The Entrepreneurial Learner

flickr.com/photos/hamed/I’m currently directing a program at Green School in Bali on Entrepreneurial & Enterprise Education. My experience building and describing this program has given me some new language to talk about the paradigm shifts I have been advocating in education, heretofore enumerated as:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.

I’ve started to talk about these paradigm shifts merged together as Entrepreneurial Learning, because 1) the concept crucially includes the learner as part of the equation, and 2) it describes an attitude and approach that both learner and educator can use to keep focused on the three paradigm shifts outlined above. So why the Entrepreneurial Learner, given that many may misinterpret it as advocating a focus on money and business exclusively? My application of the term to learning is very intentional here, and is meant to conjure what is conveyed by a common synonym for the term: enterprising “having or showing initiative and resourcefulness”

Those are the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and they are ones that I think most of our schooling paradigms do not currently promote—in fact actively counteract. I think we should be training learners to bring forth initiative and resourcefulness in everything they endeavor towards, including their own learning.

The definition of “entrepreneur” that I am working off of is:

“characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit”

But I’m using the French word origin, “entreprendre,” meaning “to undertake” as a mandate for latitude to apply the characteristics of entrepreneurship—indeed the habits, skills, and attitudes that help one be successful at goals of one’s own choosing—to learning. I think it’s critical that we do so. Education is so often seen as something that is done to students. I don’t think students should “receive” an education. I think they should undertake one—and take risks doing so—for their own profit and the profit of the world they live in.  As I look around, I’m also seeing this language used by Yong Zhao, among others. Here are a couple of articles for further reading:

Can Schools Cultivate a Student’s Ability to Think Differently

Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a Fresh Approach

You Get What You Design For: The Core Curriculum

Licensed under Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/csessums/
Licensed under Creative Commons
https://www.flickr.com/photos/csessums/

Where did the curriculum used in the US for the last century plus, and now also in most of the rest of the world, come from? What were it’s goals? Why are the study areas so siloed and non-representative of the way the world works and of how we learn? This discussion in Marion Brady’s What’s Worth Learning adds fuel to the fire for why it needs to be re-examined down to its roots, not just retooled:

Schooling in America produces successes, but the general education curriculum doesn’t deserve much credit. What’s taught—the actual content of the lectures, books, instructional units, films, videos, subjects, courses, programs, and all the rest—isn’t a product of a comprehensive, rational theory or plan. It’s not a systematic sampling of humankind’s accumulated knowledge. It’s not the result of a thorough, current analysis of the needs of individuals or the larger society. It’s not a grand design worked out by our best minds. Incredible as it may seem, American education, this vast institution which consumes so much of our wealth, time, and energy, offers the young not a coherent, logically organized structure of knowledge but a random heap fashioned by ancient concerns and assumptions, political expedience, accident, intellectual fads, hysteria, special interests, and myriad superficial views of the purpose of educating.

[…] the so-called “core curriculum”—the familiar mix of math, science, language arts, and social studies disciplines now in near-universal use in America’s schools—was recommended by the Committee of Ten, appointed by the National Education Association. The Committee didn’t discuss the organization of knowledge, didn’t talk about learning theory, didn’t reflect on the needs of the Republic, didn’t speculate about the trends of the era, didn’t warn of the dangers of adopting a static curriculum in periods of rapid social change. Those and other matters relevant to what schools should teach never came up. Primarily concerned with simplifying the selection process for college admissions officers by standardizing the transcripts of the tiny percentage of students then graduating from high school, the ten met for three days in Saratoga, New York in the fall of 1892, made their recommendations, and the following year the curriculum that still shapes education in America and much of the rest of the world was adopted. Multi-layered bureaucracies quickly froze the committee’s work in rigid place.

Teaching without Knowing, and Finding Problems to Solve

Learning Together
Learning Together

I’ve already written about one of the key paradigm shifts that I think needs to happen in education: education needs to be real. See “Online Education is not the Disruption.”

Now for two more.

We want our students to become expert learners, right? Well, how are we going to get them there if we never model advanced learning? Continue reading “Teaching without Knowing, and Finding Problems to Solve”

Diigo for Language Instruction

Read on for a way language learners and teachers can use Diigo in a way that can seriously jumpstart authentic language learning exchanges.

