Teaching, By Humans

I love this by Dan Meyer, and dare you to spend twenty seconds reading his sarcastic take.

Direct instruction encompasses far more than mere lecture, videos can only go so far to teach, and some lessons are best learned by pedaling.

Too bad too many look too hard for that ever-elusive silver bullet.

Look Before Leaping #iste11

I took a picture this morning, of a guardrail strategically placed between buildings at the Philadelphia Conference Center. I think the whole guardrail idea is fascinating. Imagine what was happening before the rail was there...

Narrow enough to easily walk around, this safety feature prevents people from quickly but dangerously dashing out into traffic - because of their natural desire to quickly reach the other side. It's not that people want to walk right into traffic; but more that they may not realize the dangers present, especially when their focus on the end-goal might be so intense.

Pretty similar to the kinds of safeguards we need in place for kids while they're excitedly learning to use social media, isn't it.

The Continuing Shifts of Online Writing, Reading, and Thinking

Will Richardson announced this week that he has "decided to pretty much bring [his] run at Weblogg-ed to a close." Instead, he'll be using Tumblr to facilitate his sharing and provide a space for him to disseminate his thoughts.

Being one of the first to join the educational blogging scene, I see Will's abandonment of traditional blogging as a clear marker for the beginning of the end of long-form educational blogging. While I don't think blogging will disappear entirely, I have noticed and experienced a substantial shift in how people prefer to collaborate - and even share deep thinking. I elaborated further on these shifts three years ago, as I began to flesh out my own thinking on the matter.

Around that time, I took a graduate-level course on the diffusion of innovations from Dr. Gary Straquadine, one of my favorite professors and teachers with whom I've ever been able to associate. As I explained to Dr. Straquadine my efforts with blogging and OpenPD, he was naturally fascinated by the diffusion aspects of these technologies and seemed genuinely impressed with the potential afforded by these once-emerging collaborative techniques.

At the same time, he asked me pointedly, "Darren, do you think you'll still be blogging five years from now? Do you think it will be as popular then as it is now?"

Shocked that he might be suggesting that blogging would one day have an end, I defended how immersive and incredibly powerful the technology was and how I had hoped all teachers would embrace its use. He then expressed his apprehension in blogging's long-term shelf life and his heartfelt confidence that improved innovations would eventually and inevitably come along.

He was right.

While blogging, for me, has been an incredible experience and convenient method for collaborating and sharing deep thought, other tools have emerged that now make some of this sharing easier. Will Richardson is moving now to Tumblr because its "flow" better accommodates his preferences. Similarly, I've changed some of my procedures by using ifttt.com to automatically push my shared items in Google Reader, along with my comments, neatly and nicely to Twitter. Posterous makes it dead simple to grab content and comment, although I haven't yet used this tool to its full potential, and the Diigo bookmarks I add to a specific list likewise push to Twitter. Flow.

Regardless, I continue to appreciate this space, the feedback you're willing to give me here, and the platform traditional blogging provides me when I need to elaborate.

In the end, I'll be curious to know how many of Will's original followers decide to move with him over to Tumblr. We're becoming more flexible in the tools we use to share information; are we equally flexible in our manner of acquisition? (Currently there are 18,461 Weblogg-ed and 69 willrichardson.com subscribers in Google Reader. Perhaps Will would be willing to share his actual subscription numbers in the future.) Furthermore, I wonder how our increased tendency to share snippets of thought alongside snippets of 3rd-party content will continue to impact our level of truly deep thinking - presumably forced (or more openly embraced?) by the constraints of blogging as our once-preferred medium.

As a society, if our move toward more convenient flow also translates into at least equal levels of shared deep thinking, then I'm all for it. If not, however, then the increased-ease-of-use for increased-shallow-thinking trade-off will be harmful in the long run.

My challenge for you now is to help me understand just how harmful it will be.

Change a Culture and You've Changed the Future

Last week, Scot McLeod finally published the article he’s “always wanted to write.” In an open letter to educational leadership professors across the United States, he raised several issues and posed a variety of important question to the field. Namely:

  • Our world is changing quickly.
  • These changes dramatically impact learning.
  • Schools have largely failed to respond to these overarching societal changes.
  • This failure to quickly respond is dramatically damaging our profession.
  • We, as educational leadership [and by extension, all within the profession], must do better.
I agree completely with Dr. McLeod and have also said these things before. I think his article was very well researched and will play an important role in motivating many within the field toward a more intentional focus on contemporary needs and skills - while highlighting the role teachers and their behaviors play on influencing and preparing those that enter the profession. Because his article was published in a printed journal, I also think it has the potential of reaching a population of stubborn professors who may not have yet heard this message before.

Many, nevertheless, have heard this message - on a number of different occasions - and I believe the time to move beyond mere motivation has clearly come. Until we strategically attack each of the barriers that hold so many back, we will continue to move slowly, our schools will continue in (relative) irrelevance, and the faces of many-an-ISTE-goer will proceed through every shade of blue imaginable while singing this same sad tune. Additionally, I think some cultural circles will simply never adopt technology as a primary tool for instruction.

