EduCon 2.5 & helping kids learn in ‘a landscape with no maps’

By Anne Collier

As parents, we’re now beginning to accept this, I think: “We live in a world that is re-creating itself one life and one digital connection at a time … a landscape for which there are no maps,” as Krista Tippett said it in her introduction to a timely radio conversation with Seth Godin on American Public Media – not that we know quite what to do with that awareness yet (see the sidebar). Meanwhile, the schools most of us have to send our children to are following very outdated “maps” to which their teachers are required to teach. One-size-fits-all curricula and standardized tests are the mass-production-style education that was designed to prepare children to fit into industrial-age jobs and conditions that required them to do a good job at what was in a job description. We, the children of the tail end of that age, had to customize ourselves to fit into the world; our children are now customizing their world to fit them.

They’re updating the “maps” – doing their own exploring, surveying, and “cartography,” mostly outside of school, if their schools haven’t caught up, and mostly with media blocked in school because the public has been taught that new media is high-risk. There still isn’t enough awareness of how vital and preparatory young people’s new media explorations are for their futures in what Godin calls “the connected economy” and a world that’s recreating itself.

From awareness to activism

There are pockets of awareness in education, of respect for our children’s exploratory and collaborative inclinations and skills, fortunately. EduCon – a small, very conversational education conference held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia at the end of every January. It’s a weekend’s concentration of sanity, or support for children’s interests, among visionary educators using whatever tools they can find – philosophical, pedagogical, technological (usually all the above together) – to move upstream, explore and support student-centric learning against the tremendous pressure to teach to standardized tests. While there this past weekend, I met teachers, technology coordinators, and administrators trying to make school, or at least a classroom, a place where students are active participants in, if not drivers of, their learning.

This is simply necessary now. “Now, one person working by themselves can make an idea, a product, a service, something in the world,” Godin told Tippett. “And that shift in leverage means that you’re not going to make it as a worker bee – you’re going to make it as someone who is figuring out what to do next. And more important, finding the faith – and I think the word faith is appropriate, here – to walk up to your market, your world, your tribe, your community and say, ‘here, I made this’.” There was every indication that the educators who participate in EduCon wholeheartedly agree that, “rather than merely tolerate change, we are all called to rise to it,” as Godin put it in the interview.

Change from the inside out

And what I heard in many conversations at the conference is that this is not a matter of choice – not for anybody who wants to support children’s preparation for successful navigation of this networked world. But while change is, by definition, unsettling, the underlying message of our (that of educators Peggy Sheehy, Marianne Malmstrom and me) and other sessions at EduCon tried to convey were in sync with Godin’s, interestingly: Change is not inherently scary – not the change our children are modeling and we’re seeing. It’s not actually other-imposed; it’s from the inside (of each of us) out, so it’s inherently meaningful. As Godin put it (when he talks about marketing, swap in teaching, parenting, or public-image management online), “Marketing isn’t advertising; it’s the product we make, the service we offer, the life we live,” he said. It’s bottom-up, bit-by-bit change that becomes the so-called revolution we think we’re looking for. The revolution is us, in effect – each one key to it, especially in a user-driven age.

Take the Internet itself as an example: “The Internet wasn’t built by 30 people who are working for a boss. It was built by 300,000 people, many of whom have never met each other. And this protocol and that technology work together even without a central organizing force. And that’s happening to every industry.”

Our post-industrial kids

That’s the change our children find unremarkable and even fun, the change they’re engaged in. “We’re growing a bunch of people who see what they do as social and collaborative and as parts of joining online communities,” said Arizona State University professor James Paul Gee in an interview for PBS Frontline a few years ago. He talked about how naturally our kids fall into what the business world calls cross-functional teams, “where everybody on the team is an absolute expert in something, but they know how to integrate their expertise with everybody else’s…. And kids are ready for this world.” Where we can help them is with the media and social literacy, the critical thinking, that enable them to notice, discern, choose, collaborate, and create confidently, so they can know they’re contributing in a way nobody else can.

“On the way into the [radio] studio today,” Godin told Tippett, “I passed a 1934 Rolls Royce. And in those days, if you were really rich, you bought a fancy expensive car like that. So we went through this era where you would value something that was physical. But now the things we pay extra for are connection, right? The things we pay extra for are what … networks can we be part of – what conference can we go to, who can we be with? And the people we choose to be with, the products and services we choose to talk about, are all interesting and unique and human and real, as opposed to industrial and cheap and polished and normal. And so, as individuals, what we have to see is a shift has gone on from the days of Henry Ford, when one creative person had 50,000 people acting on their wishes.” He’s talking about the difference between the world our parents were born into and world our children were Not enough of us see this yet, and that’s the real obstacle for our children.

“The question, as you go forward,” Godin said, referring to marketing (but, again, think collaborative parenting and teaching), “is whether you’ll choose this ethical marketing that doesn’t involve yelling at people, networking your way to the top, spamming people and lying but instead involves weaving a story, weaving a tribe [family, class, school], and weaving a network that means something. Doing work that matters.” This picks up from where I left off with gamification, a big fad right now in and out of education, vs. meaningful gaming – intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards, the former being what meaningful and engaging lead to.

Back to the map metaphor

So who creates value, art, contributions, etc. now? Who is school supposed to be developing? Someone, Godin says, who is “not following a manual, reading a dummy’s book, looking for a map…. people who work with a compass instead, who have an understanding of true north and are willing to solve a problem in an interesting way.”

It’s a great interview – you’ll probably want to listen to the whole thing with your and your kids’ experiences with education in mind. And here’s a TEDx talk Godin gave specifically about education. I want to thank my friend Lenore Skenazy at for telling me about it – and for her own take on the interview Godin gave.

Related links

* New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says something very similar about the world for which school is supposed to be preparing children, only in a somewhat more jarring way: “Something very big happened in the last decade. The world went from connected to hyperconnected in a way that is impacting every job, industry and school, but was largely disguised by post-9/11 and the Great Recession…. That means the old average is over. Everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives.” So what’s replacing the need for “IQ” is “PQ” (Passion Quotient) and “CQ” (Curiosity Quotient) – he sounds like some educators I know!
* “No Future Left Behind”: a 5:46 video of Suffern, N.Y. teacher Peggy Sheehy’s middle school students saying, “I can’t create my future with the tools of your past.”
*Mining Minecraft: Little gamers’ digital play through a teacher’s eyes,” first of a three-part series of guest posts by elementary and middle school teacher Marianne Malmstrom
* Educator Will Richardson’s new book Why School?
* Video interview with Marc Prensky (4:00) on the role of the teacher in today’s world (see my earlier post about it)
* “Unboxing learning”

And a sidebar: “Of fearless parenting in this unmapped landscape”

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