I recently taught a course to masters students in the GSTILE (Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education) TFL (Teaching Foreign Languages) program at Monterey Institute of International Studies. We did much, MUCH more than explore specific tools, but more on that later (and more on how incredibly powerful it is to co-design and teach with another teacher). One of the tools that I discovered as a language learner, and that I shared with my students, to great excitement, was using Diigo’s annotation features (specifically highlighting and sticky-note comments) in language learning and instruction. Continue reading “Diigo for Language Instruction”

Reflection on Persuasion – Teacher Edition

This post relates to an exercise we did in the Communication and Media Literacy course I offer to new students at my high school. We are beginning to look explicitly at persuasion, and began by discussing persuasion in general, using these prompts:

Why do we try to persuade people?
Who do we want it for?
What do we want to persuade people of? (to do something [policy], to believe something [fact, value]). Examples of each type? Examples of people trying to persuade you?
Examples of you trying to persuade other people?

I then asked that each of them reflect on persuasion in their ePortfolios, using this prompt:

On your ePortfolio, add a page: “Reflection On Persuasion”
Post link to Forum by next class.
200-400 words
Share something interesting about persuasion in your life.
OR
Link to something interesting related to persuasion, and relate what important ideas it brings to mind for you.

I offered my own reflection on persuasion as an example, which I link to here, the same place I sent the students. I explicitly put this on my own blog and directed them here in order to pierce the veil between the real world and school; to demonstrate that there is real value in the thoughts we have.

Reflection on Persuasion

http://goo.gl/7Dphu4

This reflection on persuasion was done by me as part of an exercise in my Communication and Media Literacy class.  (You can find the Teacher Edition here).

“On Persuasion”

When I think about persuasion, I realize that we are always trying to persuade people to either do things or believe things. Often, it is ourselves we are trying to convince. And people are always trying to persuade us to do or believe things as well. What strikes me is that we need to be careful — to be full of care — by being clear on why we are trying to persuade people of things. Often, when we are trying to persuade others of things, it is for our own selfish benefit, even if we habitually try to persuade ourselves it is for the benefit of the other person. So we must take care. When we try to persuade others for our own benefit — which is okay, by the way; it is not something to be ashamed of in and of itself — we do need to be careful that we are clear to ourselves who we are doing it for, and to be ethical in our methods. Persuasion can fast become manipulation if we are not ethical in our methods. What are some guidelines to keep us from moving into manipulation territory? Well, I have a few ideas, but I decided to look into what some other people think on this, and found this post by Jonathan Fields, that I thought discusses the line between persuasion and manipulation pretty clearly and insightfully. According to the author:

The difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in:

1) The intent behind your desire to persuade that person,

2) The truthfulness and transparency of the process, and

3) The net benefit or impact on that person

 

I’ll definitely ponder this further, and examine some of the “persuasion” situations in my life. I’m hoping the audit is favorable to my character 🙂

 

Measuring the Impact of Technology on Learning

Another post prompted by a query from a colleague at another school, who was looking for information on how to demonstrate the impact of technology on learning. Below are my thoughts

To measure the impact of anything, benchmarking of pre-defined metrics is critical. Here are two primary areas where I think technology impacts learning, and within which I recommend defining some measurable outcomes to track.Continue reading “Measuring the Impact of Technology on Learning”

Technology Idol Worship

A tech director colleague posted to a forum recently inviting feedback on whether or how he should re-institute a tech committee at one of his schools. Teachers there had requested it, but his trepidation is understandable, and here’s why: tech committees are part of the wrong paradigm. Focusing on technology is educational idol worship—it is confusing a physical form for the ideas and beauty and power—for the spirit—represented by that form.

I’ve coordinated or sat on tech committees of various ilks and intents, and they always feel like a failure because they are doomed to failure—by design (except for those focusing on how to improve access to technology, or those described below…).

If we need committees at all, then what we need are communication committees; or information committees; or literacy committees; or learning committees; or better yet, we need to just do real learning in the real world, and then any technology that can help you will become part of what you are doing, and people will be—communicating; and informating; and becoming literate in critical skills including all of those that technology can be involved in; and learning; and doing.

