Learning: A Digital Renaissance (a draft)

I

Music & Photography: A Digital Renaissance

This century, the digital revolution in photography and music, has led to the democratisation and proliferation of human beings sharing images and sounds, experiences, knowledge and beauty.

How have these two industries, with entrenched interests and well-established systems, changed so rapidly that they little resemble their former selves of a mere decade ago? I do not ask ‘why’ they changed but ‘how’? The ‘why’ is obvious. Technology created faster, better, cheaper alternatives to what existed. Photographers and musicians, as well as the multitudes who enjoy or need images and sounds, for an infinite variety of reasons, just kept learning and updating.

Not only have analog film cameras been superseded by digital image sensors but the sharing and distribution of photographs and expertise has been transformed by the internet. The same can be said regarding the legal and illegal distribution of music online. Vested interests, with lineage and power, either adapted or were made irrelevant with huge financial implications.

This happened very quickly.

An example. Reading the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Yearportfolios from the first years of the 21st century reveals photographers used film and there appeared to be no provision for digital images. In the 2010 competition no entries exhibited were shot using film. In 2004 the competition went digital and the challenges of online submission were overcome. Symbolically, in the same year, Kodak was removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average index for the first time in their 74 year history.

How was it that Eastman Kodak ‘missed the digital photography revolution’ resulting in lost market share and 80% of its workforce as a result? This thesis resounds and has implications for education systems:

Kodak’s middle managers, culture and rigid, bureaucratic structure hindered a fast response to new technology which dramatically changed the process of capturing and sharing images. Film is a physical, chemical product, and despite a succession of new CEOs, Kodak’s middle managers were unable to make a transition to think digitally.

Angus & Robertson booksellers, established in 1886, six years after the Public Instruction Act 1880, have been unable to adapt to the new digital landscape and are now largely consigned to history. This did not need to be. It is certainly true that a large chain, with expensive stores in prime shopping locations and countless books not selling was a major reason behind the fall of the company but approaching the problem in this way rather than thinking innovatively about how to adapt in the era of digital books smacks of the ‘Kodak problem’ – that of not being able to ‘think digitally’.

Readings, for example, is supplying digital books via booki.sh and it will be interesting to hear about the outcomes in the coming year. I have found the service effective using my iPad and seeing the opportunities for Australian publishers to be involved uplifting. The thinking is digital and likely, one hopes, to sustain many publishers, authors and readers. The line:

Buy from your favourite local booksellers, not faceless robot armies.

suggests they know their audience.

 

Image credit: The front cover of School Work by JF Gladman, published in 1886, provided teaching guidelines and educational principles for teachers (sourced here).

 

II

‘Control and Teaching’

How can something similar to the digital democritisation of photography and music happen in education systems? To what extent is this already happening? Educators and politicians, parents and innovators need to reflect on what such a democratisation could mean for the future of learning and large educational systems.

We need to ‘think digitally’ to avoid the disasters that have befallen Kodak or Angus & Robertson. That means (actually) doing things differently, especially if you are in a leadership position.

The book cover image (1886) above shows how deeply embedded the reality that education is about ‘control and teaching’ rather than ‘autonomy or learning’. This is so deeply rooted in our factory structures that many cannot even begin to see how pervasive the paradigm is, and, how not conducive such rigid thinking is to the future of learning, our economy or individual freedoms.

Development of curriculum and policy is more important than ever before. We need our ‘managers’ to ‘think digitally’ but if not provided with clever policy and opportunities to innovate within curriculum, the challenge will be even more difficult. Political battles re: standardised testing and accountability are largely irrelevant, in an intellectual sense, as these methods are inadequate for the 21st century and lowest common denominator approaches.

I say again, we need savvy policy and curriculum to inform our directions with the past firmly in the rear vision mirror as we head into the future.

Education has a similar challenge to booksellers and music stores. The buildings that were once needed to house books, equipment and expertise, in the form of human beings trained in academies to disseminate knowledge and cultural values to children, are just not as essential any more for learning to take place. However, the timetable and movement of students and teachers around these structures in 40 minutes blocks is a huge part of what school is about.

