A colleague recently sent out a link to a short blog post in which Scott Mcleod, a highly regarded thought leader in Educational Technology pointed to the following challenge:
It is time for instructors to move from simple questions like, “Do you use technology in the classroom?” to the more complex, “For what purpose, and with what learning theories, should I engage digitally-enhanced pedagogies?…”
This quote is part of the conclusion of Adam Copeland’s article Teaching Digital Wisdom in Hybrid Pedagogy which I have been pondering over the past weekend. Copeland argues that we need to move away from the unnecessary debate of for or against technology in the classroom and onto the more important questions of how we can use technology to enhance learning. He offers the following four digital practices as pillars or a starting point:
- forming collaborative relationships with peers,
- preparing for citizenship,
- encountering difference and disagreement, and
- welcoming complexity.
Copeland’s article is very well written, cites some wonderful resources and challenges us to move away from easy answers that we fall into when we debate whether or not to use technology in our learning environments. But moving away from easy answers is a lot of work and even though Copeland offered a sound rational argument for doing so I didn’t find any inspiration or an emotional appeal in the article that motivated me to go out and start this hard work.
I have been striving to find ways to share my passion for using technology to enhance learning for the past couple of decades and have finally learned that while a rational argument is a necessary component for change it unfortunately is not enough. This type of change requires an appeal to the heart and I have learned through years of trial and error that the head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been (read my post for a full explanation). Even though Copeland’s article appealed to my head I had a nagging angst that while I could have my students read the article I doubted that many would find it moving enough to make a difference. If you really want to move people to action there has to be a heart felt reason why we need to move away from easy questions and answers.
Fortunately chance favors the connected mind (Steven Johnson’s label for digital serendipity) and I came across Nigel Coutts’ wonderful post Lessons from a Hole in the Bucket. Coutts uses the song ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’ sung by Harry Belafonte & Odetta to share the story of Liza and Henry as they deal with a bucket with a hole in it. Coutts characterizes Liza as a teacher and Henry as the student and offers the following summary of Henry’s learning experience:
Rapidly a pattern of interactions emerges and this reveals much about Henry’s disposition towards learning. Time and time again Henry confronts a challenge, the initial discovery of the hole, the straw that is too long, the knife that is blunt, the sharpening stone that is dry and at each turn his response is a cry for help. ‘But Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket’. At each challenge Liza responds to Henry in the same manner providing him with a prompt that guides him directly to the solution. ‘Then fix it Dear Henry’, ‘Then sharpen it Dear Henry’.
Coutts suggests that Henry has developed no critical thinking skills because Liza provides Henry a quick answer rather than prompting Henry to solve his own problem. He goes on to argue that this is a classic example of learned helplessness and he offers a contrasting story of how another student with a well-developed disposition towards learning and a broader set of thinking skills positively deals with a hole in the bucket.
While the song and Coutts’ explanation begin to move us emotionally his conclusion is where he hits us hard with the challenging question:
Are we going to prepare a class full of Henrys?
Coutts conclusion is a series of questions where he challenges all teachers to do a better job and provide a better start than Henry was provided. No one wants to be responsible for a single Henry nor a class full of Henrys.
It is this emotional appeal combined with the rational pillars that Copeland has outlined that can make a difference. If we really want to be successful in leading this type of change we need to heed the advice of Harvard change guru John Kotter and “Win over the hearts and Minds”.