Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Don’t hold your breath

[Thanks, Wesley, for the opportunity to be a guest blogger at Moving at the Speed of Creativity! I’ll do my best to live up to the challenge of blogging for a larger audience than I typically get at Dangerously Irrelevant.]

One of the key beliefs of many edubloggers and educational technology enthusiasts is that digital technologies can, and should, empower students to be active, engaged learners who have greater control over their own learning. I’ve been doing a lot of work lately with secondary schools and, unfortunately, I’ve got to report that I think there is a huge lack of congruence between this pedagogical belief and the existing belief systems of high school teachers and parents (at least the ones with whom I’ve been interacting).

For example, I’ve asked several groups of parents recently whether it was important that student learning experiences were interesting or engaging. Sometimes I also cited student survey statistics from their children’s school that 65% to 75% of students reported that most of their work was “busy work.” Here are some fairly typical parent statements:

Life is not always interesting and engaging. They need to learn how the real world is.

Students expect to be entertained all the time. What is the teacher supposed to do, dance?

Teacher comments were similar in kind, if not quite in degree:

I’d like to think that we all try to make our instruction interesting. But there’s only so much we can do.

Our teaching would be easier if there weren’t so many distractions such as headphones, text messaging, etc.

Some of these topics bore me too. I don’ t know how to make them interesting.

Moreover, neither teachers nor parents seem very inclined to give up much control over student learning experiences. I have heard a lot lately about the importance of ramping expectations up further regarding student mastery of core knowledge, that students will have to do whatever their supervisor tells them in their later careers so they better get used to it now, and that high school students don’t really know what’s best for themselves at this stage of life.

To the extent that my recent interactions with parents and teachers are generalizable, what all this means is that educational technology advocates are facing a losing battle if their advocacy strategy is based on persuading teachers and parents that these digital tools will foster student creativity, engagement, and autonomy. Educational technology efforts based on this premise are doomed to either marginalization or outright failure until parents, teachers, and administrators are inclined to give up control and to place greater importance on engaging learning environments.

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On this day..



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5 responses to “Don’t hold your breath”

  1. Scott Meech Avatar

    Outstanding effort Scott… I too find your included comments to be very typical of parents and educators. Your discussion to me gets right at the heart of the view of an educator. As a society, we simply can’t get past the idea of the sage on the stage versus the facilitator. Too often we think facilitating isn’t teaching.

    Comments about the future needs of our students like the ones you included really show a gap of understanding of what our kids really need. I know you have blogged at dangerously irrelevant about the 21st century skills and I think this is the important information that needs to be disseminated more clearly. Perhaps a link within this existing blog to those entries would be pertinent.

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  3. sylvia martinez Avatar

    Hi Scott,
    Great job taking the reins!

    Often, I think we all have a “little red schoolhouse of yore” in our heads that probably never really existed, and it colors parents’ judgment. However, I think the bigger problem is caused when advocates for modern technology use words like “engagement.”

    Engagement means different things to educators, who know that engagement is a byproduct of active, student-centered learning. To parents, engagement means over-hyped “fun” activities that seem pointless and just a time-wasting trick to make the bad medicine of school go down.

    Then we end up in arguments about whether school should be fun or not, interesting or boring, build self-esteem or provide a “school of hard knocks” experience, etc.. All the while the point is missed.

    Engagement is a result, not a goal. Parents (and all of us) are right to question new technology that is superficially “engaging” while the underlying instructional methods and content remain the same. We have to be explicit about what the difference is.

  4. Elizabeth O'Hagan Avatar

    I am a teacher guilty of being the sage… (and I am young!!!!)

    Until I met David Warlick I was still a firm believer that if you can do it on paper – then DO IT ON PAPER!! You can easily sharpen your pencil without the help of a technician!!

    My students know me as being quit insane and are quite used to me “doing a dance” – however this does not forgive that I too often revert back to me at the front telling them what they should know!!

    Over the last year and a half I have had a lot of Professional Development on thinking skills and more recently “digital learning.”

    I am continuing to master the art of teaching “thinking” and am now in the throws of teaching it to my colleagues. The strategies that I am teaching require the teacher to teach the strategy, but then let the kids get on with it. Very hard for many to do. The question I keep getting asked is –

    “how do we measure engagement?”
    “how is this going to improve my grade averages?”
    “what proof is there that this will improve grades?”

    My answers to these basically – apart from measuring how many pens are writing versus how many are not – is that we can’t really answer these questions, it is not until you change that you can simply “feel” the difference in your classroom. Let me know if you disagree.

    The more I “let go” the more I seem to learn myself about how my kids actually learn, and I know they are learning more that what I could teach them. When you sit down at your desk and tune into a conversation at one of the groups, the discussion that goes on is so much more powerful than the discourse I could have given them.

    So I just need to provide the platform and the permission to do so.

  5. Monica McGill Avatar
    Monica McGill

    Of course, it’s not the tools! Implying that the educational technology will make teachers teach better, is like saying that giving them a new book will make them teach better. It’s the methodology, the pedagogy, the curriculum and the instructor. Skill, talent, desire, and motivation.

    I do disagree that the efforts can be measured by how we feel, then sold to other faculty based on feelings. It’s hard to justify extra IT costs based on feelings. We need research, and lot of quality research, backing up the claims that edtech tools improve student learning.

    Then, hopefully, we can take this research and start training a new breed of teachers.