Jumping off the Digital Bandwagon

Knowledge – or what is accepted as useful knowledge by a certain community – is maintained in educational institutions. We may perceive by this that this maintenance of knowledge is a powerful form of social control, and in effect, a maintenance of reality.

On the other hand, there are different perceptions and understanding of what learning is and the purpose of education. Dewey, for instance, “worthwhile learning was that which was ‘fruitful’ in enabling people to adapt successfully to new situations and to identify (and deal with) problems as they arise.” (Pring:2000).  In other words, through education, people are not left as they were before being educated; they are transformed into becoming a different person.

However, one’s perception, understanding and practice of education is a transaction between one’s underlying values. These transactions are never static; they are fluid, mediated by one’s experience and deliberations between what one has learnt and the point in time where one finds him/herself.

Just like in the world of ELT, where there have been streams of bandwagons (e.g. dogme is a recent example of debate in the blogosphere – what is it? a theory? an approach? a re-invention and re-labelling of what educators have been doing for decades? a clique for others to follow an by doing so, feeling an exclusive right of belonging?), I have come to the point where I can no longer read another article speckled with bandwagon terminology in regard to today’s learning environment. Yes. Learning is changing. Yes. Education is changing and still needs to change more. Nevertheless, change does not occur in a vacuum nor overnight.

Disruption

To disrupt means to make it difficult for something to be done in the”normal” way. “Normal” is relative, for even at this point in time, what may be “normal” for me may not be for someone else. Relativity is part of life. However, I do not agree with how digital technology in education is “disruptive” – for digital tech in classrooms serves a multitude of purposes, namely to prepare learners for their world. Would teaching a foreign  language be considered “disruptive”? After all, when learning a foreign language, one learns a foreign culture as well. Nevertheless, I have never heard of learning a foreign language being considered a disruptive activity in the world of education. The more often the term is used, the less meaning it carries. Bandwagons come and go mindlessly.

Collaborative Learning

As an educator of over 20 years, my students have always worked in pairs and small groups. I have always collaborated with other departments for the benefit of learners, have participated and contributed to others’ research projects, and have always supported and encouraged the collaboration of different classes and levels on projects at the institutions where I have taught. When there was no internet, there were study visits and pen-pals; there were visitors to my classrooms to answer questions about the working world beyond the education institution’s walls.

Yes, with the web collaborative learning today has taken another dimension. A greater, wider dimension, but it is not particular only to today’s digital world.

Flipping Classrooms

As a child growing up in Montreal, I clearly remember lessons during which we were connected with classrooms in the Northern Territories. At that point in time, they were some of my favourite lessons – being able to communicate across such distances in realtime! There was one television screen and and at times, interference, but the class remained silent, enchanted, holding our breathes for the continuation of the transmission.

Over the years, I have taught both content and language subjects. In both situations I have set readings for homework and self-study. With the presence of the internet, I have often set videos for viewing as homework. Hence my question, what exactly is novel in flipping classrooms?

On the one hand I cannot argue with the possibility of providing education to those with no other option but to study online. Yet online studying does not equate to watching videos and then doing work in class the next day. E-learning is far richer and complex than that. On the other hand, I can understand how  the notion of “flipping classrooms” may be new to certain fields of learning but it is not in any way a major characteristic of digital learning.

Digital Native Divide

Although I have used this expression, I no longer think it means anything of much significance; nor do people who grew up without the internet need to justify how they are as native as any youngster with a desktop/laptop at home. The divide that concerns me most, is the population who have restricted or no access to digital technology; those who would wish to learn, to learn to have a voice for their own culture and not have foreign cultures of education imposed on them, throwing chaos and failure among learners. Divisions of knowledge and knowing come in many forms.

Drama of Change

The dramas of social change should never be underestimated. We are caught in a point in time when societies claim to be broken (e.g. broken Britain), where other societies are creating strong middle classes while in the countries known for being industrialized and “progressive” are facing economic decline. Power shifts, social unrest, educational changes.

As George Siemens points out, “The current generation of students will witness the remaking of our education system. Change is happening on many fronts: economic, technological, paradigmatic, social, and the natural cycles of change that occur in complex social/technical systems.”

In Siemens’ blog posting, he includes the following diagram on change:

Rather than focusing on bandwagon terminology, the issues highlighted about change are the ones educators should be inquiring and reflecting on: how to implement change, how to contribute to positive change and how best education can fulfill a meaningful role in our society today.

