Blog Post

Particiaptory Learning in Schools: Square Peg in Round Hole? Or: The Big Question

At it again, live-blogging one of the sessions at the Digital Media & Learning Conference 2010: Diversifying Participation at UC San Diego. Figuring out how digital media & learning, or participatory learning, fits into the school system is one tough challenge.

On the panel: James Bosco, Milton Chen, Erin Reilly, Margaret Weigel and Christine Greenhow.

James Bosco from the Consortium of School Networking.

(Missed a little at the beginning).

Folk wisdom has it that our schools are modeled after factories: this is not the case. Those who established the schools were systems thinkers, not factory people. Wanted schools to be efficient at accomplishing tasks. Key aspect of the participatory leraning environment clearly discordant with nature and structure of schools. Curriculum has become increasingly overburdened, one of the most scarce commodities in schools is time. History of school innovation that schools actually have quite permeable boundaries to innovation. List of innovations are long, but are tuned to existing school structure -- schools do not reject innovaiton, they tame them.

Way in which teaching and learning occurs conventionally is exactly what one would expect given nature of the system. So, brief thoughts on overcoming incompatibility:

(Only caught a few): Provoke revisions in federal and state school policies that are inimicial to best practice in establishing best learning environment our children need. Develop a strong policy voice for those who are struggling to create learning environments for their students. Reach out to parents and public at large to expand perspectives about what constitutes good learning for their students.

Milton Chen (Edutopia): top-down, bottom-up issue. Make participatory learning part of school system, this requires both directions. Persuade governors, superintendents. Evidence on that is not good. Change assessments to make this happen. Pace of global change and need for us to get things moving quickly. We wish we had better school systems, but this is what we have. We don't have national curriculum. Things move smoothly. At Edutopia, see a lot of exciting things happen at the bottom, where people are doing participatory learning with their kids. That's where the change is, even if progress is slow. People don't think about mobile phones for literacy, but it is being done. Cheaper tools all the time, use them to get kids record themselves reading, it's a project here in San Diego. Recording their own fluency, increase words counted per minute, spoken each day. Becomes a personalized way of achieving what teachers lack time to do, but what we know works in the research. Great example of bottom-up. Spreading grassroots, so that 10, 20 30 teachers and now 50 want to know how to do this and use it in their classrooms. California educates 12 percent of the nation's students, and it is falling apart. It will fall apart this fall, and as California goes, so goes the nation. Have lost ground with NCLB, other nations are moving forward to performance-based assessment system. Not this disconnect between learning and doing. More learning time: could not agree more. When is the last time your kids brought in the crops during the summer? We can make so much more happen during the summer, the long break is not helping, not working.

Margaret Weigel: have not heard much about education, cognition and development. Learning in a socially constructed space is important, but there are other considerations too. Want to talk about results of research: interviewed 40 teachers, spoke to them and asked: the kids you have seen in last 20 years, how have they changed? Lots of agreement about seeing technology come through classroom doors, phones, etc. These teachers use media (like Powerpoint) who think they are adopting great possibilities, but still teacher-centered learning. Concerns about conceding power to students in the school space. Training issue -- things are always changing for teachers. We think once young teachers get in classrooms, we think things will change. But there is still a cultural issue, tension in schools. How can we get teachers up to speed before next great thing comes along? Giving power to students, there are positive, not positive ways to do this. Some teachers are very comfortable with this change in the power structure. Others find it very threatening, so that is a teacher by teacher basis. Very surprised to learn from teachers is assessment challenge: teachers who are doing progressive things got pushed out from other teachers, and from students. Schools we talked to were higher-performing, all college bound.

We are encountering a culture clash. What do we want students to learn? WHere will it happen? Who will decide what will happen? What do kids really know?

Erin Reilly: Pilot study we did on New Media Literacy, a strategy guide called Reading in a Participatory Culture. Tested in 7 schools written by, among others, Katie Clinton, Henry Jenkins, Jenna McWilliams. How do we shift our understanding of ourselves so it isn't about digital divide and access to technology, instead is about participation. Created a whole section of guide called Expert Voices. Who decides who guidelines of participatory learning? Stance on technology: just because technology is there does not mean they know what to do with it. Create opportunities for having new media literacies, but offline opportunities. Social skills, cultural knowledge. Not about using end product or professional development on Photoshop, for example, but more about guidelines for how teachers, how we will engage.

How do we create a new school culture? Just because we bring in new technology does not mean that the culture will change. Communities of practice is different than community of interest. Build activities together and create participatory models and structures. How to implement participatory learning needs to be worked into a structure. How do we prepare learners to transform the domain. School then needs to exist in participatory culture too. Pedagogy of the Oppressed: banking model, which is what our schools are today. Recreating what we see in the world, still teaching students for the Industrial Age. Preparing kids for future careers that no longer exist. Chief Participation Officer is a new title one of the former students actually now has. Need to respect expertise that students bring in too, not creating a constraining structure. Should we bring popular culture into classrooms? Bring in messiness to create structure for participation.

Not that we are just reading on our own, we read with mouse in hand. Act of particiaption-reading so dialog at the ready. (Thanks to @ludditeatheart for finding URL of blog post where comment came from: http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com/2009/04/writing-with-mouse-in-hand.html

Christine Greenhow: advocating for policies, connecting with school leaders. Call for more research and accumulation is imperative if we are to convince these key stakeholders to change current school paradigms. Educational Researcher (journal), referred to recent article. Need to do a better job of engaging participatory learning and context in which we research. Kids already are doing this, we ought to know what they are doing, what they are developing. Young people are making, remaking identiities, as scientists, novelists. Need to understand how they develop identity for school. Need to be watching these spaces for privacy, security, commercialization, etc. Look at spaces that currently exist.

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