To be clear, I think looking to the knowledge gained in other fields, at this time, can drastically help ours as we continue to battle the sociocultural and other issues that obviously plague our population. Just as Dr. McLeod has called on his peers to clue in on "the largest transformation in learning that ever has occurred in human history," I call on these same peers and others to:
  1. Consider carefully Everett Rogers' five intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual's decision to adopt or reject an innovation. Is the technology we're expecting teachers to embrace during instruction adequately compatible with the curriculum they're expected to teach and the learning environments they're required to inhabit? If not, then what needs to change, and how? Is the technology's trialability sufficient and are teachers able to graciously learn from their mistakes? If not, then why are we really pushing so hard?
  2. Analyze the processes and procedures followed by engineers while constructing dams or other structures designed to divert the current flow. In this set of photographs (for example), taken while the Flaming Gorge dam was under construction, note the use of a diversionary tunnel - painstakingly created to allow the traditional flow of water while construction of an eventual regulation of water flow was under way. What might we learn from this practice, and how might we apply it to our field?
  3. Contemplate diligently the role of sociocultural evolutionism and its parallels to the changes we hope take place in schools. Defined as "the creation and change of social roles through new knowledge that changes and creates social rules," sociocultural evolution "alters and enlarges a society in the two dimensions of social structure and culture." In other words, with new social rules (i.e., we must change our traditional pedagogical practices in order to better prepare students), which essential social roles might schools be lacking, such that more members of traditional education cultures will more easily evolve? Surely these roles must consist of more than mere motivators. (A combination of Break-fix and Ed-Tech support roles has begun to work very well in our new District!)
  4. Recall how a gardener facilitates change in the plants under her care. While some plants never react well to external stimuli guiding growth and others respond only after extended periods of time, a willingness to trim and scaffold, where needed, will often produce amazing results!
  5. Like the gardener and the selection of plants with which she has to work, accept that in many areas of curricular focus, technology simply isn't the best avenue for providing beneficial instruction. Trust me: there are many.
  6. Alternatively, explore the viability of punctuated equilibrium in the evolution of school cultures. While I remain unconvinced that our society is headed toward an intellectual event horizon (beyond which the future becomes impossible to comprehend), I do think that the cultural evolution in schools also exhibits a type of punctuated equilibrium. Is it not plausible that after a lengthy period of evolutionary stasis (i.e., the last hundred years), we'll eventually experience a dramatic and rapid shift? Are we not currently in the midst of that shift? Moreover, if this be the case, is there really anything that can be done to prevent these phenomenal transformations from eventually taking place? If not, then why are we still trying so hard to make people change?

Sometimes I think we work too hard to push (force?) those along who will eventually - and very naturally - be left behind. Sometimes I also think that if we're really serious about making change happen more quickly in our schools, then we need to do a better job of understanding and helping the culture within these schools to change. Change a culture, and you've changed the future; for better or for worse.
  • Why do you think change happens so slowly in education?
  • Which barriers to change might we most easily overcome?
  • Ultimately, what does it take to transform a culture – and is it even feasible on this scale and at this magnitude?

Update: This post was updated and refined after the original publishing (ahhh, the trialability of blogging!). Its cross-posting on Tech Learning represents only the first draft.

The Inevitable Effects of Utah's Online Education Program #sb65

I can't sleep tonight. I keep thinking about my children and wondering about the "school" they will experience in years to come.

After analyzing Utah's recently passed Senate Bill 65 (SB 65), I've come to the conclusion that this law - if allowed to remain unaltered - will mark the beginning of the end for most rural public schools in Utah, and could cause the eventual closure of at least half of all its public districts.

What scares me even more is my belief in how intentional this consequence was in the minds of the participating bill framers and legislators who successfully fashioned this law. Moreover, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that futurists like Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn were behind the bill's promulgation and development, just to push forward their visions more aggressively in the relatively small and naive state of Utah.

Regardless of the motives behind the law's creation, I have several questions for any person that thinks this law - including its fiscal consequences - might actually be a good idea.

1. How does a teacher really reach 1,500 or even 15,000 students, given that online courses "shall not cap enrollments"? While effective online instruction should enable a mechanically differentiated curriculum, I've yet to see a computer teach with empathy. I fear that as Utah children flock toward "easier" online courses, they will be missing out on the life, moral, and civility lessons that only a sensitive and breathing human can provide.

Hello online learning, goodbye sensitive and empathetically adaptive instruction.

2. What will happen when the fiscal consequences of this law force districts to pay other districts more of their WPU than the revenue they're provided by the State? At up to $904 dollars per one-credit online course, the meager $2,577 "weighted pupil unit" that Utah districts receive simply won't go far (as if such a low WPU went far enough before).

Let's say, for example, a student in a school that uses the popular 8-period block schedule decides to take just four classes from online course providers outside their resident district. This simple scenario will result in the resident district being forced to pay those external providers $3,616, while still being required to provide a "quality" education during the student's remaining four periods of instruction (now being in the hole $1,039). Is this negative $1,039 the money that should then be used to provide students with an empathetic and emotionally capable human-being-type instructor?

How does that work? Really? While larger districts across the state might be able to provide adequate and competitive online programs for students, I doubt that smaller districts with less revenue will be able to attract students and their dollars for extended periods of time.

Hello online learning, goodbye public districts that simply can't (or won't?) compete.

3. Do we really want students to learn their most difficult lessons without the hands-on direct instruction that face-to-face can more effectively provide?

Continuing with the scenario above, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that many of Utah's students will want to take solid academic classes online (science, engineering, technology, language, math); particularly if they're living in a small, cash-strapped district that simply can't afford lavish programs because of the meager resources they've been provided. If this happens, and schools are left with even less funding to now provide the extra-curricular programs that can only be legitimately accomplished face-to-face, then will these programs (athletics, most art, clubs, etc.) really survive? My experience tells me that only football and drama will be left (and similar pet programs of the rich), because booster dollars and fundraisers can only go so far. Many otherwise valuable programs will simply not have enough capable parents to support it.

Hello online learning, goodbye once-diverse, extra-curricular programs.

At the end of the day, I see SB 65 as our State's way of clearing the stage. Combine that thought with the fact that only 4 of 41 public school districts in Utah saw funding increases this legislative year; while 76 of 81 charter schools saw increases. Don't worry, it's probably coming your way soon, too.

If you give a Legislature online learning and "school choice," they'll get it; along with every other damaging unintended consequence they've failed to anticipate. Lucky for us, this precludes public schools' increasingly uncanny ability to teach to the test (notice how charters can hardly compete).

No wonder I can't sleep tonight.

The Irony of Education Reform

One of the great ironies of the 21st Century education reform movement lies in how teachers have spent their lives trying to become obsolete and unneeded by the students they serve.

Now, they're ultimately being forced to fight from becoming obsolete and unneeded by the very society they've successfully built.

Is there an expert in the house?

Wikipedia has an entire article dedicated to the term expert.

An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain...