When the printing press was revolutionizing and democratizing education, the powers that be’ed were afraid not of books, but of what books represented—of knowledge and therefore power in the hands and minds of the people they had so long controlled. Those in control of books and literacy held power because they controlled access to information, and communication. And that is what we need to be focusing on—information and communication, and learning the tools while we do that.

Our students and our teachers need to focus on the powerful things that technology allows us to do; on the spirit contained therein, and not on the body, or conveyance, of that spirit.

I’m constantly endeavoring to mediate that struggle, to get people using the tools they need, but try to re-route the conversation path so that it gets there through the lens of learning, and not through the lens of technology. For instance, in a course I teach for masters candidates for foreign language teaching, which is ostensibly about technology, we approach the conversation not through tools but through the essential components of learning, how those components manifest in language learning, and then on supercharging learning experiences to intentionally and explicitly leverage those components, through technology and otherwise, as appropriate. We also talk about the critical skills and attitudes that come with a healthy and productive use of technology, and how those are the same attitudes and skills that all of our students in every discipline need to develop so they can leverage technology in their lives in intentional and productive ways. In other words, we talk about 21st century skills, and 21st century learning environments, and try not to talk about technology as a specific thing unless our reaching towards a goal would be helped by it. And then we practice, and iterate, and share.

Physical Orientation Predicts Team Performance (concise version)

(This is the relatively concise version of this post, relatively light on the preaching. To see the full post, with more preaching and more details about the challenge, click here).

I’m sure this has been written about in a thousand other places, but I have some recent evidence to support the idea that small teams that orient themselves in physical shapes conducive to communication will outperform teams that do not. Facilitating a handful of sections of 9th graders attempting a 30 minute challenge (ostensibly to post a link in a forum to a shared Google Doc), in every case the winning team was the one that oriented itself in physical space for better communication, and in every case it was a blowout win. I also have some assertions about the need to design our instruction of all content to explicitly include the development of critical skills (21st century skills, etc. etc.).

Now to the findings. Here are examples of two of the classes, and how they arranged their seating for the group challenge.

Following image: In a classroom with a big square-cornered horseshoe, the team that huddled at one corner demolished the other team, which was spread far apart.

Horseshoe seating arrangement for teamwork

Following image: In a room with individual desks originally arranged in typical grid format, facing front—it was the team that arranged a circle that demolished the other, which had brought their desks closer together, but remained facing forward.
Grid seating classroom self-arranged for teamwork

The obvious hypothesis is that the winning arrangements allows for better communication—likely through the simple fact, in my thinking, that the team members can see each other, and thus pick up on the preponderance of communication signals that are non-verbal. What are they communicating? Likely many things, but my suspicion is that checking for comprehension is paramount to success, because that is what allows for any needed help to be expeditiously delivered. (Of course, dear scientists out there, it is also possible that the physical orientation of successful teams is a result of the already superior team-working skills of the winning teams, but I think the random sampling of the team formation addresses this issue).

There are many other critical skills students can internalize through such activities, and I think that we are remiss as teachers if we are thinking explicitly only of the content we are covering. Yes, I need all these students to be able to use the cloud resources we covered in this exercise, but that “content” is not nearly as important in my mind as what they learned about teamwork and communication. Further, I would argue, and I think the research strongly supports, that this “content” is learned better when it is done in conjunction with social interaction and the employment of various other “critical skills” (see 21st Century Skills, Blooms Taxonomy, etc.).

It was amazing how easily we were able to predict the outcome, every time, within the first 30 seconds of the challenge, based on how the students oriented themselves in space. Except for one, and this was interesting. We had our first class where both teams oriented themselves into team-friendly shapes, and myself and the other teacher in class commented to each other that this was going to be the first close match. Our prediction held, and the team that won did so just barely (whereas all other classes saw blowouts, with the well-oriented team soundly defeating the other). Interestingly, we were still able to predict within two minutes of the 30 minute challenge which of the two well-oriented teams would win, and this was done based on the amount of eye contact, chatter, and getting up to walk over to another team member the team exhibited (all manifestations of the behavior of checking for and assisting in comprehension between teammates, as mentioned above.)

