Sunday, November 09, 2008

Exploring, Considering and Proposing--- CCK08

Some 40 years ago -- in a time of the first automated teller machine, the first computer mouse, the Nova computer with 32 kilobytes of memory for $8,000 -- I entered the classroom as a new teacher with the desks in straight rows, the teacher desk at the front of the room, blackboards, one textbook per subject, filmstrips and a projector. My roles— teller, disciplinarian and test giver.

Some 35 years later -- in a time of Google, Windows 2000, Palm Pilots, LMS — I exited a classroom distributed among 6 high schools connected by videoconferencing, lessons on line, a host of web resources, student laptops with virtual lockers within the LMS, and paperless learning. My roles-- designer, evaluator, motivational speaker, expert learner, organizer, mentor, mediator and “guide on the side”.

Some 4 years ago – in that same time of Google, Windows 2000, Palm Pilots, LMS – having left those physical spaces of learning, I entered Blackboard’s virtual space for learning as an instructional designer with discussion forums, group areas, learning units and lots of text. My roles – designer, expert learner, guide, communicator.

(I’m in total agreement with Viplav Baxi‘s contention that: “For me, the educator and the instructional designer roles are intricately linked in many ways. In fact I think it is a mistake to think about them in isolation.” I viewed my planning in the classroom as “designing” and carried that perspective to my current design position. Consequently, as I consider roles, I am unable to separate one from the other.)

And now – a teacher/instructional designer in a globalized society characterized by a “climate of abundance, rapid change, diverse information sources and perspectives, and the critical need to find a way to filter and make sense of the chaos." (George Siemens) with new possibilities for learning characterized as distributed, diverse, autonomous, connected, and open afforded by the advances in technology –

And this question—

Engaged and connecting to the thoughts of others --- metaphors in abundance caught my attention first, analogous to the roles appropriate for teachers/instructional designers in these times – some resonated with me far more than others:

Ken suggested what I think he would term a network manager with attention to
“1. Pipe handling, access and mechanics, 2. Pipe care and maintenance, 3. Flow Dynamics… it is critical that educators and institutions focus on teaching pipe mechanics and stay out of the flow.”
Although I’d agree that managing the dynamics is a critical role today and that this concept serves learning that is distributed and connected, I’d wonder if instead of “teaching pipe dynamics”, would students be better served by modeling and demonstrations? Unfortunately, although my father was a mechanical engineer, I’m having a bit of trouble with this concept and I’m sure that may simply be a matter of preference.

Ariel believes:
“that the roles of the Instructional Designer and Teacher are changing ... Those roles must merge into the Sharer, who shows new technologies and connections to information to others while always keeping in mind his/her own role as perpetual student. … To do this, the Sharer must, at least in some respects, plant the environment for others, set up what may grow into connections and give opportunity for emergence in ways even the Sharer may not envision...”
I like the notion of Sharer—for me it conjures images of warmth and trust, two elements I deem necessary to an effective learning space. A Sharer seems to possess the attributes to design learning that is open and connected. I’m wondering though if a sharer models as opposed to “show”, is there then more possibilities for connecting and collaboration?

Viplav views:
“Educator as a weaver – just like a weaver puts together many threads and creates a design, .. though, the educator would need to leave the design unfinished, with plenty of raw ends...

Educators as pattern builders - those who are able to build logical interconnections to make a field intelligible to the learner at each stage of learning. The educator must preserve the patterns in a way that can be accessed and re-harnessed for reference or for new learners.”
A weaver, and isn’t by the very nature of the weaving one who creates patterns -- hmm, this appeals to me— diverse in the many colors and the textures, autonomous in uniqueness of piece, fibers and threads connected and reconnected in the weaving, and open when fringes on the edges leave way for more connections?

