Tag Archives: knowledge

What I Learned at the #ettipad Summit

Last week, I attended the Ed Tech Teacher iPad (#ettipad) Summit in Boston. The entire conference was focused on using iPads … and yet, it wasn’t. It was announced at the start of the conference that if you were there looking for “an app for that” then you were in the wrong place because #ettipad was a summit for educators to think about the pedagogical implications of integrating these devices. Of course, plenty of practical tips were still shared and there was a lot of technical guidance being provided and exchanged at the conference.

I appreciated that the core focus wasn’t so much on what tech we were using but how and why we were using certain apps or tools. For example, multiple sessions and speakers discussed the idea of “app smashing” or “app flows” which combine and  build upon content that’s created in multiple apps to develop a unique product that students can share with the world. It doesn’t necessarily matter which apps you use in your flow, as long as they’re “empty apps that users fill with knowledge and share.” This idea of creating and sharing knowledge was a key part of David Weinberger’s opening keynote. He raised some questions and ideas about how we define knowledge that I want to continue examining and reflecting on.

In the past, we have defined knowledge based upon the scope of what we can manage, so facts and stories were cut from encyclopedias or words were left out of dictionaries to prevent us from having endless books that no one could carry. Now, how we acquire and use knowledge is changing. We have new, digital mediums, which gives us access to content at a much faster rate and on a larger scale. Everything is linked together, so while a Wikipedia article may not encompass all of the data needed to explain a topic, it is full of links to other sources which provide more and then more information. Even academic research is being pushed out to the public for faster review and discussion. As Dr. Puentedura mentioned, the public now has access to Watson, the IBM supercomputer that could make it possible to “Google” answers to complex medical problems or other challenging questions.

Knowledge Notes

The public nature of knowledge was something else Dr. Weinberger emphasized in his keynote, saying that if ideas are to be scalable, they have to become public and be shared early, with large groups of people so they can be available for debate and disagreement. This also connects to the value of having open access and making (educational) resources open and available for anyone to use and remix or build on. This includes our students’ work and the knowledge they’re building! This process can be messy but Dr. Weinberger suggests that it’s from that messiness that we end up with new knowledge that can create change and growth.

The problem with all of these developments and this redefinition of how we conceptualize knowledge is that our school systems and classrooms are not necessarily structured to support it and instead, teachers end up trying to teach students to stick to old (outdated?) ways of learning and knowing.

It seems like this is where tools like the iPad and educators who are open to adapting their pedagogy to new definitions of knowledge, can have an important impact. If we can be willing to question what we know and how we know it, we can help our students begin that same journey of looking deeply at knowledge and designing new ways to share and express it. As we try these new projects and approaches, we might fail and we might fail often but I think many of us have come to see the value in failure and modeling that experience for students.

So, if our goal is to create engaging, agile learning environments where both teachers and students feel like they are striving to achieve something awesome, we need to think critically about our recipe for teaching. Does it include ingredients like:

ipad teaching ingredients

And finally, does it include your students’ voice and choice?

If you want to hear more about #ettipad, check out the notes and ideas that I compiled in Storify.

P.S. I realized that while I called this post “What I learned at the #ettipad Summit” I really should clarify that this is some or maybe even a little of what I learned. There’s much more I’m still reflecting on and I hope to share more of my takeaways as they become clearer and better synthesized.

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Considering the Power of Pull and Other Ideas

Before too many weeks pass (if only there were 48 hours in every day!) in the MIT #MediaLabCourse I wanted to write up a few scattered reflections on the topic of Interest-Based Learning.

I really enjoyed one of the recommended resources for this topic, Joi Ito’s Keynote to Open Educational Resources and many of the ideas he shared prompted me to think more deeply about education today.

He spoke about the “power of pull” (written about in this book), which I found intriguing. The idea is that people should avoid stocking up on resources and power and instead wait to “pull” on those things until you need them. This seems fairly contrary to much of American schooling, where students are told to “stock up” on a wide variety of knowledge, some of which they won’t use or apply for years to come (if they ever use it at all). Papert describes it nicely when he says “Many react badly to school because its emphasis on memorizing facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.” For example, why do we have students memorize states or countries if they’re not going to be traveling or needing that knowledge sometime soon? Before I travel to a new place, I tend to acquire and pick up a huge amount of information because I want/need to know it. I also feel like I retain more of the information when I learn it in that context because the knowledge holds more value and relevance and can be connected to my experiences.

At the same time, having attended a liberal arts institute for my undergraduate education, I can see the value of learning things that are broader than a specific unit of study or career track. Maybe part of the distinction between what’s meaningful and relevant comes with choice. When I have the ability to choose which courses I would like to join based on what intrigues or interests me, the learning inherently feels more relevant and exciting. When children are told what to stock up on and study, we create students like “Michael” who are labeled as needing special education and not successful in school even though Papert discovered he was primed to engage in mathematical thinking and engineering when he could direct his own learning and discovery.

And then there’s the idea of distributed innovation and the ability to create something amazing and powerful (e.g., the Internet) by bringing together little pieces of knowledge, skill, and talent from many different people around the world. Does that require a diversity of knowledge within each person, or just a diversity of knowledge among many? As Joi explains, the Internet has also been produced and continues to thrive due to a unique spirit where people work together, share and build new tools and sites for the sake of creation. They are motivated by the momentum created by sharing and the incentive of getting to create something. Via the Internet and technology, we are able to pull together amazing teams of people who together have more expertise than could have been assembled in any other way because the people are brought together not by money or a single organization/recruiter but by an intrinsic desire to collaborate, learn, and make something meaningful.

How can we create a similar momentum in schools? Is something missing from our current equation and if so, what is it? To me, it seems the learning-by-building or doing piece is a huge component that schools continue to avoid. Students are often not allowed to express their creative abilities and feel intrinsically motivated to collaborate and make something meaningful because we hold them back from open-ended creation. We don’t  want to “waste” too much time in the act of making or engaging in student-inspired projects that are not in the curriculum and we’re busy trying to meet set standards, which (at times) can mean every child has to do the same thing.

What if, instead, we could allow for the “rough consensus” that Joi speaks about? What if schools created a rough model of their curriculum and then constantly built upon it each year, continuing to change and develop it as an iterative guide for teachers and students but one that is responsive to individual classes’ interests and passions. Instead of trying to plan every lesson before teachers meet their students or having teacher feel unprepared because the week is not planned out minute by minute, classes could become more resilient by being able (and encouraged) to shift and adapt to changing needs and goals.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Krissy.Venosdale

Sometimes I like to imagine a classroom where everyone celebrates diversity and interdisciplinary work, a place where students are “aggressively creative” as Joi describes the MIT Media Lab and students are pushed to think for themselves and even question authority. Instead of learning that school is a place to focus and ignore the periphery – those new ideas just starting to take shape on the boundaries of a new unit or or those collaborations between home/school/community that have tentatively taken shape – students and teachers are asked to embrace them. One of the challenges of cMOOCs seems to be that people can feel overwhelmed and even shut down when faced with such an open model of learning where they decide their own goals, pace, and instruction. If our classrooms where more allowing of community learning, each student named as a teacher as well as a learner, and there was constant serendipitous creation of new ideas and projects, would cMOOCs be such a difficult learning environment?

I’m left wondering and imagining and most recently, thinking about constructing powerful ideas. Are there any in the mix in this post? Are there ideas that I have begun to ignore as those ideas have become disempowered in schools and education?