References:

N is for Nik - an interview with Nik Peachey on Flipped Classrooms and more

Pring, R. – 2000, Philosophy of Educational Research, Continuum

Siemens, G. – 2012, Remaking Education in the Image of our Desires

Wheeler, S. – 2012 What the Flip?

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4 thoughts on “Jumping off the Digital Bandwagon

  1. “In other words, through education, people are not left as they were before being educated; they are transformed into becoming a different person.”

    Just to note that this is also what Illeris suggests in ‘How We Learn: Learning and Non-Learning in School and Beyond’. He defines learning broadly as “any process that in living organisms leads to permanent capacity change and which is not solely due to biological maturation and ageing”. I just wonder how to determine when we have changed enough to have become another person? :)

    About the contemporary continuous stream of educational buzz words/terms: When I’m sometimes able to reflect it through irritation: Might this talk be creating something actually positive? I can say they annoy me a great deal and sometimes I’d like to scream “walk the talk already (& reflect the talk), why wontcha?!”. As you suggest, some things have the characteristics of things that have existed already a long time, sometimes in the margin like the inquiry-based learning.

    I’m just wondering, although sometimes annoying, could it be, that there’s a positive side to the stream of change talk and it could mean a change of a wider scale is actually around the corner?

  2. Hi Marko,

    Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts.

    In regard to your first question: individuals don’t change into another person. The change that learning may cause/initiate is a broader and deeper understanding of either a particular field of knowledge or skill. For instance, one characteristic that concerns me in regard to learning, is how deep learning may foster life-long learners – not only for a learner to pass an exam or meet a deadline, but actually to have pleasure and acceptance to keep on learning throughout life.

    That is in no way simple nor straightforward and is highly influenced by cultural values of education and learning. In some societies, life-long learning is generally accepted as a fact, while in others it is very much a new concept and one that makes little sense to individuals. Why? Well, in some ways they perceive the pace and need for change differently, for example.

    I think in a nutshell, individuals do not change their individual characteristics, but learning & education do change the individual’s perceptions, understandings and possibly their behaviour (e.g. by educating children not to be careful with the environment, they will be more careful with candy wraps etc)

    As for your 2nd question regarding bandwagon jargon in education: I too have used those expressions, mostly so that others would perhaps more easily understand what I was saying. Nevertheless I have come to the point of saturation and every time I come across article after article with the repetitive jargon, I wonder why. Often the discourse dismisses learning itself and focuses on trends which are easier to see on the surface. It is the learning shift that interests me more. There is a power shift, behaviour shifts and many other open questions regarding the current changes.

    A case in point is the urge in many countries to adopt iPads for education. Yes, mobile learning is increasingly more relevant yet I don’t perceive the iPad as a mini laptop – they are different and have different functions and roles. (however, I do admit that at this point in time, that may be because of my personal experience; if I were a 6 year old, my perception would obviously be different as I wouldn’t have had the years of dashboard typing like I do now).

    The only “positive” aspect that I see is that with these bandwagon terms which are being repeated throughout the media/social media, people have a point of reference to latch on to. And that too is important. Nevertheless, I believe that it is important to analyse discourse and ensure that one is not being carried away by trendy jargon. As I mentioned earlier, in the case of ELT, there have been so many trends, which frankly are the same approaches under a different label.

    Perhaps I am more interested in practising what I believe in, rather than developing labels which later turn to dust :-)

    • Haa haa to the last one. :) But yes, I try also channel my energy to that direction as there are only so many hours in a day.

      I can just imagine how difficult it currently might be to some people in trying to make sense to what they are reading. So much definitions going on. One needs an excellent BS detector, which I believe we should also assist students to develop for themselves too!

      • That last point that you raise Marko is seriously connected to critical thinking skills and digital literacies.

        As for critical thinking skills: I refuse comments that X or Y culture cannot think “critically” (yes, I have heard this from many ‘educators’); one’s mental schematas are defined by where one finds him/herself. A question of points of references. Besides, it takes a certain degree of maturity and the ingrained habit of questioning that one gains critical thinking skills. And the ability to read between the lines.

        I find that many teachers still consider digital literacies merely the introduction of Google Docs or some Web 2.0 tool in the classroom; nevertheless digital literacies include many other aspects of learning, and as you very well say, that includes guiding students to distinguish what is relevant and what may not be relevant.

        Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

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