Lisa considered a host of metaphors and their appropriateness to the role of teacher/instructional designer:
Lecturer.., facilitator.., accountant.., The Curator .., Master Artist. I currently use a Master Craftsman model ...A more open role would be that of Organic Gardener, where learners are like plants. Gardeners allow a great deal of freedom, but encourage desirable patterns (Kurtz and Snowden 466). They are prepared for chaos and are aware that the uncoordinated actions of the lower orders can result in higher levels of action, as in Bullock’s emergent learning in chaotic systems.”
And then this!
“What we face is a lack of magic. Aware of increasing access to information and resources via the web, we envision a world of self-motivated learners, unhampered by bureaucratic straight-jackets and obedience training. We want to use new technologies to bring them the world, controlling their learning only so they don’t hurt themselves or others. We want them to learn like we learn, through connections and discovery. We want assessment of learning to be based on personal empowerment of knowledge rather than passing tests and earning degrees. Ultimately, then, we want the role of Wizard. The ultimate power, not to control people, but to change the system.”
And finally--
“Our new role is Insurgent, creating a better way by undermining the system.”
And a day later this!
“That’s when it occurred to me: it’s ALL environment, the environment created by the setting and the people within it. Teaching is environmental engineering. … Wonder what would happen if we all came in one day and the desks were gone, replaced with pillows and decorative rugs on the carpet, colorful cloth walls and a plate of couscous for sharing? We’d do different things, I bet.”
What really resonated with me here were organic gardener, wizard and environmental engineer!! These images were powerful to me-- educator/instructional designer as organic gardener -- growing learning that engenders diversity in the many families, autonomous in the specific species, connected by the initial planting yet open and emergent, varying with the conditions of weather, soil, amendments and pests. And wizard – yes! To frame the design of connected learning in a context that is engaging, to step aside once learners are engaged, to know just when and how to step in to redirect through discovery, to enable and empower learners in connecting unhampered by the restrictions of any system -- I sense an “art” as well a science in the designing. The “environmental engineer” is brilliant! For with the design of an environment that enhances joyful, thoughtful, active learning that is connected and open— setting the tone that enables learners to grow.

On to more descriptions by George Siemens who suggests a joint model of network administrator and curator for a firm foundation for the roles of educators/instructional designers:
“Clarence has adopted the term "network administrator" to describe the role of teachers. I like it. It's the basis on which teaching and education should be founded. But I think something more is needed, something that places some level of value or interpretation on content, knowledge, and concepts being explored.

The joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be. An expert (the curator) exists in the artifacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But she's behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don't adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. While learners are free to explore, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline. Their freedom to explore is unbounded.”
Recognizing that the curator role embodies clearly dualities that seem essential to our roles—“balancing freedom with thoughtful interpretation”, creating spaces for knowledge creation yet being an expert, acknowledging autonomy yet understanding “frustrations of exploring unknown territories without a map”, working behind the scenes yet displaying artifacts and resources—

Rather than suggest an additional metaphor, I’d like to propose an inclusive model that incorporates the roles of curator, organic gardener, wizard and environmental engineer-- thinking that with their adaption, we’d likely be serving the best interests of all learners in our designs.

Other contributions also caught my attention:
“E-learning is not e-teaching. You are no longer in control of what happens in the classroom. The students are in control. You are a guide, not a director.” --Dietsociety
I’d like to somehow post this on each instructional designer and subject matter expert’s login page to Blackboard! It reminds me of what I often shared with my high school students who wanted to become teachers-- “Teaching is not telling.” Designing experiences in which learners take responsibility and control should be a mantra for all those charged with these tasks.
“In order for teaching & learning to evolve, educators must realize a sense of urgency in becoming lifelong learners.” Thecleversheep
A role of lifelong learner didn’t seem to arise in the metaphors, or perhaps I missed it. For each learning space and experience we design, it seems to me that it is essential that this be modeled and demonstrated—

Mike’s post was the first I read this week; my breath caught and I won’t forget:
“And yet I still can’t help but wonder where I would be today if the instructor had taken a different tact with the students – encouraged empowered exploration rather than self-doubt; fostered a culture of passion, enthusiasm and encouragement rather than one of passive obedience; and above all treated students as unique individuals rather than subjects to be ruled over.”
Each of us, as designers of learning spaces and experiences, should be required as are doctors to pledge to “Do No Harm”. Whether in the text, audio and images of our networks, or in the walled space of our classrooms, we must recognize the power inherent in design – that design can reach out to touch a soul and empower that soul to reach its full potential or it can dampen or destroy the strongest and weakest of spirits, sometimes causing great pain and irreparable harm.

I’m imagining all the possibilities and wondering -- is it time for some subversive activity?

(Thanks to my former students, Clarence Fisher, Mark Alhness and other educators for the images that may capture educator roles that are changing.)

1 comment:

Keith said...


I tried to post a comment on your post after I read it but I had problems with my OpenID.

What a great discussion and sharing of ideas.