Good Tension? Maybe …

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I believe we all have our favorites when it comes to authors whose pieces we search for. You know, the ones that nudge us to re-Consider our current thinking on a topic or – occasionally – introduce us to a topic we’ve not really Considered before. If you look through the archives of this blog, you’ll quickly identify quite a few of my favorites. These days, with all of the flexibility of access due to social media, these writings are easily gathered. [Aside: I feel compelled to caution that ‘favorites’ should never become unquestioned sources. Rather they must always be simply one of many sources, all Considered carefully and deliberately as we develop our beliefs and positions.]

This blog post grew out of a post from Seth Godin. It’s titled “Tension vs. Fear.” Quoting from the piece: “Fear’s a dream killer. It puts people into suspended animation, holding their breath, paralyzed and unable to move forward. Fear is present in many education settings, because fear’s a cheap way to ensure compliance.  ‘ Do this,’ the teacher threatens, ‘or something bad is going to happen to you.'” And: “Tension is the hallmark of a great educational experience. The tension of not quite knowing where we are in the process, not being sure of the curriculum, not having a guarantee that it’s about to happen.”

Yes, this particular post led me to Consider my thinking and beliefs on both education and personal success. For me, by the way, education (Effective Learning, really) is a critical contributor to personal success. While this particular Consideration is far from reaching resolution, I nevertheless wanted to share my thinking to date. For me, fear is indeed all too often the source of blandness and status quo. “I / we can avoid failure if I / we simply keep doing what I / we have always done. Think of the negative impact on me / us if I / we fail. And you know how common failure is. I / we will be seen as worthless or useless, despised by colleagues and many friends.”

My response to those gripped and controlled by fear: Get over it! Success – in any way one defines it – depends upon our being curious and then creative in addressing that curiosity. Creativity in turn most certainly includes the risk, the probability, of failure during our efforts. But this should not be feared; these failures (love the acronym, FAIL: First Attempt In Learning) must be seen as routine, as opportunities to reflect and refine our efforts. Opportunities that are helpful and valuable to our efforts leading to success.

But here’s where I have some problems with Seth Godin. Does this mean the fear must be replaced by tension? Yes, I know he sees tension as a good thing… Yes, I presume that he thus doesn’t see it impacting our well being negatively. But I’m of the strong belief that success can occur without significant tension. Of course, we must expect tension to exist at various times during the creative addressing of important situations. But visualizing efforts to address important situations as including routine / constant tension, I believe, is a negative approach – probably leading to fear most of the time.

Again, quoting Godin: “Effective teachers have the courage to create tension. And adult learners on their way to levelling up actively seek out this tension, because it works. It pushes us over the chasm to the other side.” Create tension, seek out this tension… Again, I ask why? A betterapproach, I believe: Teachers must facilitate development of four skills: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Developing these skills is accomplished via student efforts on addressing meaningful defining questions generated to align with appropriate standards. Will this be hard work for students and teachers? Yes, of course! Should it ‘create tension?’ Of course not!

The importance of this effort (What percentage of teachers think this is their main responsibility in the classroom? Probably quite low, agreed???) lies in developing these skills into habitual skills, in a non-pressure environment. The post-secondary college or employment then has been prepared for; the lifelong learning absolutely required for a successful career and personal life has then been prepared for. Yes, there will be short periods of tension dealing from time to time with situations that arise in the course of addressing meaningful situations. But there will be no creating tension, no seeking tension!

So, good tension??? I continue to believe any tension can be minimized and dealt with when it occurs. I don’t think that’s the tension Seth Godin was talking about – his good tension… Maybe minimal natural tension that’s addressed; maybe that’s “good” tension!

Words Are Not Adequate

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Let me paint my circumstances: We are still arranging our furniture and ‘goodies’ in our newly-built home – so exciting of course but still time consuming – five months later. We had a mandatory trip back to New England for some unavoidable appointments (and some great socializing with friends). And, finally, as with any moves, there are required effforts to both in dropping licenses, voter registrations, … at the previous location and adding the same at our new location.

