Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Can I Get Me A Yawp?

Gold Into Straw - Brendan Benson (mp3)
Heart of Stone - Erasure (mp3)

"This is bullshit."

I travelled more than 1,000 miles last weekend so I could hear a highly respected man, Jeff Jarvis, stand up on a high school stage and introduce his talk with those very words. Some 200 souls somehow connected to the world of education were fortunate enough to sit in a small auditorium and witness more than a dozen respected thinkers, leaders, and innovators stand up and offer their unique insights into technology and education, and attempt to address the challenges of both, or either.

The event was called TEDxNYED. It's an independent event formatted like and inspired by TED, one of the coolest, geekiest, most intellectually inspiring sites on the entire web, as far as I'm concerned. Several of those videos have even found their way to the BOTG site. Which could only happen were they ingenious. We don't suffer fools lightly here at BOTG. Except for one another.

Jarvis' point, if you didn't go read his talk, is that the entire TED modus operandi is based precisely on the educational philosophy that most modern thinkers have determined sucks shit. Authority figure stands before an audience of 7-300 students whose sole purpose is to stare, listen, and maybe take note. Authority figure spews knowledge and wisdom. Students merely hope to catch enough of it to achieve a particular grade... although it would be cool to learn a little, too.

Here are, in brief and with a second degree of separation, just a sampling of some key ideas passed along during this one glorious Saturday in New York City:
  • Volunteerism should not be limited in our minds to just time and money. In 2010 we can now contribute information. Not necessarily information that is ours exclusively, but information that can merely be added to a collective in order to give that collective a little bit more information than existed before. (Andy Garvin's example: OpenStreetMap)
  • A teacher should know how well s/he is doing as a teacher based on the questions students ask in that class, says the man responsible for this really popular YouTube video.
  • Popular culture can and should be used as an educational tool, and we chronically underestimate its power for good, says professor Henry Jenkins.
  • Any true educator should support and endorse open source information. Any great idea or method that educates should be made available to educate as many as it can reach and put into the hands of others if it can make those others better teachers. Or, as David Wiley put it so well, "The successful educator shares the most information with the most students."
  • Open = Sharing = Generous = Kind
  • The best textbooks would be malleable, and that's best done through the power of Internet technologies like the fascinating and bold CK-12 project.
  • Human beings are at their best and most powerful when they share; but the creator of great and powerful concepts and ideas must be given due respect. Lawrence Lessig helped mastermind Creative Commons as an answer.
  • Jay Rosen has studied "crowd sourcing" and confidently argues that in the battle between 100 citizens v. 1 journalist, the citizens will win. And, in the 21st Century, it's more like 1,000 or 2,000 citizens v. 1 journalist. The only way the journalist wins is by no longer doing things alone. Educational institutions have the potential to learn from this. (I was surprised no one mentioned the potential for home schooling.)
  • "Educators should be curators, not creators." -- Jeff Jarvis
  • "Do what you do best and link to the rest." -- Jeff Jarvis
  • The best class would ask the students what they must know. The best teachers would let students ask the big questions and attempt to help them find the answers.
  • School should be considered an incubator, not a factory.
  • Much like the article "Dehumanized" argues, the goal of education should be to create better citizens, not simply better workers.
This is roughly 1/4 of my notes from just the first 2/3 or so of that single day of talks. Most of what I wrote are oversimplified platitudes compared to what got expressed and how.

Even more important, the conference forced us little people, the students, out of the auditorium regularly, our heads full of all these explosive ideas and all this wild intellectual energy, and thrust us into a single large room. How could we not but search out another soul or two with whom we could speak and work through what we'd witnessed, what had been injected into us?

In my 14 years of working in education, which must include at least 9-10 conferences, my attempts at networking have never felt as valuable or vital to my experience as it did last week at TEDxNYED.

Now, the challenge, much like the church camps of my youth, are two-fold:

(1) How do I -- neither a teacher nor an administrator with Decider powers -- return into a den of uninspired agnostics and convince them that they're hungry for change in a system in which my school has proven quite adept? How do you convince an A-/B+ student to radically change her study habits because there's a chance she could do better? How do you convince Phil Mickelson to totally change his golf swing? Is it easier if they know the system is broken and we just happen to be better in a broken system? How did the NBA convince all those short white pros that they should allow Wilt Chamberlain to dunk the ball?

(2) Can I, at the very least, maintain some ties to those equally-inspired people at other schools who could, in theory, keep my enthusiasm charged much longer than I could were I to lose that connection?

This is my challenge. The fate of the entire universe rests in my hands. Kinda sorta.


Daisy said...

Your enthusiasm is inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

(3) Will anyone listen to you if you call them or characterize them as "uninspired agnostics"?

Answer: no.

Joshua said...

So you asked, "Can I, at the very least, maintain some ties to those equally-inspired people at other schools who could, in theory, keep my enthusiasm charged much longer than I could were I to lose that connection?"

Hopefully this comment will remind you you're not alone in this endeavor, that your fears are shared but there's plenty of reason for hope.

I showed the YouTube video you referenced in my class the first day this semester after a colleague sent it to me. Then we had a professional development day and the presenter showed it again. Then the University's Center for Teaching Excellence (which is actually quite good) sent us all a link.

[I'm a bit saturated and I would argue there are some rhetorical issues with it--that's what I teach, though, so it would be sad if I didn't see that. But...]

I do think the video ultimately gets us to ask self-reflective questions worth asking--regardless of the way in which it provokes us. And not surprisingly, my classes loved it--students felt it expressed some of their frustrations, and it was a great way for us to kickoff a discussion about where they (individually), our class, their generation, and our society, were all heading.

Some of my questions to them:

1. What are you doing to improve our society/culture?

2. Why are some students satisfied with being "fed" information? What's your job as student?

3. How do you handle the responsibilities given to you?

4. What have you learned from the mistakes my generation is making?

5. Do you think my generation has improved upon prior ones?

6. What will you do when those who follow in your footsteps show your problems to you?

7. If the video "spoke" on your behalf--why hasn't your voice been heard before? What will you do to be heard? (Do you believe you can be heard?)

The discussions were great. And one thing I like about teaching is helping empower students to believe they can effect change in their surroundings: 'cause I'm afraid if they don't believe that they can't do any good.

I hope you can find some comfort in knowing that I left each class absolutely thrilled about the hands that will take over for ours one day. In fact, that's what will keep me teaching until I'm utterly useless. Contrary to all the old naysayers who complain about our youth and the fact that we're all headed to hell in the proverbial basket I have found far more evidence to the contrary: there are many great young people out there waiting to be heard, waiting to make an impact, and waiting to do a world some good.

Each semester ends with me feeling more hopeful than the last--and when that doesn't happen, well, it's time for me to let the young blood take over.