Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Little More on Stager's Braindump

I want to try to tease out what I think was Gary's original context and motivation in writing his little rant yesterday. The start of the "thread" was Jeff Utecht's "Fear Factor" post, wondering why teachers don't show more initiative in exploring new applications Utecht has loaded on their laptops, namely Skype, Second Life, Google Earth and Scratch.

I think the overarching point that Gary was trying to address was that we should not simply expect teachers to be excited about new tools in general, we should engage them in a conversation about how these tools can improve their practice, which should be grounded in sound philosophy, theory and research about pedagogy (note that Utecht's original post places this discussion in the context of schooling). It may be the case that in the real world many teachers don't think this way, but as professionals we certainly should expect that they do.

Gary's overview of Logo history points out that the core Logo community operated this way (although ungrounded "Hey look, Turtles!" implementations watered this down). This time around, however, instead of arguments based on Piaget and Papert, we get Friedman and Siemens. This is a pretty big step down, imho.

Let me give a couple illustrations of how I think we could do better. I happened had dinner with some teachers last year at a conference who had just had a daylong immersion in weblogs, wikis, etc and seemed pretty overwhemled. Understanding By Design came up, and it was one thing they, their administrators and I all seemed to like. So I pointed out that blogging could be a particularly good way to demonstrate some of the Facets of Understanding that are hard to reach in traditional assignments, like Self-Knowledge and Empathy. Their eyes lit up and they said, "We wish you'd given the talk today." (Yes, I am very humble, thank you.) But the point is, if you've got some shared language to talk about how technology will help reach pedagogical goals, you should have a much more compelling argument for trying a new method. You don't even need a frickin' story!

Or let's talk about having kids think about the future. When I was in middle school, we did Future Problem Solving, which teaches you a great framework for analyzing problems and generating well reasoned solutions. It isn't the alpha and omega of the universe, but it is an excellent foundation. So it is a little disappointing when I see ambitious international collaborations around problems facing our future that make great use of new technology but take a step back in the core pedagogical process, leaving us with 21st century global multimedia book reports and research papers instead of the full creative and analytical process we used 25 years ago in our little small town classroom. It isn't too much to ask for the best pedagogy and the best technology, and if you have to choose one, you already know which one to take.

On the more positive side, there is a long thread of work by Writing Project folks to apply new tools to their best practices in writing instruction, but they still have frustratingly little capacity to influence the development of tools to meet their needs more precisely.

So this isn't so much an anti-Second Life/Skype/Google Earth/Scratch position, as a challenge to frame the presentation of these tools to teachers in the best thinking about pedagogy. And, I would add, taking into account the philosophy and worldview underlying these applications, their development and distribution.


Bill Kerr said...

Yes, important to look behind gary's post with some generosity for the deeper meanings and motivations

Gary sprayed a fair bit and stephen sprayed back. With so much spittle around it takes some work to identify the real issues even though both made some good points. Perhaps not unusual for "web2.0" discourse

Bill Kerr said...

my analysis of the Stager-Downes exchange here:

Chris Lehmann said...


Let's create a shared pedagogical framework for us to talk about how these tools can be used.

Here's our problem at SLA these days... we've got that shared vision, shared implementation, but we're still struggling with the "How and when and why" of technology infusion.

Even when you've got the pedagogical piece in place -- in fact, maybe *because* we have it in place -- those questions still require a lot of grappling with....

It's when we move beyond being technology cheerleaders and actually try to tie this stuff to solid, grounded pedagogical ideas that it actually gets harder, not easier.

Our hope is that we -- students, faculty and even *gasp* administrators -- will be better off for that struggle.