Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The awesomeness going down at Project New Media Literacies

Something amazing is happening over at the blog for Project New Media Literacies, and I'm not saying this just because I've been involved in it.

Well, okay, I'm saying this just because I've been involved in it. But it's still amazing.

As I explained in a previous post, I've been working on a series of blogposts about spreadable educational practices with my sensei, Dan Hickey, and my mentor and partner in crime, Michelle Honeyford.

Our first post, "If It Doesn't Spread, It's Current Educational Practice," argued that the concepts of spreadable media outlined by media scholar Henry Jenkins (and first taken up in sleeping alone here) translate to the educational practices and policies as well. We argued that disseminated instructional routines (DIRs), the materials developed and distributed (most commonly by government agencies) with the intention of strict adherence to the curricula, often fails because:
  • "fidelity" to the curricular intent is often impossible, not only because of classroom variables but because the intent is not always clear to or valued by the teacher in her or his specific context;

  • there is little to no motivation for teachers to spread these practices to other teachers;

  • the inherent promise—do this and your students will do better on the required standardized test—is not only a false promise but also runs counter to teachers' efforts to foster real learning beyond testing skills.

In our second post, "If it Doesn't Spread, It's Current Educational Practice (Part Two): Distributed Instructional Routines vs. Spreadable Educational Practices," we continue the argument by examining the contrast between thinking about "lesson plans that work" (DIRs) and "practices that work" (Spreadable Educational Practices, or SEPs). On a fundamental level, shifting the conversation to SEPs allows us to switch lenses: Now we get to consider the teacher's role as an expert on learning instead of focusing on the best methods for handing out materials that work independent of context, independent of teacher, independent of community needs.

In the DIR model, the teacher is a kind of mainframe computer: You feed the information in; the teacher computes it and spits it out. In the SEP model, things get much more complicated. First, if you want to really think about spreadability, you have to think about how practices spread both in the classroom between students—after all, a practice only "works" when it's taken up enthusiastically by the class as a whole—and from teacher to teacher outside of the classroom.

As we write over at the NML blog:
The notion of spreadability leads media scholars to ask about the aspects of the media environment that support the spread of media across different communities. They ask about the ways consumers create value for themselves, the properties of content that lead to spread, and how companies can benefit from spread. If we translate this notion to educational practices, spreadability might describe how properties of students, teachers, content, and accountability work together to enable circulation of mutually meaningful practices in a networked educational culture. For us, the notion of spread raises four questions about educational practices:
  • What aspects of the academic learning environment (i.e., in-school and about-school) support the spread of practices across different educational communities?

  • How do students and teachers create value for themselves and for their schools through their spread of practices?

  • What properties of practices make them more likely to be spread?

  • How do teachers and schools benefit from the spread of their practices?

What makes this big is that it can help us clear away the technology fetish—what's the newest technology? How can we get it into classrooms so we can transform education?—and make space for the real question: How can school prepare learners for future schooling, work, and life in a society whose values, systems, and very structures are under constant question as a result of the technologies that have transformed how we are as a culture? We write:

[A]s new tools and technologies are rapidly transforming when, why, and how we communicate, circulate ideas, connect with others, and produce new materials independently and in collaboration with others, there is a value in examining which elements of an educational practice wither and which are appropriated for the new contexts and tools that await us just past the limits of our vision. While a practice that supports activities within Wikipedia will certainly fade as wiki editing becomes more common outside of the context of formal education, on a basic level, the mindsets and skillsets that allow for wider collaboration within this type of community not only remain in our social memory but remain valuable for whatever values and practices emerge from the widespread adoption of such a tool.

The ultimate goal of education, after all, is to arm all members of our society with the ability to transform their environments as they see fit. Gee writes that "humans at their best are always open to rethinking, to imagining newer and better, more just and more beautiful words and worlds. That is why good teaching is ultimately a moral act." This is why, too, good teaching—and by extension, good educational research—requires deconstruction and deep examination of educational practices—and, through this examination, an ongoing discovery of what would best serve the moral imperative of teaching toward a more just and more beautiful society.

I'm serious, you guys. This is gonna be really really big. And when it happens, don't say I didn't tell you so. And this is how I feel about it:

1 comment:

Daniel Hickey said...

Bravo. I think that you are right about the edutechfetish thing. I have always said that if the technology leads teachers to interact with the kids less, then learning will go down. Old multimedia practices and Web 1.0 tech was an easy way for teacher to catch up on email while kids were "learning". This is why it is so important to find ways to use digital social networking to helps students and teachers for effective communities of practice around academic activities.


All content on this blog has been relocated to my new website, making edible playdough is hegemonic. Please visit and update your bookmarks!