A reader can download an ebook as long as they have internet access. A student has the same freedom if online. More importantly, they can connect to others who have expertise or friendship to offer. We are all free to find the networks we need or enjoy. The bookstore is just not essential anymore. Nice sometimes but not fundamental.

We have the issue, largely not discussed, of childminding, while every parent is at work, which is the most pressing of needs in our system. More importantly, there is the need for community and for young people to be together learning about civil society practically, by living in one. We need places to gather and learn. That is not different.

They must not be factories.

‘How’ to do this, not ‘why’ is the question and challenge. There are many lessons we have learned that will assist us to adapt. If we have the will.

 

III

Lessons

A salient point about change is that the past travels with us. For example, the history of photography has been one of rapid innovation but the very fundamentals of the being a photographer are very similar. The metalanguage grows but without understanding the concepts of shutter speed, aperture, focal length and framing it is difficult to imagine becoming a good photographer. The reduction in prices and ‘auto’ features democratise the experience but one needs to understand the past to progress successfully in the future.

We know much about how people learn and research uncovers more every week. We know much about young people and their needs. We know much about economic realities and what makes civil society civil.

What are the lessons we must not forget on this journey?

‘How’ do we make these changes in our systems?

 

 


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by charlesdyer

Your considered (and spontaneous) thoughts would be highly valued

 

Slider image credit: cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by FotoGraf-Zahl: http://flickr.com/photos/fotografzahl/4167239937/

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10 Comments

  1. Troy:

    Oh Darcy, as always: this captures everything I try to explain and show colleagues.
    My first thoughts…if we look at business and learn, why the ‘clay layer’? Why is there open resistence at classroom teacher level, or at the middle manager level or even the executive level (I think of a case of an electronic diary being used one term and the next term, gone, back to writing notices and dates back in a single diary on a single persons desk).
    I think of that line about democratisation, it applies to knowledge as well. How and why students learn, gain understanding. Schools are not factories, then why do we train students to be members of a production line?
    Schools are not democratic, sometimes there is an illusion to democractic processes in the hope for transparent system, but the only thing transparent is the general misunderstanding of why-and how- a digital revolution might occur.
    I don’t use edmodo. BlogEd, class blogs, a school twitter or even the opportunities of a school youtube channel or even a school facebook page because I personally want to use these (like using online bookshops or walkng the local bookstore- I do both). I do because the students-generally- do meet our expectations of being ‘factory’ workers or being leaders of their learning. I do so because right now TAFE, Uni, workplace learning does occur using online connection and collaboration. The students are already online, some as a purely social citizen, what if we led and showed the learning citizens how to become digital ones? Or should we wait for the system to mandate?
    If we can’t get the idea that this is not a personal choice, but a reality of learning beyond the school and classroom, most classes will still be turning to page 67 with the instructions copy and complete.
    Sometimes we can’t even get to the how, as the why (so articulatly described here) is/has not been ‘sold’ to the masses.
    Sorry for the little rant!

  2. Greg Wilson:

    Interesting blog post Darcy – the direction of education in the digital age is certainly a well populated area. The fate of Kodak is not unique – IBM has had consequences for its attitude towards personal computers in the 70s and 80s. How quickly big institutions (including educational) can be creative, change direction, adapt, evolve has implications for their survival. If educational institutions are only about knowledge, inparticular the transfer of content then they will become obsolute.If educational education institutions evolve they can thrive.

    After the last renaissance we went to the age of the specialist – will history repeat itself?

  3. Unkle Cyril:

    Hey up Darcy, many teachers would still agree with Mr Gladman and say that Control and Teaching are still issues. I recently was told that a new appointment to a school we know said “This isn’t teaching.” We don’t pay the students and we can’t flog them anymore, so why should they work? Most of our students are at the base of the pyramid and will end up working at jobs not much higher up the pyramid and classroom control is a common term in staff-rooms.

