In the March 2009 issue of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Journal Educational Leadership, Douglas Reeves writes about 3 challenges of Web 2.0. Reeves is the author of several books on assessment and educational leadership, and could be considered an authority on school leadership for change and school improvement. Unfortunately, this time around, Reeves exposes the type of anxiety that I feel stagnates real change in education. Reeves’ article projects a cautionary tenor and neglects teasing out the optimistic possibilities within a shift to education 2.0. I worry that, armed with this type of article, leaders in education will more easily say ‘no’ to the innovators within their buildings who want to embrace the learning possibilities within activities such as social networking, online collaboration and mobile and connective devices. I want to offer here a brief challenge to Reeves’ 3 challenges (meta challenge?) and offer a more optimistic view of the potential of learning 2.0:
Partners vs Promotion
Reeves begins by comparing advocates for technology in education to the narrow-minded advocate for plastics in the film The Graduate. There is no deep inferring required to know right off that Reeves feels threatened and responds by painting all of us who are interested in exploring the potential offered by increased use of technology to facilitate learning as both fanatical and short-sighted. It is important to be wary of those who come to education looking to push their particular technologies into the classroom. As always, we need to be vigilant and critical when making decisions around what we will introduce and model in our learning environments. But this isn’t a web 2.0 challenge. Dubious partnerships between education and industry predate the connected world. Enough said.
High Touch vs High Tech
In this challenge, Reeves endorses and implicitly frames online connectivity as a threat to face to face communication, rather than as simply another mode of communication. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we witness backlash everytime there is a change in communication (from oral to written, for instance)? Imposing a false hierarchy on modes of communication has no basis in any research with which I am familiar. In fact, I would argue that when it comes to learning, online can be a more powerful mode under certain circumstances. As Will Richardson said during his keynote at Expanding Our Boundaries (#expbound) this morning, “If you have an internet connection in your classroom, you are not the smartest person in the room”. And maybe this is the real threat.
Filters vs Fountains
For my challenge of Reeves here, I will simply focus on one quote:
Oppressed as they are by a teacher who finds WIkipedia an insufficiently credible source without supplementary documentation, my students sometimes work longer and less efficiently with a search engine than they would have by consulting a carefully chosen reference book.
Woops! I think that Reeves has pulled back his own curtain here. Clearly, Reeves has a bad case of “techno-agoraphobia” – that is, a fear of the participatory online crowd. To dismiss Wikipedia, and paint those who teach it and use as “Wikivangelists” (loaded language?), Reeves takes himself out of the game. Ignorance is not ok. The reference book, no matter how carefully chosen, likely contains as many – perhaps even more – errors as the Wikipedia article. But, the Wikipedia article trumps the reference book in that it is a dynamic text that can be added to and improved as new understandings and developments surface.
A More Compelling and Optimistic Perspective
Alec Couros, Associate Professor of ICT at the University of Regina, created the following visualization to articulate a vision of the connected and open learning environment:
– Alec Couros “Open Teaching – Thinning the Walls” cc some rights reserved
I think that this is a compelling visualization of the productive and powerful potential of connectivity in learning. Notice how the left side of the visualization highlights a very structured learning environment that excludes some learners (the learner on the outside looking in). As the walls thin, in other words, as students and teachers become connected with the world outside the brick and mortar of the classroom, students are able to benefit from the ‘gifts’ of those outside the traditional learning environment. The walls (read: constraints) of the traditional classroom become thinner and, I believe that the learning is enriched, when we reach out into our learning networks. I would argue that Couros’ visualization demonstrates the ‘high touch’ potential of ‘high tech’.
I’m eager for my print copy to arrive, so that I can check out other articles, such as Becoming Network Wise by Will Richardson. I’m hopeful that this article, not available in full online version (is that another blog post – decision-making around who gets a full voice?) might offer the more optimistic glimpse of the power of embracing the connectivity in which our students are already swimming.