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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An Addition to ‘School vs. Learning’

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Yes, it’s the same featured photo used for my blog post of a few days ago… It’s been an important one to me since first discovering it. Very presumptuous of me I know, but I have a suggestion for an added comparison for the list in the photo.

Today at the Y, I was about to begin my regular exercise-bike ride. My routine is to exercise while listening to podcasts on my iPhone. I subscribe to a number of series and just, sort of randomly, start whichever is the first one in line. Today’s was titled “The Future of Happiness” from Amy Blankson, part of the Unmistakable Creative series. Her fundamental thesis is that “Happiness Leads to Success, rather than Success Leads to Happiness.” [The title of the podcast in fact is the name of a book she has written.] The portion of the podcast most directly linked to innovation and learning begins at about the eleventh or twelveth minute. My thoughts: Ms. Blankson provides great suggestions about the importance of happiness to success. That happiness is in large part shaped by our perception of the world. Circling back, our perception of the world associated with opportunities to help others (through innovation) leads to happiness – while leads to success.

So here’s the suggested comparison: School is connected with stress. Learning evolves from happiness.

REFLECTION & THE INNOVATOR’S MINDSET

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It’s Week Two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) currently underway. The featured image above illustrates George Couros’ list of the eight characteristics of an innovator teacher’s approach to learning. I have referred to this image quite frequently since first encountering it. While each one is as important as the others, I’ve selected “Time for Reflection” for this blog post.

In the most recent Considerations post, I discussed the four skills that, to me, are the highest purpose for formal education. They are: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Among many of my strongly held beliefs are these: (1) Every situation anyone faces will yield a better outcome more quickly if addressing that situation is treated as a problem to be solved. And (2) the two features of effective problem solving are ’embracing ambiguity’ and ‘regular self-assessment.’  I have used the phrase, embracing ambiguity, since first hearing it in a presentation long ago (source long forgotten unfortunately). It is I believe one of the keys to innovation and that link could be (maybe will be) the subject of another blog post! Because ambiguity raises the level of risk, it increases the importance of self-assessment.

Regular self-assessment is really the first of three associated frequent steps in effective problem solving: self-assessment to gather evidence, reflection to Consider that evidence in terms of addressing the situation at hand, and refinement to the work procedure to better address the situation. My observations as well as anecdotal feedback from many educators suggest that students do not like to reflect, giving it lip service at most, all too often.

What is reflection? Let me provide my word description of it. For any situation being addressed, at any time, is defined in terms of its status – the features of its being. These would be identified through self-assessment. Also, for any situation being addressed, there are ultimate features of the outcome(s) satisfying our goals for our efforts. Finally, there is the latest set of features for the currently used procedure presumed to get from the present status to the final outcome. Three sets of features. The very important role of reflection is to consider all three sets of features in terms of whether the currently used procedure is still working – or does that procedure require refinement. As note, this self-assessment and the associated reflection and possible refinement must happen frequently during the overall addressing of the situation.

But there’s one last reflection that is equally important: the reflection on the two sets of features of the outcome – the set of desired outcome features and the set of actual outcome features. In the ideal world, these two sets would be identical and the reflection would consist of making sure all desired features were included as actual features. IF the regular assessment / reflection / refinement were done well, in the ideal world, this would be straightforward. But there is no ideal world! Time might not be sufficient, a needed resource might not be available, a ‘documented’ capability might not really exist, … The final outcome will hopefully be useful but even that might not be the case. So the reflection this time has two purposes: deciding how useful (or maybe not useful) is the final outcome; and what recommendations are appropriate for consideration if the effort were continued or repeated?

Reflection, as described in this post, has not been identified for any situation. It must be an important characteristic of all innovative efforts for or between / among the important communities associated with education: teachers and students of course; but also administrators, families, general citizens, policy people, and elected officials. For example, it’s important as teachers develop their pedagogy for facilitating student Effective Learning. And it’s important as administrators work with teachers and policy people to develop a plan to identify and address the standards for education. And so many more.

Notice I have assumed any interactions among the communities listed are fully functioning… It may very well be that some problems to be solved are improving the functioning of communities and across communities!

i hope my thinking on innovation are of value to you.

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…