    You suggest ‘autonomy or learning’, under the hegemony of the teacher I suppose, as what education should be about, and I agree. However, the challenge is to engage the students that we don’t pay or flog in a way that we get co-operation and a learning environment. History reveals that to get that co-operation dictators keep their foot on the necks of the people, sailors get flogged round the fleet, soldiers are tied to the cannon mouth, and cowards are shot. I still remember poems and lessons that were beaten into me but school-life was miserable. I was pleased to contribute to a happier school-life for my students but I am not sure they would remember what I taught them in years to come. Threats are endemic to school-life.

    As for firms going bust through not being able to adapt that is part of the human condition. Things begin, things grow, things die. So with education. We are always seeking a method of education to replace the current one but like trying to stop the Titanic, it takes time and competent people in charge. We are in the midst of the digital age and we have to adapt to survive, not only in education but in industry, transport, health and medicine, etc. We did it before – Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages etc., so I expect we can do it again.

    cheers – unkle

  4. This is a timely post – as always. I am feeling a little like a middle manager at Kodak or Angus and Robertson who has started to think digitally, but the force of the existing power-structures and philosophies regarding education are so strong and well-established that I must ‘jump ship’ or sink with the ship into oblivion. I know that sounds melodramatic – and it probably is – but all I’ve been thinking for the last 18 months is ‘No one is listening. Change is too slow. Where should I go to?’. It is very difficult to stay and bail water from a sinking ship when so many of the other sailors – and most importantly the captain – have their back turned and don’t see the rising waters.

    OK, I’ll quit with my lame analogy, but you get my point. I believe that thanks you your inspiration and guidance I have learned to ‘think digitally’ and really once you do, you can’t stop. I cannot go into a class and stand up the front and teach to a test with a worksheet anymore. (My poor Year 12 students, haha!) My vision of education in the 21st century is such that students MUST be given the chance to work as teams. These social skills (as you rightly point out) are an essential part of creating a civil society. But, our classrooms are no longer bound by the students and teacher within them. We must give our students the skills to effectively reach out and experience the people, experiences and ideas out in the world.

    When the NSWDEC unblocked twitter I was skeptical. I figured it was a grab at seeming progressive, to look as though they are ‘thinking digitally’ just like some of us teachers, even though the power-structures of the DEC often seem to inhibit this type of thinking. But yesterday, I finally realised how momentous this decision to unblock social networking for teachers really will be. Yesterday I created a twitter account for my Year 10 class – they’re going to follow writers and as them questions about writing a quality narrative. Already we are following five wonderful writers, two of whom have tweeted the class with writing tips! So, it’s nice to see that my cynicism was unwarranted – DEC have done a great thing and I hope that this move towards ‘thinking digitally’ will extend further into our classrooms.

    My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being in control. I imagine that you can still buy books pretty similar to the one you showed. They’d target the pre-service teacher. I bet there are lectures and courses devoted to ‘teaching and control’ at unis in Australia right now. I bet students have to read articles on the best ‘behaviour strategies’ to ensure you maintain control in your classroom. Well I have a prac student right now and she just taught her first lesson and it was wonderful! A Yr 11 Standard English class (13 boys, 4 girls) studying a play and she had them for the very first time last period on a Thursday – and she took them to the computer lab! This would be a nightmare to many experienced teachers let alone a young woman who has very limited teaching experience. The lesson was a wonderful success and there was no ‘behaviour’ issues. Was she standing there threatening the kids with a stick? Did she yell and scream? Is she an intimidating individual? No! She just planned a damn-good lesson that was student-centred, encouraged team work, rewarded positive behaviours and completed work and spoke openly about positive learning behaviors in different learning spaces. The very next day (whilst I was ‘teaching’ the same class) I checked twitter to see that she had tweeted me (she joined twitter and started a blog the first week we met – thinking digitally!) to remind me how many points each ‘team’ earned the previous lesson. I read the tweet to my students who then helped me tweet her back with their comments – we now have a hashtag for my class’ communication with their prac teacher! The point I want to make is that my focus with my prac teacher was not how to ‘manage behaviour’ it was ‘how to engage learners’. She didn’t ask me who the naughty kids were and how she should punish misbehaviour during a lessons because I didn’t bring them up. The success of her first lesson proves that she didn’t need to know about ‘control’ – she needed to know about how young people learn and why the content and skills being taught are relevant and can be made appealing to young people.

