Friday, March 15, 2013

How to address a question like, "Are schools outdated?"

I read another great post from Harmer entitled, Is technology killing school?  Harmer poses the following questions:
Is technology starting to drive learning (cf what Pearson are doing – that was at the top of this blogpost), or is learning directing technological development?

Is ‘school’ outdated? or perhaps, what is the role of school in our modern world?

How much self-organised learning can (and indeed should) children be asked to do, and how confident are you of its success?

How on earth can we evaluate the glowing evangelism of a TED talk?

Technology affords learners to gain understandings, skills, and appropriate dispositions more effectively, efficiently, and engagingly.  This is not necessarily the same as technology driving learning, not necessarily the same as learning driving tech. development.  The two are actually an emergent relationship among a single dynamic system.  Thus, technology feeds potentiality…the potential for learners to connect ideas, materials, and personal relationships into something relevant and meaningful.  To understand the use of materials or objects such as technology is to understand it in relationship to the connection of ideas and personal relationships that make up an overall (material-semiotic) assemblage.

Understanding material-semiotic assemblages enables one to better address questions like “Are schools outdated?”  and “How useful are SOLEs?”  When one questions whether schools are outdated or not, much will depend on how ideas, materials, and personal relationships (both within schools and among schools) connect in an overall network.  Same goes when asking whether SOLEs are beneficial or not.

Answering the essential questions about the potentiality of technology, schools, and SOLEs will depend on how we avoid the trap of assuming an understanding of any single facet of a material-semiotic assemblage (i.e., ideas, materials, social relationships) while ignoring or placing less emphasis on any of the other two.

My answer to the first three questions is to begin by assuming that “schools” is really a material-semiotic assemblage of ideas, materials, and social relationships that all must come together (or connect) in ways that allow for educative experiences to emerge – thinking Dewey here.  The ideas, materials, and social relationships are networked not only within the school but extend outside the school as well.  The emergent networks underpins all educative experiences that learners experience, which leads to a slightly question: How can we improve a school given a particular material-semiotic assemblage?  Indeed, the answer will be rooted in context.  So, my “answer” is really not an answer but an approach to an answer…how’s that for an answer. :)

As far as evaluating a TED talk, I would also approach it a bit differently.  How can ideas stated from a TED talk (theory) become relevant and meaningful to the practical aspects of a local context?  My approach to the answer would be to begin connecting these ideas to a certain set of materials and social relationships that relate to a local context.  If this is done long enough, then holistic patterns may begin to emerge that then will allow educational stakeholders the luxury of assessing whether or not the ideas from a TED Talk where useful.