There are broadly two academic approaches to the understanding and study of expertise. The first understands expertise as an emergent property of communities of practice. In this view expertise is socially constructed; tools for thinking and scripts for action are jointly constructed within social groups enabling that group jointly to define and acquire expertise in some domain.

In the second view expertise is a characteristic of individuals and is a consequence of the human capacity for extensive adaptation to physical and social environments. Many accounts of the development of expertise emphasize that it comes about through long periods of deliberate practice. In many domains of expertise estimates of 10 years experience or 10,000 hours deliberate practice are common. Recent research on expertise emphasizes the nurture side of the nature versus nurture argument.

Some factors not fitting the nature-nurture dichotomy are biological but not genetic, such as starting age, handedness, and season of birth.
I still find it interesting that a field as young as social media can legitimately have those who might be termed "experts" in the field. Notwithstanding, when experts might be crafted through only 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, is it any wonder how many of today's "social media experts" have traversed well beyond the 50,000 tweet mark?

Or have they?

What do you think makes an expert in today's landscape, and why?

The #RoyalWedding and Honest #EdReform

Tom Hoffman helps us identify the motives behind certain recent moves, giving me an updated glimpse of the future. Following Karl Fisch's lead, I call this Darren Draper's 2020 Vision.

Many continue to think that education is - and should be - a game, bought and sold to the highest bidder. I, for one, am tired of it.

Bill Gates is more dangerous today than a three-year-old playing with matches at a gas station; but not any less naive.

The Intrinsic Challenges of Education Reform #edreform

"We can be powerful or we can be pitiful." - Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Even though I don't always agree with Ira Socol, I've grown to appreciate his presence as an honest and straightforward thinker in my network. He threw this nugget my way the other day.

My response: Of course, but with balance. The truth is that when community is embraced without the grounding qualities of science, then we're often left with the consequences of groupthink.  One such consequence rears its head when when "group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints."

A less-than-positive example of this groupthink phenomenon can be found in the comments of this post. Sadly, many members of our community have no idea what it really takes to write a dissertation or to complete a Ph.D. The pedagogical problem, nevertheless, arises when knowledgeable members of the community, for whatever reason, fail to steer the community in the right direction. As a result of this in-community learning, pockets of the community persevere in ignorance, while a hierarchy of true authority eludes existence. Just as the idea of social media mobs can be leveraged for arguably positive social benefits, such mobs can also irrationally spin out of control. Therefore, more than mere community is needed for an effective schooling system.

Ultimately, while leading from both the narrowed lens of science and the wide lens of community might be difficult, a wide range of public schools have been transitioning toward the science-plus-community model for many years (my own District, in its limited existence, included).  When we're tasked with serving an extremely diverse public school community - as each of us in public education is - we often have no choice but to accomodate (to the best of our abilities) the needs and desires of our patrons, however complex they may be. Complex and diverse communities prize complex and diverse outcomes.

When I consider the current reform movement in education:
  1. I agree that educators should be leading, instead of being led by politicians and ignorant philanthropists. The aspirations of many currently leading the charge may be well-intentioned, but merely attending school as a child has never meant that you have any idea about what it takes to run a school.
  2. I'm constantly reminded that balance is still key. While arguments that fill the reform space may appear polarized to the point of paralysis, not every side holds every answer. We must be willing to give and take - for kids first, then adults.
  3. I do feel that standardized students and silenced teachers fly in the face of American ideals.  Ignoring the effects of out-of-school factors and soldiering on with cut-throat academic standardization can never ensure the kinds of differentiated learning environments and life-saving interventions that most of our students will need. Again, balance is still key.
  4. Honestly, I think some teachers have every right to be upset and am saddened that teachers have somehow become the enemy. "It’s hard to think of another field in which experience is considered a liability and those who know the least about the nuts and bolts of an enterprise are embraced as experts."
  5. I agree that parents should have a strong voice in the direction of future reform efforts, but only when that voice has been adequately informed of the realities occurring inside our schools.
  6. I think we'd all do well to consider carefully the advice of Paul Thomas when he states:
Once again, the caution of evidence - advocacy is the enemy of transparency and truth.

Like medicine, then, education and education reform will continue to fail if placed inside the corrosive dynamics of market forces. Instead, the reform of education must include the expertise of educators who are not bound to advocating for customers, but encouraged, rewarded and praised for offering the public the transparent truth about what faces us and what outcomes are the result of any and every endeavor to provide children the opportunity to learn as a member of a free and empowered people.

Education "miracles" do not exist and market forces are neither perfect nor universal silver bullets for any problem - these are conclusions made when we are free of the limitations of advocacy and dedicated to the truth, even when it challenges our beliefs.
Through all of this talk of reform, nevertheless - and barring severe economic or environmental catastrophe - I remain unconvinced that significant and rapid change can take place in public schools across the country under the current climate. Are we really talking about an educator revolt, and if so, then a revolt toward what? Public school educators are not yet unified in their beliefs about reform and remain ultimately powerless in their caring, but selflessly-focused state.

Yes, through all of this, I'm reminded that one of the primary reasons teachers and public schools endure and have endured the barrage of insults and harsh conditions is because of our caring natures. As individuals and professionals, we remain willing to adapt to the conditions we're dealt; not because we think it's right, but because of our deep-rooted convictions that molding the future by creating a responsible and capable citizenry is essential to maintaining a civilized and progressing society. As individuals and as professionals, we know that teaching is the most important profession! We've known it all of our lives, and are merely reminded when doctors and astronauts and presidents and literary giants and even YOU return to our doors to thank us for efforts we put forth.

If positive reform is to take place in our nation's public schools, nevertheless, then many things must happen first.

To begin with, transparency and public relations must become priority one. If public trust really has been lost, then it must be the goal of every teacher, administrator, secretary, and lunch worker to regain that trust through openness and through honest dialogue. To that end, rigor, relevance, and relationships must extend beyond the walls of our schools and into the lives of parents, business leaders, community members, and other voters. As rigor is employed in building lasting relationships with community stakeholders, then the programs and focus of public schools can - and will - be relevant to all. Finally, in becoming a truly public education system, we need not hide the problems that abound within our walls. Instead, I believe that by helping others see the competence and tireless efforts put forth by our forces, we'll all gain a new appreciation for just how far we've come.