    So why am I telling you about my prac student? Because seeing her enthusiasm for education, her creativity, her willingness to take responsible risks, her flexible-thinking and her passion for our subject (English) I know that she will make a wonderful teacher who will make an impressive contribution to the lives of many, many young people. And hearing her say ‘my whole uni cohort is jealous of all the cool things I’m doing on my prac’ makes me sad. I mean, what are other master teachers offering their students? Are these young pre-service teachers not being given the opportunity to ‘think digitally’ because practicing teachers aren’t thinking digitally? It’s an opportunity lost. Am I being irresponsible and helping my prac student learn to teach ‘hands-free’? What will happen when she gets her first teaching placement and the HT hands her a bunch of worksheets, a textbook and a novel? Will she agitate for change? Or will her position in the school hierarchy mean that it will take her (like it took me) six years to get the courage to make a stand, and by that time potentially have lost the flame of passion and creativity?

    Sorry for the excessive reply, Darcy, but your post really hit a nerve for me. It’s really not just about the technology anymore … it started off that way for me with DER. Thanks again for inspiring me to think more deeply about what I do as an educator. It’s SUCH a hard job – imagine deciding that you’d stand on the front line and advocate for change as well! You’re amazing! I’ll add this reply as a post on my blog too and hopefully encourage more to share in your conversation.

  5. Unkle Cyril:

    Of course the elephant in the room is the lack of revenue and resources for public schools which is common to the USA, UK as well as Australia.

    • Troy:

      What is the common social or political connection between those three countires?
      And it also requries the question: why do we keep following those systems?
      What about Denmark, Finland, why do we not follow their lead? Or heaven forbid, become leaders, rather than followers?

      • Unkle Cyril:

        Denmark has 13% of its pupils in private schools, Finland has few private schools…we should follow their lead, or become leaders and abolish all private schools…then we would be following China…and Darcy can tell how well they are doing…cheers

  6. Darcy Moore:

    Troy, Bianca, Unkle Cyril and Greg, i appreciate your comments. They have helped me to think some more about this vexed issue.

    It is true, Unkle Cyril, that ‘firms go bust’ but my point was that some flourish in New Times while others go belly-up. We cannot afford that in our mass schooling system, which is very young, historically speaking. I feel that we cannot see the woods for the trees or in other words the paradigm resulting from all of us growing up with bells and lines to walk between has created a somnambulist-like state. Waking from the catatonia may be unpleasant for some but if we do not develop and adapt the results could be catastrophic.

    I am not sure that an enlightened citizenry can result from anything other than wide-reading, good political leadership and smart societal structures. Oh, hold on, that’s what an enlightened citizenry would do for itself and the young!

    Lets get cracking!

    • Brendt Evenden:

      Darcy, as usual, you are saying what so many of us are thinking. That is, if we really ARE believers in getting students engaged and making learning meaningful through great teaching. I feel a lot like Bianca does: technology is just another means to an enlightened end. When you say “Waking from the catatonia may be unpleasant for some but if we do not develop and adapt the results could be catastrophic” I immediately thought of Neo’s Waking scene from The Matrix. Morpheus is there saying to us: “Welcome…to the real world.” :-)
      I don’t think you are hyperbolising things when you say the results of not waking up can be catastrophic: do we want to spiral into irrelevance (no matter how long it takes) and create more problems than just academic disengagement, or do we want to push for change and have a world where students are active learners, active thinkers, active citizens?
      It involves a re-write of our job description: from implanter/transmitter of knowledge/content to facilitator of meaningful learning experiences where students are engaged in the real world and making a difference in themselves and in the lives of others.
      The 19th century factory model has got to go…

  7. allanquartz:

    “we need savvy policy and curriculum”.

    To me policy and curriculum is the most constraining force for the “digitally-minded” teacher. The curriculum is written with the content in mind and assessments are written to test the specialised skills and knowledge. Broad statements at the beginning of syllabii about the digital age are all but useless, with no grade applied for learning in this area. But what does a digital curriculum look like? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one.

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