Monday, October 22, 2012

The Greater Fool

I want to be the “Greater Fool.” “The Greater Fool is actually an economic term; it’s a patsy. For the rest of us to profit we need a Greater Fool, someone who will buy long and sell short. Most people spend their lives trying not to be the Greater Fool. We toss him the hot potato; we dive for his seat when the music stops. The Greater Fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by Greater Fools. (AaronSorkin, The Newsroom)”

I have spent the last six months writing my dissertation in an attempt to earn my Ph.D. I had completed the course work and this “product” was all that was left. The research and writing perfectly exemplified the process of learning. As I wrote, revised, researched, wrote, and revised I noticed a change in many ideas I had regarding the current educational paradigm. Like all of you I’ve attended conferences, read books authored by “experts”, watched countless videos, and read far too many blog posts by ordinary teachers and educational observers (that’s the beauty of blogs, though) in an attempt to find the key that would lead to the sorely needed change. There’s certainly no shortage of people able to point out the problems, but solutions are in short supply.

Technology is crucial in the solution, but not in the way I had always envisioned. I championed the delivery of content through technology. A wide variety of programs are available to deliver content and provide students with exercises intended to assess student learning. This allows students to progress at their own pace and teachers to monitor skills and concepts that were causing problems. Along with these purchased tools, the web is filled with “educational” games, videos, and countless other sources of information. These resources have their value and should not be discounted, but that is not the most effective way technology supports learning.

I slowly came to the realization that the solution is simple in theory. All that needs to be done is to change the labels we have used since the dawn of organized public education truly began during the Industrial Revolution. “Student” must be changed to “learner” and “teacher” must be changed to “master learner” (thank you David Warlick for solving that particular label). Changing the label is simple, changing the mindset to truly reflect those new labels is the hard part (perhaps the impossible part), but that is now my mission.

Along with the change in labels comes a change in the primary way technology is to be used. “Learning by doing” has been around forever, but doing what? Technology provides the learner the mechanism for doing; technology allows the learner to create something that lives forever, something that is theirs forever, something that the entire world can see. This places a burden on the learner, a burden they place upon themselves because they realize that what they are doing is not something their master learner alone will see. Parents, friends, and generations to come will be able to see what they create. Suddenly the awesomeness of that realization hits them and they give their best effort because they don’t want to look foolish; suddenly they have an audience.

They realize the “reward” is no longer a number or letter recorded in a grade book; their reward is the value placed on their work by anyone that might view it. It’s no longer just one person arbitrarily determining the value, but anyone with an internet connection. I have seen the effect this has. It’s one thing for me to tell them they did a good job, now people they’ve never met are commenting. They’re checking YouTube daily to see how many views they have, if new comments have been made, or if people are distributing their work.

Learners create something that has value and technology provides the “display case” for their creation.

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