And of course, George Couros chose the past five plus weeks to facilitate the second edition of his online Innovator’s Mindset MOOC! Having gained so very much personally from the first offering, I really didn’t want to miss this second offering. I made the commitment to actively participate – in the weekly live YouTube sessions, the book re-reading (in my case), the Wednesday night #IMMOOC Twitter chats, and individual assignments. This blog post in fact fulfills the last individual assignment.

To say that I’m so glad that I made the commitment to actively participate cannot be overstated… While I gained much knowledge, experience, links, contacts, and confidence from participation in the first offering, I can honestly report that the most valuable outcome, I now understand, was preparation for the second offering. But then, those of us dedicated to lifelong Effective Learning know it to be critical to happiness / success (regardless of our definitions of both). Perfection is a useful if unattainable goal but continued attention to it will always be of great value. Yes, things change rapidly; but goals such as happiness and success can always be better approached with a better ‘tool box.’

So what did I accomplish as a direct result of my participation in this second IMMOOC offering? Here’s a (most certainly) incomplete list:

  • I resumed my posts to this Considerations blog – after a year-long hiatus associated with preparation for and implementation of our move from Connecticut to Virginia.
  • I gained a better understanding of the rewards of blogging (a central focus of the IMMOOC) – including developing visions of how knowledge and skills interact to enable improved use, self-assessment of those visions through sharing with others, refining those visions via dialogue with readers of the blog, and building my Personal Learning Network.
  • I was once again reminded how valuable the information found within “Innovator’s Mindset” – much more so because it was the second reading / Consideration of it for me (as with all books of relevance and value; most have at most one of these but not both).
  • I was introduced to the power and value of live broadcasting of presentations / dialogue – such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • I was reminded of the richness and value of Twitter chats. I regularly participate in #OklaEd, #Vachat, and #TWOTCW but understand better the value of exploring others as time permits.
  • I have gained a new thinking of my possible contributions to improved Effective Learning facilitation. I believe I do have contributions to make through my blog posts and am excited to be back adding new posts regularly. I’m also looking forward to Considering two new opportunities: writing a book as well as facilitating ongoing, online educator professional development.

So, GOOD NEWS??? Yes, for me for sure!!! And for other participants as well, from my reading their posts. AND for all others learning about IMMOOC too late to participate in this offering. (Start by reading and Considering George Couros’ book! Follow the IMMOOC facilitators on Twitter: @gcouros, @KatieMTLC, and @TaraMartinEDU. Search the #IMMOOC hashtag on Twitter. And watch for (hopefully) future offerings of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC.)

Are Education Changes Headed in the Right Direction???

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The changes mentioned in this blog post title are innovative changes – the critical theme oh the IMMOOC 2 activity with which I’ve engaged with George Couros and many others over the past few weeks. To address the question found in the title, there are several other questions that must be addressed:

  • What is our definition of innovative?
  • What changes are we Considering?
  • Why do I believe these changes will result in innovative education?
  • How can we assess if we’re headed in the right direction?

Let’s examine each of these briefly.

What is our definition of innovative? In his book, “Innovator’s Mindset“, George Couros offers this definition of ‘innovative’: Something is innovative if its outcome(s) or result(s) are both new and better. Therefore changes to education will be innovative only if the student education is both different from previous practice and results in better learning.

What changes are we Considering? I cannot overstate how many great ideas and resulting changes have been introduced by MOOC participants; even a representative list is impossible. For this post, therefore, I will offer my personal list: (1) facilitating learning, not teaching; (2) keeping the approach student-controlled; (3) facilitating the development of four basic skills: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups; (4) eliminating textbooks; (5) eliminating exams (in favor of project outcomes) ; and (6) eliminating grades in favor of course grades assigned by teachers with input from each student and their peers. It is my thesis that this list is collectively quite different from standard pedagogy. It will be appropriately Considered innovative if the student learning improves.

Why do I believe these changes will result in innovative education? Taken together, the six changes listed in the previous paragraph have the potential to put each student in control of her/his education, to develop and convert to habits skills so important to lifelong learning that is critical to success regardless of the definition of that success, to rely on the essentially limitless information gathered from social media, to utilize organization and critical thinking skills (included in my vision of the other four skills listed by the way) to assess the gathered information for usefulness and understanding, and to address meaningful assignments. As a result, this approach will provide a learning environment providing students with Dan Pink’s three elements (autonomy, mastery, and purpose). Facilitating these efforts in such an environment, I strongly believe, will result in an innovative education for all learners involved.

