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Revising Our Perspective on Change in Education

Do you consider the current changes in education to constitute evolution or revolution?

A few years ago, in a white paper titled “Evolution, Not Revolution” I examined the then current changes in educational technology and the impact on the profession overall, especially on teachers. At that point, I was convinced that while changes may seem startling for some, they were moving us incrementally toward a more refined practice in which teachers could finally do what they do best: support student learning. It is still my belief that by putting part of what is typically transferred in the classroom online, we can free up teachers to work more closely with students on specific challenges.

This past weekend’s New York Times Magazine included a piece titled “You and I Change Our Minds. Politicians ‘Evolve’” that deconstructs the use of the word “evolve” to downplay a politician’s change in position. As Mark Leibovich points out “You and I change our minds all the time, but not so our politician; to avoid being branded as flip floppers, they ‘evolve.’

Am I about to flip flop?

Softening the Blow When People Fear Change

Quite often we hear about people who eschew change in education and question either the introduction of technology or the development of new pedagogical approaches. Those few years ago, when I wrote that white paper, I had as part of my agenda the goal of assuaging concerns among educators that technology, particularly online learning, was not something to fear. So, I titled the paper “Evolution, Not Revolution” in part to ease fears regarding technological change.

When we look at education today, there are many change factors to consider along with technology. When all is said and done, what degree of change can we ascribe to this sector? Let’s take a look at some of the current change factors. How would you evaluate the impact of each?

  1. Common Core Standards

  2. PARCC and Smarter Balanced Testing

  3. Blended learning programs used in the classroom

  4. Redesign of classroom space to account for different groupings of students and different pedagogical approaches

  5. E-learning days in which students study from home

  6. Gaming technology used in STEM and other subjects

  7. Online platform for tracking student work and keeping parents in the loop

  8. BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices)

  9. Rise in the number of Charter Schools across the country

  10. Growth of home-educated student population

Once again, if you look at this list, is your sense of change somewhat incremental? Or is it revolutionary? What is the impact on today’s learners? On the profession? On the practitioners?

Observed Change versus Required Change

Our ultimate goal is to prepare learners to participate more effectively in society, leading more independent and productive lives, keeping the economy strong, etc. The SCANS requirements detailed the set of competencies and skills for that to happen, and many of these are referred to today when we talk about deeper learning:

  1. Identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources (Resources)

  2. Work with others (Interpersonal)

  3. Acquire and evaluate information (Information)

  4. Understand complex interrelationships (Systems)

  5. Work with a variety of technologies (Technology)

Are we providing our kids with the tools to develop these skills today? Are the changes we see supporting a love of learning and preparing competent participants in the workplace of tomorrow?

Maybe the question we should be asking is not the degree of change we are observing in education, but the degree of change required in education.

What Further Changes Are Required to Increase Engagement?

One of the biggest issues in education today is the lack of engagement. 1.2 million kids leave school each year, many of whom claim they have become disengaged from their learning. 2 million students currently school from home, a population that is growing at the rate of 2-8% per year. In this very self-directed community, engagement is the main driver.

How do we get that into the schools?

To re-engage students and properly prepare them for the adult world, we need to design curriculum that:

  1. Contextualizes learning in real-life tasks

  2. Creates pathways to learning that map to students’ interests

  3. Incorporates tools for learning that “get students where they live” (i.e. cell phones, tablets, etc.)

  4. Attends to each student’s style of learning

  5. Takes students out of the classroom into their community to learn from local business people

  6. Adds maker activities to the classroom and fosters entrepreneurism

We see as many as half of all teachers moving or leaving the classroom through disaffection or in order to effect change through new teacherpreneurial ventures that address much of the above. EdTech companies woo teachers as consultants to contribute to product development or help sell their products.

While the role of teacher continues to change, we still need skilled and compassionate teachers who can help nourish and guide learners through today’s redesigned classrooms.

Evolution or Revolution?

I guess I’m going to use the “E” word and say that my own stance on changes in education have evolved. It’s not about technology, although technology is a part of the solution. And we can no longer soft-pedal the need or degree of change required,

But what about you? How far are we from where we need to be? What tools and resources do we need to get there? I’d like you all to weigh in. What degree of change is required?

Is it evolution or revolution?


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

With the release of the Rewriting Paradigms site, we' ported them over to their new home.

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