Maybe then, the right people will begin to stick up for every child and the profession that matters most.


Thanks for the push, Ira. Naturally, I welcome your feedback.

The Nature of Questioning

I think it's fascinating how answering questions often gives rise to newly discovered questions.

answered questions  additional questions

To culminate my formal graduate schooling, I conducted an action research project that began with four inter-related questions:
  1. What efforts have been and are currently being made in the Canyons School District to meet the instructional technology needs of teachers?
  2. What do school and district administrators, teachers, and other stakeholders hope to accomplish in providing teachers with instructional technology support?
  3. What changes might be made to current support models within the District, such that teacher needs (including those once-unanticipated) might be met?
  4. What forms of evaluation might serve to improve the instructional technology support that teachers receive?

To my eventual surprise, answers to each of the questions were often complex and could have been extremely detailed by nature. Moreover, as the study progressed, a wide array of new-found questions continued to emerge:
  • What new teacher needs have developed in recent years, particularly as a result of increases in technology quantity and quality and the ubiquity of information?
  • How might professional development (PD) better be used to meet teacher needs?
  • While PD can effectively meet certain teacher needs, which others must be treated through other means?
  • How might new learning/technology environments meet the technology access needs of teachers and students, and what support requirements does each new environment entail?
  • Moreover, how do startup and maintenance costs for these new environments compare with more traditional educational technology scenarios?
  • How do environmental support conditions impact the reception garnered through support efforts provided?
  • How might access to technology be more evenly distributed across public schools, and what political and economic changes must be made to enable such change?
  • In what other ways does administrative priority affect school environments?
  • What impact do technology-related support efforts have on non-licensed school community members?
  • How does teacher preparedness and support influence student achievement?
  • How might action research continue to better inform educational and technology policy, organization, and procedure?
I ask, that I might learn. In learning, I'm often led to ask.

Measuring and Its Impact Upon Students and Schools

I think there have been times when those in power haven't fully understood the long-term effects of policy decisions once made in the name of hopeful progress. Not usually prone to blaming individuals for such lapses in logic, I might even naively believe that decisions like NCLB were originally made with good intentions.

Nonetheless, the following three related precepts illustrate precisely why NCLB has been less than successful, and why high-pressure efforts to measure student, teacher, and school efforts will often result in less-than-desirable and even unintended consequences.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:

In quantum mechanics, certain pairs of physical properties, such as position and momentum, cannot be simultaneously known to arbitrarily high precision.
In other words, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely others can be measured (see Heisenberg, 1927).

Goodhart's Law:
Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes. (Chrystal and Mizen, 2001, p. 4)
Campbell's Law:
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
Campbell elaborates by stating:
Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Campbell, 1976, p. 56-57)
Pep rallies, held (among other reasons) for the purpose of gearing students up for coming tests, might be seen as an unintended and clearly less-than-desirable consequence of the do-or-die pressure put on schools to meet the demands put on them by others.

While these rallies are not new, Will Richardson and others have recently voiced their concerns about the seemingly (likely?) inappropriate efforts made by some in public schools to help their students to pass "the test." I responded to Will's Pep Rally post by wondering aloud:
So Will, what would you recommend that those in the trenches of Public Ed do?

Can you really blame them for giving their all in helping their students to pass the test(s!)? These schools behave as if their very lives depend upon how well their students perform relative to others because - without a doubt - they absolutely do. From charters to vouchers to let’s-all-stay-at-home school, the competition for dollars has never been so fierce.

Nevertheless, perhaps this post wasn’t written to those whose financial backing depends on governmental approval. Perhaps you were writing to the millions of voices out there who don’t read your blog, or maybe even to those voters who once thought they had a chance to actually make a difference.

From a 30,000-foot view, Will, I do believe you’re right! School should be about learning, it should be individualized, and should always feel more HUMAN. But as one on the ground, who’s not yet given up the fight, I’ll applaud those schools for trying to help their kids “succeed” and survive, in order to live yet another day.

Yes, what would you have us do?
I can't wait to read Will's response!


Hat tip to Chris Lehmann for nudging me toward Campbell's Law, and to John Pederson for nudging me again.

Dilemmas of Openness - Conclusion

In the spirit of strengthening the weakest link, I've examined six key dilemmas that can accompany openness in education:

  • Imposing on the rights of others
  • Balance
  • Privacy
  • Scope of employment
  • Competition
  • Why?
I continue to feel that an open path is one that will lead to greater productivity, increased collaboration, and even potentially unforeseen (i.e. "unintentional," h/t David Truss) benefits to adoption. As an educator of fortunate circumstance, I do sense a moral obligation to help others to learn and grow, including those outside my immediate sphere of responsibility. Furthermore, because I feel strongly that the motives behind openness should favor altruism and growth over greed and commercialization, I continue to encourage the inclusion of the non-commercial clause in all definitions of openness - and will maintain my firm stance of "mostly open content" until more universally-accepted definitions change.

In spite of these dilemmas, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the OER movement is flawed. Instead, in order to succeed, the OER movement must admit the reality and ultimate necessity of creative tension, so aptly described by Parker Palmer (1998).
Teaching and learning require a higher degree of awareness than we ordinarily possess - and awareness is always heightened when we are caught in a creative tension. Paradox is another name for that tension, a way of holding opposites together that creates an electric charge that keeps us awake. Not all good teachers use the same technique, but whatever technique they use, good teachers always find ways to induce this creative tension. (p. 76)
Palmer then continues to explain, in The Courage to Teach, how he is aware of six paradoxical tensions that he tries to build into the teaching and learning space. Interestingly, three of his six paradoxes tie in nicely with the six dilemmas of openness I've outlined in this series:
  1. The space should be bounded and open.
  2. The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community.
  3. The space should welcome both silence and speech.