By explicitly having group / team dynamics as part of the learning objectives of this lesson, and by allowing the students to experience the inherent trials and triumphs therein, I believe we were able to be more successful in growing these critical communication, teamwork, and meta-cognitive skills than if these skills were not an explicit part of the lesson’s focus and design.

 

 

Physical Orientation Predicts Team Performance

(This is the more detailed and slightly more preachy version of this missive. For the relatively more concise and less preachy version, click here).

Assertions:

  1. Small teams that orient themselves in physical shapes conducive to communication will outperform teams that do not.
  2. This law of Team Orientation is best learned through doing, and not from being told (as are most things….)

Scene: Classroom, students divided into two teams.

The task: Could be anything, but in this case, it’s designed to give students exposure using Moodle and Google Drive.

Rules of the challenge: First team to have all members reply to a forum post with a click-able link to a shared Google Doc (in this case containing a brief on their relationship with technology) wins.

Limitations: (Limitations increase creativity and innovation – see Phil Hansen’s TED Talk, Embrace the Shake). Each team gets only two questions of the instructor (this forces use of internal team resources, and clear team communication about when to use the valuable resource of a question to the instructor).

Teacher skill development: Practicing letting students trip and stumble until they find their stride as a team. I fear our parenting (mine included) and our education paradigm are depriving people from learning how to solve problems on their own and in groups, and that we have to wean ourselves of constantly stepping in and helping them along. (See Blessings of a Skinned Knee and tons of other resources on this point).

I’m sure this has been written about in a thousand other places, but I have some recent evidence to support Assertion #1; that physical orientation is a factor in team success. Facilitating a handful of sections of 9th graders attempting this team challenge, in every case the winning team was the one that oriented itself in physical space for better communication, and in every case it was a blowout win. Here are examples of two of the classes, and how they arranged their seating for the group challenge.

Following image: In a classroom with a big square-cornered horseshoe, the team that huddled at one corner demolished the other team, which was spread far apart.

Horseshoe seating arrangement for teamwork

Following image: In a room with individual desks originally arranged in typical grid format, facing front—it was the team that arranged a circle that demolished the other, which had brought their desks closer together, but remained facing forward.
Grid seating classroom self-arranged for teamwork

The obvious hypothesis is that this arrangement allows for better communication—likely through the simple fact, in my thinking, that the team members can see each other, and thus pick up on the preponderance of communication signals that are non-verbal. (Of course, dear scientists out there, it is also possible that the physical orientation of successful teams is a result of the already superior team-working skills of the winning teams, but I think the random sampling of the team formation addresses this issue).

There are many other critical skills students can internalize through such activities, and I think that we are remiss as teachers if we are thinking explicitly only of the content we are covering. Yes, I need all these students to be able to use the cloud resources we covered in this exercise, but that “content” is not nearly as important in my mind as what they learned about teamwork and communication. Further, I would argue, and I think the research strongly supports, that this “content” is learned better when it is done in conjunction with social interaction and the employment of various other “critical skills” (see 21st Century Skills, Blooms Taxonomy, etc., and Assertion #2 above).

Schools that are able to survive and thrive in the coming years, and more importantly that will best serve their students, are ones who institutionally and culturally embrace the idea of explicitly designing instruction for critical skill development, and who help their teachers develop the skills teachers need to construct these 21st century learning environments in ways that model the environments the teachers are designing for. Saying that another way: teachers will need to learn these new skills — in how to design learning to explicitly incorporate critical skills practice and development — in environments that model the environments they will be designing (real problems, and community-integrated, IMHO).

UPDATE 9/13/13

We had our first class where both teams oriented themselves into team-friendly shapes, and myself and the other teacher in class commented to each other that this was going to be the first close match. Our prediction held, and the team that won did so just barely (whereas all other classes saw blowouts, with the well-oriented team soundly defeating the other). Interestingly, we were still able to predict within two minutes of the 30 minute challenge which of the two well-oriented teams would win, and this was done based on the amount of eye contact, chatter, and getting up to walk over to another team member the team exhibited.