The Problem with Shifting Paradigms

You get fooled into thinking you know where you’re going. Since my recent posts, I have received several emails. That doesn’t usually happen on to me through this site. Several of these were promoting a canned variation on personalized learning. An opportunity to use software tracking and student assessments to customize lessons. Offering more summative assessments that prescribe a specific lesson script is not what I envisioned when I began trying to fashion a path. Using a sophisticated logarithm to understand our student is a popular path on the road to individualized instruction, but frankly, it is more of what we have rather than better than what we have. It does not seem to shift our paradigm as much as it merely shakes it up.

What I did see as a fundamental piece of this shift was getting devices in the hands of our students. That didn’t happen. As part of a large district, we have the agility and responsiveness of an aircraft carrier. Therefore, when a manufacturer stops production of the device you planned to hand out to 10,000 students, adapting to that change requires a process. So, with my small group of trailblazing teachers and students lined up, with nothing to hand them, we were forced to pause, plan, ponder how we wanted all this to play out. As a generalization, those “trailblazing early adopters”, are not especially patient planners. However, the power of letting, (or even forcing) that same cohort to frame their pedagogy and define their goals had more value than any of us might have thought.

Our vision of what we can and want to do with our new tools has not only changed but clarified. It is not the apps that will be creating change but the access to information and options. With our planned and plotted future in sight, I was again greeted by a response to my earlier posting about digital personalized learning. This one from a friend, Dr. Kevin Clark, who is a UCLA faculty member and peer-respected expert in the use and development of neurotechnology for biomedical and educational applications. I was schooled. My vision of how technology will change our teaching and learning is limited and ill-informed. The very near future will “…include cutting-edge quantum and hybrid computing hardware for sensor, command, and control platforms; it includes cutting-edge real-time interactive cognitive computing software analyses and (deductive and inductive) decision tools, and it includes data in a myriad of forms… These technologies now outperform the world’s best intellects on a range of tasks, including scientific and medical breakthroughs. These technologies don’t simply inform scientists where to find the most effective result among a range of alternatives; they find the most effective result and can act on that result. …These technologies will similarly help to teach and to learn; to make education more insightful, precise, efficient, and, yes, personalized.”

I cannot pretend to understand how these seismic shifts play out in a classroom but I have little doubt that our educational paradigm will be moved. After once again adjusting my understanding and expectation I was ready to embrace a much more complete understanding of “digital personalized learning.” My teachers and our students could have been confident in our trajectory. Except that in confirming other pieces of this article I was informed by an expert in personalized learning that currently, the most meaningful parts are not what the technology can do; instead, it is how it changes teaching itself. We are, I was told in an interview with Amos Fodchuk, the President of Advanced Learning Partnerships; that appropriately done, personalized learning brings back the Socratic Method, introduces Deeper Learning and offers the chance for students and teacher to explore different ways of thinking… It seems wise, to abandon my attempts at predicting the landing of this shifting paradigm. Rather the smart play is to move ahead like a learner, thinking, questioning and exploring without preconceived ideas.

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Brian Cleary

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