When dilemmas force an either/or decision - in this case, usually to share or not to share - the obvious choice for me is most often "to share!" but with caution and careful planning regarding how that sharing is accomplished.  Therefore, in embracing the OER movement and partaking of the goodness that openness can provide, teachers and students should be ever cognizant of the dilemmas inherent to that openness; accepting them for what they are, by welcoming and planning for the creative tension that contributes so essentially to effective learning environments. I know this is a mouth full, but I honestly believe every word.


Update: WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency: Micah Sifry explores the history, successes and failures of online transparency. Should be an interesting read (naturally via Cory Doctorow).

Dilemmas of Openness - Imposing on the Rights of Others

This is the seventh in a series of posts that detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. I look forward to your feedback and participation!


Ah, students.

Wouldn't this job just be so much easier if we didn't have to deal with the students?

Some students, nevertheless, produce amazing work! Check out these examples of stellar student work, all licensed with the Creative Commons.

Streamlined Learning, by Priscilla K.

Erosion, by Ben

Uploading, by Melissa D.

Letter to President Obama, by Donovan (aka BK).

In many classes, schools, and programs (likely including the excellent Flat Classroom Project and Saugus Union School District), students are taught about the benefits and purposes of open education and its related procedures.

Regardless, as wonderful as it may be for us to say that all teachers should be open in their teaching and curriculum practices, do we really have the right to then ask our students to assume the same stance of openness when publishing their work online? Are students given the opportunity to license their shared work according to their desires, or are they most often forced through ignorant compliance to shoulder the philosophies of their instructors?

Are students given the choice? Does it really matter?


Special thanks to Jim Klein, Julie Lindsay, and Vicki Davis for their willingness to push the envelope toward more open educational environments.

Dilemmas of Openness - Balance

This is the sixth in a series of posts that detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. I look forward to your feedback and participation!


Sharing and openness on the Internet can have many positive effects and outcomes. Nevertheless, there comes a point wherein the scales tip from healthy practice toward consumed obsession. In spite of any favorable benefits, sharing and openness can easily lead to improper focus.

While the "I didn't know we had a pool" scene from Disney's Wall-E may seem to be an over-exaggerated statement of potential direction, do we not all know someone that may have gone a little beyond imbalanced? Even when done in the name of education - or building our PLE - one of the dark sides of technology-based sharing can be a loss of focus on what's really important in life.

For me, the images below strike a little too close to home.

Sharing in 2011

Finally, I call this last one "Bonding with the Stranger in My Home" or the ever-popular "Sharing. But Not with You."

Certainly not specific to openness in education but promoted by such an attitude, I'm still left wondering. Is the benefit and value gained through online sharing and openness worth the risks of imbalance? What can be done to keep ourselves in check?

Dilemmas of Openness - Privacy

This is the fifth in a series of posts that detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. I look forward to your feedback and participation!


In his recent TEDxObserver talkCory Doctorow compared Facebook to a Skinner box that reinforces behaviors and attitudes that encourage sharing. "I don't use Facebook... I think it's bloody awful," said Doctorow, arguing that kids today are being taught to under-value their privacy.  By being rewarded socially and psychologically when personal information is shared using the site, there might be times when such sharing simply goes too far.

Is sharing with others worth the online exposure and resultant potential loss of privacy?

Having seen Eagle Eyeentire seasons of Prison Break, and read (and even enjoyed most of) Little Brother, I can see why Doctorow might be a little concerned/paranoid.  Still, is there really that much cause for alarm? 


At the end of the day, Daniel Solove makes a very strong argument as to why all people - regardless of their stance on openness - should be at least somewhat concerned about the issues surrounding personal privacy.
One can usually think of something compelling that even the most open person would want to hide.  As one comment to my blog post noted: “If you have nothing to hide, then that quite literally means you are willing to let me photograph you naked?  And I get full rights to that photograph - so I can show it to your neighbors?” (p. 750)
Solove continues by elaborating on the "I have nothing to hide" argument that many put forth when confronted with voiced concerns about privacy infringement.
As merely a one-line utterance about a particular person’s preference, the nothing to hide argument is not very compelling.  But stated in a more sophisticated manner, the argument is more challenging.  First, it must be broadened beyond the particular person making it.  When phrased as an individual preference, the nothing to hide argument is hard to refute because it is difficult to quarrel with one particular person’s preferences.  As one commenter aptly notes: By saying “I have nothing to hide,” you are saying that it’s OK for the government to infringe on the rights of potentially millions of your fellow Americans, possibly ruining their lives in the process.  To me, the “I have nothing to hide” argument basically equates to “I don’t care what happens, so long as it doesn’t happen to me.” (p. 751)
Don't we all have at least some part to play in the protection of privacy? Is the sharing that occurs online - educational or not - worth the potential infringements on privacy that such openness might promote?

Dilemmas of Openness - Scope of Employment

This is the fourth in a series of posts that detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. I look forward to your feedback and participation!


As some might consider sharing to be the professional obligation of those in education, it can be difficult to understand the boundaries and scope appropriate for that sharing. Do the benefits of sharing justify large amounts of time and attention that might be spent on others outside of one's professional charge?

For example, in conducting the Open Professional Development courses back in 2007, Robin EllisSue WatersKelly Dumont, and I were intentionally "forced" to spend disproportionate amounts of time and attention on course members outside of our immediate care.  Failure to have done so would have resulted in a course of poorer quality.  More recent examples of sharing through "virtual service projects," and even volunteering to moderate international online conferences have also taken time and attention away from those within immediate care.  Furthermore, the experiences of Alec CourosStephen DownesGeorge SiemensDave Cormier, and many others that have taught open courses (i.e., MOOCs, etc.) have likely paralleled my own - in that considerable attention to outsiders not only contributed to the positive learning experience of local course participants, but comprised an essential component within the local and distant learner's experience.

Consequently, has our behavior been ethical and sufficiently responsible to our employer?

When an employer is flipping the bill, how much time and focus can reasonably be spent in the service of others? At what point does the openness and sharing of an employee infringe upon the rights of the employer?

Dilemmas of Openness - Competition

This is the third in a series of posts that detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. I look forward to your feedback and participation!