How can we assess if we’re headed in the right direction? Immediately, it should be apparent that there will be no testing (except for any mandated by government); there will be facilitating, not teaching with minimal if any lecturing; there will be no focus on information chosen as ‘correct’ and included in textbooks; there will be student choices of problems addressed (associated with teacher defining questions aligned with appropriate standards); and there will be no ‘right’ answers, there will be failures to learn from, and there will be development of useful answers. Facilitated properly, these changes cannot help improve education / learning with increased motivated student engagement: biased very probably – but certainly headed in the right direction. But true assessment is also easily incorporated. Suggested tools can and should include: feedback from students including use of focus groups; ‘external’ feedback on presentations / demonstrations of outcomes; use of outcomes to improve people’s lives; and the improved and ‘not-dictated’ upgrading of student procedures. To me, the last one listed has the most potential …

The featured image above as well as the image below from George Couros represent times past when the chosen sources made up of chosen content represent the approach to education not so long ago (sadly, too often in use today…). The suggested changes (and those of many other experienced educators) are critical and INNOVATIVE in my thinking at least.

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Really??? Am I Alone???

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So I find a link to this article in a Facebook post. As I am reading, I find the following passage:

“Let’s consider a classroom of a traditional teacher:

Students come into the classroom and begin to work on a worksheet. The teacher then delivers the content for that class. It might be a lecture, video, or reading from a text. Then the students do an activity with that newly learned content. Then the teacher offers more work to practice the content usually in the form of homework. Generally this is a standard day in a classroom of a traditional teacher.”

I don’t know about you but I find this description of a ‘traditional teacher’ so very troubling – first because it’s probably more often true than I would hope and, second, it is so counter to facilitating Effective Learning.

To me, with this being the ‘problem’ that the author believes artificial intelligence and virtual reality addresses better, how can this article (sadly I encountered a  second article just last week…) get published / posted? It (actually both) improve efforts that i at least should NOT be made in the first place!

Hence the title of this short blog post: Really??? Am I alone???

Ah, Yes – Less Is More – Always

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The featured picture is yet another gem from George Couros through his phenomenal Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). Five great suggestions for sure; I’ll be discussing my favorite: “3. Less is more.”

In my 29+ years as engineering faculty, I always included group / team projects that were student-centered and student-identified – addressing a driving question from me. Leading up to the introduction of the project, the students and I would Consider working in groups via development of a group contract. We also reviewed the using problem solving effectively to address the project – with emphasis on ‘effectively.’

It never ceased to amaze me as I followed the various groups’ efforts that there were always two typical approaches to their efforts (in spite of my not-so-subtle suggestions to some that they change): (a) the groups whose key focus was developing a great starting direction for their efforts; and (b) the groups whose key focus was developing a great complete design for their project.

The results or outcomes were nearly always the same: The groups looking for the direction began their development efforts quicker, thereby encountering critical requirements faster, addressing them sooner, and arriving at a useful and timely outcome. On presentation day, they had much to say – what the critical items were, how their outcome addressed the driving question, and what could be done to probably make the outcome even better. If there was a prototype to be demonstrated, it worked!!!

The groups working on a complete design were brought to essentially a crawling pace because someone in the group (often correctly by the way) identified an issue that prevented a great design. Occasionally, they identified their flawed approach in time to yield at least a somewhat useful outcome; once in a while, they actually had a design that enabled them to develop a useful and timely outcome. But most groups ended up ‘throwing something together’ at the last possible minute, sadly at times not even on the path to a useful outcome. Their presentation was not well organized, questions posed to them were unanswerable, and any prototype, if expected, was unworkable.

I’m sure you’ve identified the connection to the blog post title by now. Doing less planning and upfront organizing, getting started as quickly as the direction / first steps is identified is better – more!!! This is an important part of problem solving that we educators must facilitate in term of habit development for our students (and ourselves by the way if not habitual already). My thesis: Addressing every situation faced – including learning – as a problem to be solved yields a better outcome quickly. With more effective efforts, there are more opportunities for innovation!!!

