Unfortunately, I could not attend SXSWedu physically this year, but I am watching from afar via streaming and social media. It’s not the same as being there, but I was still moved by the passion of the presenters, and challenged by their ideas.
Here are the top takeaways from what I’ve seen.
The end of average and reflection on assessments
Todd Rose’s talk on The End of Average really made me think, in particular is final story about the “Norma,” the 1940s attempt to define the ideal woman by averaging out their sample population (see When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages for more about Norma). What they ended up with was a woman who was so not average, that a contest to find someone who met Norma’s specifications failed to find even one person.
Rose made this point to emphasize that any attempt to create an average approach to learning will result in a spectrum of achievement, not the ideal.
People learn at different paces. Some apparently slow learners tested early in pursuit of a topic look like they are struggling. Given time, however, they may end up outperforming peers who earlier looked to be top performers.
Time versus Self-Paced Driven Learning
I was also struck by Paul Reville’s comments on our conservation of time. That when a public school system talks about changing the start time, or eliminating summer breaks, people rally to protect their time, in much greater numbers than those who show up to discuss curriculum or discipline. Yet the most radical idea that we can put forth in education is to flip the idea that we should fix curriculum to time, rather than letting time be the pacing element — letting people achieve when they are ready, not when some outside standard describes its timeline of readiness.
Time is also the enemy of reflection. We fill our time with so many activities we don’t allow for challenge, discussion and personal reflection. The clock manages when we start-and-stop, rather than letting the topic find its pace and role with the passion it creates — or doesn’t. If something isn’t interesting to anyone in a class, then it would probably be good to stop teaching it and find something that does interest the learners. Maybe revisit the topic later, or reflect on the approach. If done well, educators end up modeling reflection. They also demonstrate critical thinking by self-evaluating and making the tough call when things aren’t working out the way they think they should.
Delivering digital education for several years we have seen the impact of self-driven studies and freedom. Digital will be an enabler to create more flexibility. I am always curious the adoption digital education, as many at SXSWedu commented, it requires a real cultural shift, and that shift is hard to make because it is multi-dimensional.
Teaching as Marketing
It is interesting to think about applying marketing to teaching. When you think about it, what you are trying to do is convince a learner that what you are teaching is important enough that they should buy it with their time. A learner can make a lot of choices in how to invest their time. The real competition for learning, as ClaytonChristensen has pointed out, are other social places that teach other things, like gangs. In inner-cities they have a better marketing program than the educators. Learning isn’t loosing, because those children are still learning, they are just learning different things. We need to make mainstream learning as compelling as any alternative, and that starts with marketing basics like making the ideas concrete, introducing the unexpected, and connecting with credible stories that create emotions.
Working with my customers, part of the marketing is engaging the learner along his or her journey and it comes in various forms.
We look at having great learner outcome pretty scientifically, not only must the learner be able to learn, they must spend time learning and receive feedback regularly —internal motivation is also a key component of success. Motivation can’t be maintain, though, without seeing progress.
We have the chance to study captive learners in K-12, but we do not use all technology and models we have the chance to use in the corporate world.
The flexibility of blended learning really enables people to spend more time on learning, on interactions with peers, an educator or a coach — and that provides the social bond as well as a channel for feedback; add ongoing progress measurement through badging and progress assessment and I think we start seeing systems that can really let people learn at their own pace! I hope for an evolution in thinking that allows all EdTech learning to be brought into our beloved school system.
Revolution – empowering educators and revisiting skills we need for the future
I think it is interesting that many of the speakers talked to radical reinvention, to audacious work that puts learners at the center — big words that spark big thinking, but then also a lot about support and resources for educators. What we need is trust and empowerment. I think many teachers know how to be better educators, but the constraints of the existing system stop them from practicing their skills. I sometimes think of the way we treat educators like artists told to use only a pencil and to complete all of their work in eight hours, and by-the-way, all the pictures you draw need to be daisies.
Teaching is creating, and inspiring, it can deliver hope and create trust — it can teach people to ask big questions and to think critically about the world around them. That is at least what is should do. It was pointed out that tests do not measure things like, creativity, vision, teamwork, integrity, grit, passion, empathy, loyalty, endurance, humility or compassion. And because we don’t test for these, we don’t know how to integrate them into our teaching models.
Innovative Learning in Action
Real reinvention take action, but when we leave a conference, we all return, often as individuals, back to our day-to-day environment and the fire fades.
When it comes to action, one of the things we have to do is create a set of principles that can guide our thinking. These 10 “core elements” of innovative learning were inspired by a chart I saw on Twitter from Clara Galán (@MsClaraGalan) but I thought I would reword them in the way I think about the challenges of innovation in learning.
- Learners must have choices in process and how they demonstrate their learning
- Students must have some context for why what they are learning is important (did we market it to them well enough?)
- Educators co-create learning experiences with learners
- Learners get to practice what they learn
- Learning is allowed to be iterative, as students solve problems on the way to achieving a goal
- Students are not in a factory and many valid learning paths exist
- Students build on what they know, and if they don’t know something, we go back and make sure they do
- Learners co-create their assessments
- Learners learn together in collaborative situations
- Learners are given time to learn about how they learn, and they learn how to articulate that to others
One of the things I miss is the conversations after the presentations. But even those are too brief. As much as SXSWedu is trying to facilitate the dialog about change in education, the string of people talking one-after-another means that we never get to a time, together, when we can collectively do something meaningful together. After writing this I want to jump out of my chair and go do something!
And perhaps something will get done. Arthur E. Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation suggested, “We are going to see a revolution when it comes to what schools look like.” We all need to commit the time to make change happen.
Finally, I will leave you with a tweet quote from Mary Alice Smith (@MASmith) that you can use for your reflection today:
Ask yourself, “Am I teaching them to understand or am I teaching them to find an answer?”