun.

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Pay Per Services

I just picked up my bill from iTunes, payment of $0 for a free iPhone app.  I glanced down to the “Those who bought your selections also bought…” box and noticed boxcar

In brief, it delivers notifications of various social updates directly to your iPhone — “Ding.”  It supports Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.  For Twitter, it will notify you of tweets that mention you, and also hash tags, which might be really useful during certain hyper-tweeted events, such as Educon, in Philadelphia, the end of the month.  So I downloaded it.

What’s interesting is the way the money part works.  You get the app for free.  However, as you add notification services (first one is free), they charge a small one-time fee.  It’s a small charge, and I’m not complaining.  But it’s an interesting way to generate income from a phone app.  In a way, it’s a lot like buying ringtones, but your are buying a process — a piece of code that makes your phone behave in a certain way.  Actually, it’s not at all unlike how our phone companies work, the more I think about it. 

Fees are:    Twitter Account — $0.99
Twitter Search — $1.99
Twitter Trends — $0.99
Email Account — $0.99
Facebook Account — $0.99
Growl — $0.99
RSS or Atom Feed — $0.99

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Banished Words

Words as Skin, by Maurizio Abbate ((Abbate, Maurizio. “Words as Skin.” Flickr. 8 Mar 2007. Web. 5 Jan 2010. .))

Brenda forwarded this one to me — some folks at Lake Superior State University, who have, since a fateful New Year’s Eve party in 1975, published an annual list of words and terms that should be banished from the “..Queens English for Miss-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

Include for banishment in 2010 are:

  • Shovel-Ready
  • Transparent/Transparency
  • Czar
  • Tweet (what a surprise)
  • App
  • Sexting
  • Friend as a verb
  • Teachable Moment
  • In These Economic Times
  • Stimulus
  • Toxic Assets
  • Too Big to Fail
  • Bromance
  • Chillaxin’
  • Obama as a prefix or root

What is most interesting is the comments made about the various terms. It’s a conversation about words and language. I do not agree with a lot of it, but reading comments about words and terms may be useful to some students — demystifying words, revealing that we are constantly hacking the code.

Internet before WWW / Learning before Education

This is Gopher, one incarnation of what the Internet looked like before the World Wide Web ((“Types of Internet Protocols.” Online Library Learning Center. The board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Web. 2 Jan 2010. .))

In Internet is to WWW as Education is to…, Willy Kjellstrom reflects on his recent reading of Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas — and how he (Willy) discovered that there is a difference between Internet and World Wide Web. We often use the terms interchangeably, without loss of meaning. They are, at this time, practically synonymous.

From January 1 Blog Post (click to enlarge)

Then, at the end of his article, Willy questions my January 1 resolutions post, where I resolve to avoid using certain terms, including education, preferring to emphasize learning.

Now I recognize the futility of complying fully with ones post-New Year’s Eve promises to one’s self. But I would like to draw on two distinctions between my perspective and that of Kjellstrom.

Number one, Willy appears to be younger than I am — “Harvard Alum ’05,” according to his Facebook page. Of course, that could be graduate school, which he, like me, may have attended over a decade after general college. But for the sake of my objective, I’m going to assume that Kjellstrom is decades younger than I am.

You see, I have always known the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web, because I knew an Internet before WWW. I remember when you navigated the network of networks using Telnet and FTP — when, if you wanted to look up the meaning of Telnet, you had to know the IP number of a server that housed a file with definitions. I remember the rise of Gopher and the slower but formidable rise of the World Wide Web. I recognized these as protocols for shaping how information logically connected, so that we could navigate the network of ideas. Yet, I grant that in most contexts, I can exchange the terms in my conversations without losing meaning.

Also, being 34 years out of college and 16 years out of graduate school, and especially because of the shifts we have seen during the most recent decades, I understand that learning is an integral part of life, not just something that you do in school — a realization that I know Kjellstrom and you readers understand as well.

But, and this is my second point, in this time when so much is shifting (industrial to post-industrial, machine age to knowledge age, whatever you want to call it), learning has become a critical life skill.

I can remember, standing in line, at my high school graduation, and two graduates behind me claiming that they would never read another book. At that moment in history, and at that moment so close to our formal education, it was a perfectly plausible proclamation. They were, no doubt, getting jobs in one of the town’s mills and expecting to work the same job tasks for the next 35 years. We had been prepared for the next 35 years. What none of us knew, was that in less than 15 years those mills would all be gone, and my classmates would have to, as Toffler predicted, “learn, unlearn, and relearn” as a way of life.

Education is still characterized as a place you go, to get taught — where we teach and our students learn how to be taught. Yet, in the real world, learning is not something that is done to you, but something that you do yourself, in your own way, with your resources and sense of resourcefulness. I am not saying that every student moment in school is spent in passive receipt or that teaching should never happen. But “being taught” is still the character of the beast, and it is getting in the way of helping people learn to teach themselves.

If our global connectivity and sharing of ideas — our network of networks — was in desperate need of reform and the World Wide Web was getting in the way of that reform, then the distinction between Internet and WWW would be much more important.

Thanks, Willy, for continuing this conversation.

New Year’s Resolutions

The Post-it Man by Tim Ove ((Ove, Tim. “The “Post-it” Man.” Flickr. 22 Dec 2009. Web. 31 Dec 2009. .))

It is customary to offer your new year’s resolutions — a custom I usually avoid. Why set yourself up for disappointment. But over the past few mornings I’ve been thinking that NYRs might be an interesting way to make a statement — something I’m obviously not very shy about.

So, here are my 2010 New Year’s Resolutions.

  1. I will accept that I may no longer be a believer — Over the years, I have been gradually, and not without resistance, losing my faith. I am afraid that I may no longer believe in education.
    There is no problem with education.
    Education is the problem.

    Our goal is preparing our children for their future, and I am becoming convinced that education — our belief in education — is preventing us from accomplishing that goal.

  2. I will avoid, at all (most) costs, using the following words:
    • education — It gets in the way. Anybody know what I might substitute the word education with? 😉
    • student — Implies learning as passive and separate from living. I’ll try to use learner instead.
    • technology — What does it mean to you? ..to me? I think it is better to tell the story — what the learner is doing, with what, and to what ends.
    • teach — The active and accented verb in our conversations should be “learn” not “teach.”
    • teacher — I’m actually not too sure about this one. I may start referring to us a teacher-learners.
  3. I will try, at all costs, to speak plaining and to clearly paint pictures for what I am striving to convey. If we agree that “it takes a village to teach a child,” then we need to be speaking in villagese, not schoolese. We need to try to avoid the vague terminologies that portray us as experts, and instead, use sentences that more effectively spread our knowledge and experience.
  4. I will more aggressively and compellingly speak out against standardized testing, and to direct conversations toward alternatives.
    I believe that standardized, high-stakes testing has done far more harm to more children then all the social networks on the planet.
  5. I will try to spend less time sitting at my computer and more time doing something unrelated to “education” and “technology.”  Anybody know where I can download the guitar tabs for It is One, by Jackson Browne?
  6. OK! I will also get my weight down to 190, hug my wife more, be nicer to the dog, and eat less meat.

Happy New Year, My Friends!