embracing the tumult

By robynjay On March 23rd, 2010

I’m doing some design and facilitation work at present on projects that essentially focus on equipping and inspiring teachers to rethink and redesign their practice. It has led me to reread a load of approaches to learning design but also to ponder why it is that we see so little in the way of exemplary contemporary practice.

I think that many (but not all) senior managers and Ministers are genuinely interested in providing ‘quality’ education services. Misguided often its true; outrageously bad decisions are made by incompetent incapable advisors, out of date practices continue or alternatively the latest ‘fad’ wastes inordinate amounts of public monies. But I’m going to be generous and say that its ignorance, and not evil (Mike) that is the cause.

And most teachers too have hearts in the right place. Unfortunately in post-compulsory settings most ‘teachers’ lack education training that allows time to read, revise, connect, deconstruct and reconstruct the models of being a teacher they carry in their minds from their own life experiences. (How some people end up in teaching roles I have no idea – good conditions and reasonable pay I suspect. I watched my sons suffer in the hands of a science teacher who spent each class writing notes on a blackboard for them to transcribe.)

Good teachers are genuinely interested in how people learn. The really dedicated stay in touch with the latest trends, opportunities and theoretical approaches in their own times and by their own means. They are what George Siemens describes as master learners; not only reflecting on what works as a learner in a metacognitive sense, but continually looking at how they can do it better.

“Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of teaching, but technology will never save bad teaching.”

(Tony Bates, 2005)

Good teachers are an inspiration no matter what approach they take;  good teachers armed with effective educational technologies are mighty. Bad teachers are simply a drudge no matter what medium. Tragically education largely reflects the model of 100 years ago. It IS still predominantly something that by and large is DONE to people in courses that run over X weeks…. transmission of ideas happens via hideously bad lectures, readings etc.

So let’s focus on those with potential. A window of opportunity exists if we can capture the good teachers and support them to grow and re-establish momentum. We’ve dangled tools and strategies as carrots until we’re blue in the face but that’s not enough.  What we get in reply is ‘but now what, how do I use these in my teaching?’ For some, models and a kick start are all that’s needed but if your teaching approach is instructivist in nature the best we can achieve is to adjust PDFs to video or the inclusion of quizzes. We give them the tools but not the inspiration and scaffolds to rethink practice. It’s no wonder people cannot see beyond the walls of the LMS – why would you if your world as a teacher is to instruct?

Good friend and mentor Robby Weatherley suggested last week that the pendulum has swung back to a focus on learning design. But we need to think very carefully what that looks like before we turn the clocks back. Too often what WE ourselves provide is instructivist in nature. I’ve seen leading thinkers in contemporary educational thought stand and lecture.

We need to model contemporary learning design in our staff development programs.

We need to acknowledge and what learners (teachers) bring to the environment – their strengths and experiences and passions.

We need to provide the scaffolds for teachers to become independent networked learners beyond their time in staff development programs and under our gaze.
We need to acknowledge their lives and interests and identify areas as launching pads for experimentation and risk taking.

As George Siemens suggests ‘our learning institutions have been created in the spirit of research and openness, yet they have acquired their own neurotic tendencies. Yes we need a dynamic alternative to address our ambiguous, tumultuous personal learning needs and that scares the heck out of most educators.

No it’s not really about resourcing Mike . Some of the very best learning happens in small, community based, lowly resourced programs. It’s about WILL not dollars. And while I agree that stagnant dinosaurs of institutions will and DO lose the innovators its not necessarily to an emerging educational counter-culture –  That has always been present. We are lured to job security and better pay that institutions offer but that’s not where satisfaction lies.

Relationships grow in communities – thats where uniqueness and individuality are valued, cherished and encouraged – within communities of shared values and goals.  Don’t fear the reactive policy measures – they will come and go – thankfully most of us at least in Australia live with freedom and choice. We can opt-out.And we should if it becomes soul destroying.

So in the coming weeks I’ll be working with some excellent minds to play with new designs, and hopefully to give inspirational teachers room to grow and embrace the complex and chaotic beauty of contemporary learning possibilities. I’m looking forward to the challenge.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by radiobrain_

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