Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"The Awesome Power of Bad Design" OR Bill Gates, Apple, Education Reform and the School Library

That quotation in the headline is from a 2003 Forbes article comparing Microsoft's Power Point with the then-recent release of Apple's Keynote. Advantage: Keynote.  The writer argues that, while both perform presentation basics (slides, transitions, etc), Apple's "context sensitive" elements allow for superior design, tweaking the slide to the content, rather than forcing the content to fit the slide.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say the same applies to the two computer giants' approach to education reform.

It's no secret that  the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has thrown millions into developing education policy and the common core. In doing this, he (and other billionaires) have worked at the highest government levels to implement policy, most of it aimed at establishing charter schools, rating/firing teachers based on test scores, and stripping  unions of their collective bargaining power. Most prominently, many of these questionable reforms seek to circumvent teachers input (and even parents), driving reform from the outside.  This is bad design, to say the least.

I was thinking about this at the ADE conference last week, and had something of an epiphanal moment, when I realized that, just like their widely divergent approaches to computer use,  the two corporations address education and learning from opposite poles.

In contrast to Gates' top down/outside in model of education reform, Apple gathered over 250 dedicated classroom teachers, flew in top-notch professionals and gave them a week to share, learn and collaborate.  In addition to the core workshops on everything from iBooks Author to Action Research and iTunes U,  each day four teachers each shared their best practice in a 10 minute Ted-style talk.  (Madeleine Brookes and I showcased our WW II history book project, and the current iPad action research trials).

I was reading about the Chicago teachers' civil disobedience one morning,  when I leaned back and looked at the scene around me: teachers talking with animation and conviction, collaborating, building on shared ideas, and it really hit me that THIS was the way to truly reform education.

This is true grass-roots reform. That week really has moved my thinking forward;  I left there more inspired and energized than I have felt in years, and certainly more inspired than anyone ever felt by offers of merit pay.

Without putting words in Apple's mouth, it came through loud and clear they want to empower teaching and learning through action research and teacher-created, data-driven studies.

 They are not influencing politicians.  They are influencing TEACHERS, in the best possible way.

A 2011 school reform article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, stated that current education reform, which "oversells" the impact of the single, inspired teacher.  According to their study, one of the strongest determiners for meaningful, long-lasting reform comes from teachers in a school collaborating over time. For example, students whose teachers had strong ties with their peers performed significantly better than those with teachers who isolated themselves.

And who in the school is better positioned to collaborate with teachers and draw them together than the school librarian?  We can be the driving force not just to empower teachers' action research, but to help them share their findings with each other and the world,  to facilitate a school-wide conversation on best practice and transformative teaching and learning.

How do we do this?  Well,  I'm still thinking about that.  Here are my ideas so far:

1).  If we're going  to actively promote and support action research, we need to do it ourselves. Our plans started when we knew we were getting a set of iPads, but wanted to approach their adoption in a methodical, data-driven way.   In addition to supporting the teachers in their own plans,  I hope to run my own action research on...using the iPad for research.

2). A big, big takeaway from our World War II project was the power of going public and permanent: the students knew from the start we wanted to publish the book to iTunes U and a world-wide audience.  That not only upped their game, it upped OURS, both in terms of assignment design and lesson planning.  Thus, I believe each school needs its own iTunes U channel,  where both students and teachers can publish their content.  (I'll write later about the difference between students blogging and publishing a multi-touch book when it comes to an authentic audience).  I realize this necessitates having some type of Apple mobile device, which is problematic for Windows-based schools, but there's really no other platform like it that I know of (though  if you know of something, please add it in the comments!).

3)  As I've said before, librarians need to be on curriculum or other leadership committees. I attend all of my school's HOD (Heads of Department) meetings, which keeps me informed about new initiatives, and gives me group access to the school's content leaders.

4) Finally, and let's be honest here, befriend the people driving change in your school.  I was quite deliberate about seeking out Madeleine, our tech-integrator  to ask whether I'd be stepping on her toes if I offered to help with tech issues in our school.  Now, I do actually like the woman (grin), but she has been key to much of what I've been able to do at school, and a huge influence on my thinking.  She has been astonishingly generous at including me in our tech innovation and pushing me to develop my own skills.

As always, I'm interested in your thoughts and push back. Comment away!

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