Educators and Learning

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I’ve just completed my first reading of the latest post to the blog of R.H. Steele. His blog, “Risk to Learn,” is one of my favorites; this post, as I do for each of them, will be Considered very carefully. He reflects on the many needs / challenges of students today and asks two questions: ‘Where do academics fall in today’s education?’ and ‘Whose responsibility is it to tackle these needs / challenges?’ I agree with his thinking: It’s the responsibility of teachers to facilitate more than academics, to deal with all the needs / challenges of students.

Steele makes the statement: “When I was growing up schools had one job: Educate through the teaching of content.” For sure, back then (you know, ‘when dirt was clear – not dirty yet…’), there was much stronger parental influence reducing some unfortunate demands on teachers. But I’ll take issue with this comment in the following sense: I’m quite certain there were many educators that did more than teach content; many facilitated the learning (not the memorizing) of core knowledge and the development of the skills of lifelong learning.

Learning has progressed from the time of no books to today when books document yesterday’s research at best. My thesis: If the research and the learning tools that exist today were available at the time of Aristotle or any of the scholars of later times, the great educators back then would align with the great educators of today. And the demands for dealing with the needs / challenges of students would be the same… “I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

The Purpose of Education

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[Aside: Yes, I’m finally back to my blog… It’s been quite a while since my last post. In the interim, my wife and I – with much help from family and friends, and our builder – have built a beautiful new home in Midlothian, Virginia; packed, given away, or thrown away our things in Connecticut; and moved into our new home in Virginia.]

I have joined IMMOOC 2 having found the original offering of great value. One feature of this course is the encouragement to blog regularly – with blog prompts listed weekly. Hence the blog title. To me, the highest priority purpose of school is facilitating the development of four skills by each student: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. That development must include the application of these skills to meaningful situations to indeed  convert the skills to habits. You might ask “What about the core knowledge associated with the appropriate standards?” My answer is that such knowledge will indeed be learned (and thus be useable) in conjunction with skills development and subsequent use on assignments.

Why these four skills? Effective Learning, to me, is deep learning associated with the development of what I call a vision (an overall organization of facts, equations, theories, links, … with appropriate connections) that enables the learner to use this learning to address the previously mentioned meaningful situations / assignments. The most critical use of the Effective Learning skill will be for the lifelong learning necessary for a successful life and career.

Problem solving will be the structure associated with the addressing of all situations encountered. It is a very nonlinear passage through steps that break down what might first seem a daunting task into smaller less complicated sub-tasks. Very important to this skill is that it is not associated only with the more technical fields such as science or engineering; all fields of interest will yield more useful outcomes more quickly through the use of an effective problem solving procedure.

Communicating is, I expect quite obvious. Whether in the course of collecting materials for Consideration during Effective Learning, the outreach to more experienced individuals during problem solving, the interaction with group members, or the presentation of objective(s), procedures, and outcomes to others for review, feedback, and use, effective communicating is never an option. One additional point important to me at least: communication skill development is not fully  dependent upon the type of situation addressed; but it is best developed in conjunction with a specific type of situation.

Finally, working in groups is such an important skill. There are the likely obvious advantages of a diversity of backgrounds and experience and the lessening of any one person’s efforts when working in groups. There is the ability to develop a richer, more useful outcome for any situation. BUT these advantages will occur only if the skill is developed. In my efforts with student groups (every class I ever facilitated), I always had the students develop a team agreement – a contract among the group listing how they were going to proceed as a group. I also reminded them that the sum total of accomplishments wasn’t great for a group over individuals until they had worked together for a while / gotten to know each other better. By, the way, all those people such as artists who often insist in conversations with me that they don’t work in groups are mistaken. They might not work in formal groups but they certainly work in informal (still very important) ones!

So there you have my thoughts upon the four skills and their importance. Developed in school – I’d suggest as early as possible, the students will assess and refine them into key habits that will serve them well in the furthering their formal education as well as in the personal lives and career. Referring to the photo at the top of this post, you will find a quote from George Couros, the author of the book “Innovator’s Mindset” and organizer of the previously mentioned IMMOOC. What better way to help our students focus on their curiosity than to have the four skills / tools in their toolbox…