Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The World IS Your Class[room]

There is a home school group in the Chicagoland area with that very name for its group: The World Is Your Classroom. And why not? Why not in this age of the Internet, Google Hangout, Voxer, Skype, and more? Why not in this age in which video can be so present and so powerful? Why not in this age of technological advancements that seem to spew every few seconds? Why not the world as a classroom? Other than assessments, standards, and other significant stuff that takes up resident in a brick-and-mortar classroom?

The Future of Education Eliminates the Classroom Because the World Is Your Class explores this very idea as what author Marina Gorbis calls "socialstructed learning." Never mind that the resource mentioned is Wikipedia. Wikipedia continues to get a bad rap for its sins of the past, omissions it has worked hard to resolve over the years. And keep in mind that Wikipedia is still free whereas the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica (yes, it still exists) is about $70 per year, which isn't a bad price considering all that one can get.

But let's get back to "socialstructed learning." As Ms. Gorbis points out, socialstructed learning is not really a new idea. It has its roots in early thinking about education. Read Socrates and Plato and you will see socialstructed learning. Take a closer look at constructivism and what fuels today's Maker Movement and you will see socialstructed learning. Think about project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and action research and what you will see is problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaborative learning with ties to or roots in what informs socialstructed learning. Do some research on the way one-room schoolhouses had to operate and you will see evidence of socialstructed learning. Examine the essence of personalized learning and you will find features of socialstructed learning.

Ms. Gobis also notes that "[i]n the early stages of technology introduction we try to fit new technologies into existing social structures in ways that have become familiar to us." She uses MOOCs as an example, a way of replacing lectures. But MOOCs are simply large-scale online courses. If we look at the fundamental disruption of online courses, we see that online learning started a shift in thinking about how we can learn--any time and in any place. Hmmm. Sort of like socialstructed learning.

I know there are educators who quiver at the idea of such a concept: who will manage student learning and make sure they learn what they need to know? How will such learning be assessed?

I don't think we are yet ready to replace the current classroom model, whether in K-12 or in higher education. I do think we're struggling to figure out what works in today's model and what could and should be changed as well as how to make that happen. I think that too many educators cling too firmly to certain ways of thinking about learning and about assessment--and that changing our thinking, mine included, about assessment and how we know what students know and can do will remain one of our greatest challenges.

However, being reminded that learning opportunities and learning resources can be found where we least expect them should reinforce our appreciation of serendipitous learning moments during which our students may learn far more than today's learning objectives and, even more importantly, may retain that learning.

Ms. Gobis speaks of learning as a flow: resources are available and "opportunities for learning are abundant" which seems to suggest that teachers say, in effect, "This is our plan for learning today and this is what I hope you will achieve, but if you can do more--and I won't prescribe what 'more' means, then let's do that!" And that means letting go some (which reminds me of one of things I learned from reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart) and not just permitting but inviting learners to "have the ability to autonomously dip into and out of continuous learning flows."

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