While there exists a wide array of motives behind sharing, both inside and outside of educational settings, the reasons behind not sharing are often (near?) equally compelling. The fierceness of competition in a now-global learning economy illustrates one weighty cause for sheer resistance against openness.

Why share - when competition can be so extreme?

For example, if they have more honors students than we have students (whomever they and we might be), are we really safe to freely give? With merit pay, school choice, publishing or perishing, and clawing to the top, the hesitancy to share is often seen as normal.

Many in history have been trusted with valuable information only to turn on those who once unsuspectingly provided the data.

Do the reasons, benefits, and motives behind sharing always outweigh its dangers? What other dangers exist in sharing that stem from competition, and what can be done to protect against such?

Dilemmas of Openness - Why Share?

This is the second in a series of posts that detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. I look forward to your feedback and participation!


The principle of using digital technologies to share educational content isn't new. For instance, the OER movement and its culture of open knowledge, free sharing, open source, and peer collaboration emerged in the late 1990's.  The foundational dilemma of openness, nevertheless, lies within the purpose of sharing itself.

Why do/would/should we share - when sharing requires time, energy, and other limited resources?

Researchers have learned that people elect to share for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the reasons for sharing in social networks include benevolence and directed altruism, as well as more selfish incentives of reciprocity, attempts to avoid social sanctions, and the boosting of self-esteem. Moreover, reputation, commitment to building social capital, and other motives move some to share.  Finally, additional motives for sharing can be partly explained by shared goals to do good in support of others' interests (including those of customers, or students).

From a personal standpoint, it feels as if I often share for intrinsic - and what I hope are ultimately altruistic - reasons. As I've written before and as others have so eloquently articulated, I believe strongly that those in circumstances of prosperity have a moral obligation to lift others in less fortunate conditions. For that reason alone, I think that those of us who can, most likely should share with others the knowledge they have gained in an effort to consistently lift wherever we might stand.

Dean Shareski's Sharing: The Moral Imperative

Why do you share and what have you gained by doing so?

NPM 2011: Prompt 11

Playing along with Bud, here, for National Poetry Month. Here's his prompt:

Make all of your marks heavy and dark. Wherever you choose to make them.
And here's my response:
Sometimes pencil's chill with parsley,
Just to keep you on your toes.
Much like teaching with technology,
'Cause school that's boring really blows.
Work with me here...

Openness and Its Inherent Dilemmas - Introduction

Inspired, in part, by a fascinating Educon 2.3 discussion conducted by Alec Couros and Dean Shareski, this is the first in a series of posts that will detail some of the moral, ethical, and other dilemmas of openness in education. All posts will be tagged herein with the Dilemmas of Openness tag to provide consistency and a built-in index of related posts (see also Why Blog and EduBloggerEtiquette).

Having finished my dissertation, I'm no longer required to feel pangs of guilt for researching and writing on topics of personal interest.


Last month, the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) published a definition of "openness" that will potentially serve as a reference point for many in future discussions of open knowledge, data, content, and service.
A piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.
While somewhat disappointed that their definition doesn't also allow for the restriction of non-commercial use (hence my staked claim of "mostly open content" in the footer of this blog), I subscribe firmly to the ideal of openness and think that sharing can largely make the world a better place.

With the OKF, I have experienced and come to understand numerous personal and far-reaching societal benefits to life within a culture of openness. In light of recent events occurring within my school district, I think that an open culture's deep-rooted ability to promote and teach tolerance may be its strongest characteristic.  Take note, for example, of the role that tolerance plays in the OKF's vision, being one of their four operating principles. Other benefits to openness and sharing - particularly within public education environments - include transparency, shared workload, stewardship reporting, built-in opportunities to gain public trust while also leveraging public participation, and others.

Mere openness, nevertheless, neither solves every problem nor comes without its share of issues. In fact, there are potential dark sides to openness in education - or at least there exist a number of moral, ethical, and other dilemmas inherent to global sharing and the free exchange of knowledge, data, content, and service.

In this series of posts, I will highlight a number of these dilemmas, and earnestly look forward to your feedback as we grow in understanding the principles of openness together.

The Why Behind Becoming Mark Zuckerberg's Newest Fan

I had the incredible opportunity to see Mark Zuckerberg interact with Senator Orrin Hatch yesterday morning at the BYU Marriott Center. During the discussion, both fielded questions posed by students and others through BYU's Facebook page. More importantly during the discussion, I was able to see a side to Zuckerberg that others sometimes don't care to admit exists.

The Mark Zuckerberg I saw yesterday was kind, intelligent, personable, and passionate about technology and its social application. He was not the arrogant misfit many want to believe created Facebook, nor was he uninterested in the ideas of others. Quite the contrary, he conversed comfortably and genuinely with the Senator, even probing him for his opinions regarding technology and the future of technology-related governmental policy.

Ironically, Zuckerberg appeared more comfortable in front of the 10,000+ crowd than did Senator Hatch. When Zuckerberg asked what the government could do to help budding entrepreneurs, the Senator fumbled in his seat and awkwardly muttered about how he preferred to encourage innovation rather than restrict the Internet as “some in big business” might promote. Senator Hatch then spoke about Napster and his relations with Sean Parker, but for some reason failed to mention how his administration has fought against Napster, similar technologies, and nearly everything for which they have stood. Senator Hatch's INDUCE Act and his more recent COICA Act, for example, appear to combat copyright infringement on the surface, but would likely induce drastic consequences for many Internet-related technologies. Luckily, the savvy Marriot Center crowd saw right through the Senator's attempts at deflecting attention away from the chasm that exists between his politics and the ideals of openness and sharing for which Zuckerberg and Parker have firmly stood.

Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg is a very intelligent person. Not only does he understand the business and technology behind Facebook, he understands and enthusiastically proclaims its secrets to success.

“The thing people are most interested in is what's going on with the people they care about,” he said, reminding me of conversations I’ve recently had about openness and potential ways to improve OER distribution. Ultimately, “what we're doing with Facebook is as much psychology and sociology as they are technology.” Too right, too true.

