Monday, 11 November 2013

Mastery Learning, Digitally Empowering Idiocy & Being Humble Before the Task

I ended up presenting on what mastery learning is and what mastery might look like in digital realms at ECOO13 last week .   

HERE is the prezi.

Developing digital mastery in a digital world

The Humble Egotist: A teacher who encourages learning...

In untangling what digital mastery might look like I had to back up and describe mastery learning in general.  This ended up clarifying my ideas around the process of learning itself.  As much as we'd like to think we impart learning as teachers, the process itself is very much internal to the learner.  Teachers aren't nearly as central to the process as they like to think they are.

I started studying instructional technique when I was still a teen in air cadets and through coaching sports.  That progressed into technology instruction in business and then language instruction in Japan.  Finally getting my B.Ed. years later was just the latest in an ongoing personal journey to understand learning.

I'm self taught in so many things that I have trouble remembering being taught.  I've dropped out of every kind of education you can imagine, and finished some too.  I have real trouble with authority for the sake of authority and I've always found a strong element of that in teaching.  There is no doubt that a teacher can be an important influence in a young person's growth (I have several who were, we all do), but those people were never magical because they taught me something, they were magical because they enabled me to learn something.  No one else has ever been the architect of my learning, it has always failed or succeeded because of how I tackled it.  A good teacher looked at me and figured out how to enable my tendencies toward learning something effectively.  A bad teacher would sabotage my learning, usually because my hero worship wasn't up to their standards.

Teaching is a tricky business.  It takes a lot of self confidence to do the job, but it also takes a lot of humility to get out of the way and let people learn.  Self confidence and humility seldom co-exist comfortably in the same person.  The urge to sage on the stage is strong in a lot of teachers, they really enjoy the attention and the social status (no matter how staged it is).

Not unless you do it you don't,
learning isn't downloaded,
it isn't given, it isn't easy
But learning is an internal process, you can't have learning implanted in you (this was one of the reasons it seems so magical in The Matrix), as the learner you have to be the active agent, learning is hard work.   We confuse this with a lot of edu-babble about engagement and over-focus on how entertaining a teacher can be but this ignores the essential issue.  If a student doesn't want to learn then they won't.  The value of learning should be self evident.  It takes a colossal amount of work by the education system to assume responsibility for learning and hide the truth that students are the real agents of their learning.

During the ECOO presentation I described a good teacher as an awesome roadie, you can't even tell they are there until they adjust or fix something to better enable the show.  The learner is the one on stage doing the learning, a good teacher, like a good roadie, makes the show run smoothly but they aren't the main act.

I see far too many full period lectures with sages on stages.  Those people retire and are immediately back in the classroom because they miss the audience, they miss being in a socially constructed place where people have to listen to them.  They don't do much in the way of encouraging learning, but boy do they talk a lot, and they have no idea that students live in an information rich world and don't have to wait for the slow drip of a teacher's talk to learn a fact.

This isn't to say that the flipped classroom is the obvious way to manage this.  Learners have to internalize their own learning, but students who are many miles away from what they need to be broken out of their habitual patterns if they are going to learn something new.  Sometimes this takes a teacher who is the centre of focus in a classroom.

How do you manage a room full of digitally super charged ids?

This is especially true when educators attempt to integrate digital devices into learning.  Digital devices slavishly satisfy the desires of their users no matter how asinine or repetitive.  An idiot on a digital device becomes an empowered idiot.  A teacher can be a vital influence in breaking that destructive, repetitive cycle, but not if they are as habitual and limited in their use of digital tools as their students.  Being humble before the task of learning gets even harder in a digital environment where every stupid urge is moments away from being satisfied. The teacher cannot facilitate student learning in an environment that they themselves are also oppressed by.

One of the key pressure points in learning is breaking someone out of
habitual use in technology (the pink bit), but that's impossible if the
teacher is as habitual and illiterate as the student is...
If you've ever seen how many students (and  teachers) treat school computer labs you know what I'm talking about.  Rather than selecting the tool for the job, a teacher with low digital fluency will ask students to use computers as an analogue for something else.  The computer is treated like a book, or a paper and pen.  Booking a lab for this purpose is akin to renting a car to drive to the end of your street.  You're not using the technology for it's capabilities, you're using it to exacerbate your own habits.

That's assuming the teacher didn't book the lab as a digital babysitter while they get marking done (or so they could just surf the net in the same way as their students).  In those classes I'm having to replace vandalized computers and students may as well be at home doing whatever they do there online.  This damages digital fluency for everyone in the room by actually encouraging habitual usage, and it's expensive.

Trying to focus on learning is difficult in the hyper-personally empowering digital realm.

Developing mastery of any kind isn't a focus in education, trying to do it now with digital narcissism at every fingertip is even more difficult.  Classes are set with 50% credits and minimal expectations around attendance in order to facilitate pass rates.  In terms of digital mastery, administration seems to think this is about device access, but it's more about people, self-discipline and work habits.  Digital mastery falls back on the habits of the learner.  A strong, self-directed learner is empowered by a digital environment,  a weak, dependent one is impoverished by it.  For the strong it empowers their ability to learn, for the weak it offers them a constant stream of distractions so that they can stay in the most base, trivial, superficial and habitual parts of their minds.

 If we practiced mastery learning across education then digital mastery would follow.  If we took teaching digital fluency seriously (in both staff and students) we would have a chance at using technology to create amplified learners who are able to access information and self direct their learning at a rate unseen before.

Sometimes I wonder if we aren't dropping the digital football just to keep the traditional power structures in play.

note:  this is the 4th re-write of this post, it's an ongoing attempt to figure out some big ideas, I'm still not happy with it but I'm going to let it lie and move on.  I suspect I'll be trying to clarify the ideas in here in future posts.