I guess in the end, it was Zuckerberg’s focus on the purposes behind Facebook that impressed me most. It was his attention to empathy (he discussed it twice during the hour) and how he hopes that Facebook will help people to better learn to care for and connect with one another. While he’s claimed in the past to be “trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share,” I honestly believe him now. Not because I’ve now seen him in person, but because of the conviction and heart with which he taught those in attendance today.

A 21st Century Allegory

Social Networking and Sustainable OER

Steve Hargadon helped me make a major connection yesterday with his post detailing some of the things he's learned through his experiences with social networking.

If someone [from the USDOE] had called, I would have said that this is project has at it's core a mistaken idea: that social media and personal learning networks can be directed from the top down. There is a reason that so many acronyms in this arena start with P for "personal:" PLN (Personal Learning Network), (PLC) Personal Learning Communities, and PLE (Personal Learning Environments). It's because these are individual connections created by the individual, and that is their value: they are personal...

If the Department of Education had called me, I would have recommended building an infrastructure that made it easy for educators to build their own networks--take the ideas of Ning, but add the pieces that would allow for resource sharing and better searching for colleagues with similar curricular interests. However, keep the brilliant Ning concept of letting people build their own networks.

This isn't about efficiency, it's about agency, experimentation, and conversation.
Likewise, Kathy Webb argued for a similar approach with IT Directors from across my state two weeks ago. During our semi-annual TCC meeting, Kathy tried mightily to get others to bite onto the idea of building an infrastructure that would enable teachers to not only find other professionals with similar interests and backgrounds, but share OER with one another. Sadly, I was among the few there that expressed much interest in Kathy's vision, or even in the idea of open educational resources and their potential in transforming the traditional learning environment.

The day following TCC, Kathy and I continued our conversation at the UCET conference, landing on the idea that people are the key to sharing OER, not mandates nor strict expectations of artificial generosity.  People network for the people, and once connected with genuine authenticity, people will naturally share in a community effort.

Finally, this afternoon our District's Secondary Ed Tech Team met to discuss the challenges of developing technology-related resources that can be used by and for teachers as we continue in our District to adopt the Common Core.  Being under a tremendous time crunch to begin widespread adoption of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics next year specifically, emotions ran high as the difficulty of the challenge was further understood by each of our Ed Techs.  At the end of the meeting, I was pleased to see how well Jared Ward and others understood the potential of social networking in connecting others that might contribute to the production of legitimate resources.

From day one in our District, I've wanted to create a mechanism that would allow our teachers to collaborate with similar teachers, in similar efforts, but varying school environments. While networks like Classroom 2.0 and even Twitter allow for teachers from around the world to collaborate about specific subjects, they fail to help teachers easily find other teachers that teach the exact same course with the exact same text (as if that were important) on roughly the exact same schedule. My dream would be to create such a system that not only tied into our District's SIS, but enabled easy collaboration while simultaneously providing an easy-to-use platform for natural OER distribution. True to Steve's advice that social networking be individually driven, teachers would never be required to participate, but by simply logging in, they could be instantly introduced to similar teachers with similar resource needs because the courses they teach are identical.

Is it possible with a common national core, that the federal government might eventually produce such a system? Might that have been an eventual consequence of their developing initiative? I have no idea, but think there's tremendous value in collaborating with other teachers that share identical needs.

Lest We Forget


Amplifying Student Voice at Elev8ed.org

With so much grownup talk about school reform these days, I think it can be easy to overlook the kids and the dreams they have about their future.

Elev8ed.org is a growing site that just might help to amplify student voice.

Consider encouraging your students to share their ideas with the world. Call me crazy, but I still think that student voice matters most. #IMissStudents2.0

Embracing and Fighting Through the Resistance

I really like where Ryan Bretag is going with his description of student (and teacher) resistance to learner-centric, technology-rich learning environments.

But, I continue to see frustration from teachers that hear about this magical world and then face something different in the classroom. They face resistance.

Because of this, we must help them with this reality.
  1. We need to help them understand why students are resisting.
  2. We need to remind them that community is at the core of a classroom not myths about what this generation wants.
  3. We need to acknowledge that this isn’t easy and it is even more challenging when you try to change the game in the midst of the class.
  4. We need to help teachers and students fight through it for a better environment that they might not fully understand or appreciate in the moment as they build and establish community.
In seeing this list, I'm reminded of Mishra and Koehler's (2008) TPACK framework (see also Koehler & Mishra, 2005 and Mishra & Koehler, 2006). The elements of the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework include knowledge of content, pedagogy, and technology, as well as comprehending “the complex interaction between these knowledge components” (p. 2). In other words, learning to teach with technology is a skill in and of itself, requiring expertise above and beyond the traditional training in pedagogy and content that teachers receive in pre-service programs.

Mishra and Koehler also emphasize that technical literacy for teachers means more than mere understanding:
Beyond traditional notions of technical literacy, teachers should also understand information technology broadly enough to apply it productively at work and in their everyday lives, recognize when information technology can assist or impede the achievement of a goal, and to continually adapt to changes in information technology. This, obviously, requires a deeper, more essential understanding and mastery of information technology for information processing, communication, and problem solving than does the traditional definition of computer literacy. In this view, technology knowledge evolves over a lifetime, consisting of an open-ended interaction with technology. (p. 4)
While the TPACK framework itself is still under scrutiny, it feels right to me. My experiences in education have introduced me to excellent teachers that struggle to implement technology into their teaching. I've also known techno-geeks who can blow your socks off with their understanding of technology, but have no concept of effective classroom management or even basic instructional design. Ultimately, I think that many teachers still struggle to blend technology with effective curriculum delivery because - as Ryan points out - this is difficult business requiring complex skills not fully understood.

Might TPACK, nevertheless - or something like it - also apply to student learning? Is there a technological/educational understanding that must be acquired before technology can be effectively used in the learning process? Do some students come about this proficiency far easier than others? What elements must be present before technology can be reliably used for learning? Finally, is it really community that lies at the core of a classroom?

In the immortal words of every doctoral candidate, "more research is needed to answer each of these important questions."



Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2005). Teachers learning technology by design. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 21(3). 94-102.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J, (2008) Introducing Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York City, March 24–28, 2008.

Importance, the Worth of Souls, and Measuring

I've been thinking about Stephen and D'Arcy's comments lately, and the feelings they've shared about the importance of their personally-created online spaces.

I can’t let myself play egocentric mind games with numbers. I can’t delude myself into believing this space is Important, or cringe popular because those things aren’t real, and don’t matter.
From my point of view, the online spaces we create are extremely important, regardless of any numbers that might work toward quantifying that importance. As a vehicle that enables my presence within the conversations that take place online, my blog, Twitter account, and other online creations not only serve as a locker for my thoughts, but function as a digitally-preserved representation of my inner self.  Parker J. Palmer insightfully observed that "'We teach who we are', in times of darkness as well as light" (2007, p. xi). Similarly, the teaching we do while sharing online ultimately broadcasts who we are as people: infinitely important individuals who some eventually come to know because of those spaces we've crafted online.

In the end, nevertheless, the quantification of our importance really is meaningless, much less insulting when attempted via Google Analytics. Are we, as humans, really so insecure in our relative performance to one another that we must incessantly measure and compare? To what end? While "progress," perhaps, is gained through adjustments informed by research, the liberating reality of life is that success in teaching and learning comes not in passing the test, but rather in grooming the soul.  Through such grooming come college preparedness, readiness for life, and learning that sticks.

I'm grateful to see that others in this world continue to "attach no more importance to measurable things than we attach to things equally or more important that elude our instruments" (Palmer, 2007, p. xiii). Now, if only more that share this line of thinking would continue to step forward and formally lead our schools.



Palmer, P. J. (2007). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Facebook, Ignorance, and Freaks #fb


I've changed my Facebook tune and come to grips that Facebook was never an enemy any more dangerous than:

  • Mere incomprehension of its potential, for both good and bad.
  • Inadequate classroom management.
  • Teachers unwilling to learn.
  • Students that continue to stumble around in the dark.
As a result, I've opened my personal Facebook network once again to people I greatly admire, people I greatly admire and have also met in person, people I've met in person who also share the same gene pool, and freaks that I met in high school who I just can't seem to hide from.

Welcome back.

Ultimately, I've taken the last few years to come to grips with the fact that Facebook isn't the enemy in K12 environments, but that ignorance still very much is.  The ignorance of teachers, with their childlike understanding of how to manage a classroom full of connected students; and the ignorance of students, with their arrogant naiveté regarding how to navigate their ever-changing digital world.  I know I'm slow, but bear with me here...

Over 600 million users later, Facebook isn't the enemy. Ignorance still is.

Beginning this month, we'll be unblocking Facebook in the Canyons School District. Professional development, policy refinement, and general therapy sessions will tag along.  What are you and your school doing to face the enemy?

Predicting the Future

Sometimes I wonder if increased global collaboration in education will result in increased homogeneity or if local school cultures will ensure diversity in learning environments. Deep thoughts for a Saturday night, I know.

What do you think?

#Educon, SLA, and Letting Freedom Ring

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending EduCon, an innovative flavor for a conference, sponsored by Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. In my now-traditional style of good-things-come-to-those-that-wait, I purposely delayed until now the publication of this reflection on the weekend’s events, in order to afford myself time to ruminate deeply upon the changes that were made in me and to my way of thinking.

EduCon, for me, was a liberating experience. From the informal manner of dress and attitude to the conversation-style format of sessions, I enjoyed the freedom that the conference both encouraged and embraced. Perhaps there were times when I took advantage too liberally of that freedom, as I particularly relished leaving one session to pop in on another, partaking of those ideas that best suited my interests. As most progressive (and often techno-centric) learning environments seem to encourage these days, this conference and the bulk of its participants championed student-centered learning almost entirely throughout.

SLA, itself, is a fascinating place, completely barren of desks organized in rows. Laptops for every student in an urban, chartered high school, led by one of the most capable Principals in the country and taught by a hand-picked cadre of extremely talented teachers. Located in downtown in a three-story building, I thought the environment itself was clean enough.

Being my first time in Philadelphia, I was also impressed with its history and culture. Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, and Liberty Bell were all sites I will never forget, although now I might sympathize with any seeing fit to accuse Philadelphians of some unhealthy relationship with bells and Ben Franklin. Other than while touring D.C., I’d never felt closer to our nation’s Founding Fathers, than when walking those streets, ever thankful for freedom.

In the end, nevertheless, it was freedom – or the lack thereof – that EduCon ironically taught me about best. It began with the tour, wherein some of Philadelphia’s brightest teenagers told of how fortunate they were to be attending SLA.

“So how do your parents know if you’re ever skipping class,” I asked, curious about the technology SLA teachers used to communicate with parents.

“Well, if we miss more than a few days, then Mr. Lehmann just calls home; and we might not get to attend here anymore if there continues to be a problem.”

There’s no school like the old school, because there aren’t many attendance problems at SLA; and from all I could tell, there aren’t many other problems, either.

Except space.

Our two bright tour guides then explained how they cheerfully made the cut, and how nervous they were when applications were first submitted. For the first time in my life, I witnessed firsthand the terrifying reality that not all kids can taste of that SLA goodness, while simple economics explains that because some kids can, others simply cannot.

Let freedom ring? Why yes, well, for some.

In these times of competition and best and giving our all just to climb to the top, isn’t education one of the most liberating opportunities on Earth? Why yes, well, for some. Yet for the other 150,000 students currently enrolled in the Philadelphia School District, as well as most of our nations’ other students in public schools, the opportunities for learning aren’t always as utopian, aren’t always as polished, and aren’t always as capably hand-picked.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. No, IT DOES NOT.

With Linda Darling-Hammond, I warn that unless we, the people, return to a far greater commitment to equity for our students, our nation will continue to evolve into a monster unimagined by those who once framed its existence. With liberty and justice for all? Why yes, but only if we, the people, have the courage to look beyond the some to lift every one of the other.

Let freedom ring.

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