Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Are we losing THE commodity in schools?

A short quiz for you to take...

Within your Personal Learning Network that you have developed online, do you feel that you
- have caring and purposeful relationships?
- receive encouragement?
- have your knowledge extended?
- can receive dynamic and varied feedback?
- have a sense of belonging as a member of a larger community?

Recently, Bruce Beairsto (@brucebeairsto great guy to follow) wrote an excellent post called "Necessary Disruption - Part 3", which included the following:

"You can get a great lecture on the internet, probably better than any to be had in most schools, but technology cannot provide a caring, purposeful relationship with someone who encourages, probes, extends and acknowledges learning.  It is within such a relationship that assessment occurs and guidance is provided.  I am not talking about testing.  There is nothing core about that.  Summative evaluation is simple.  It can be done easily, and probably better, by a computer, but formative assessment is a different matter altogether.  That is a teacher’s domain.  Computer algorithms cannot replicate the dynamic observation, inquiry, feedback, direction and nurturing support that a teacher can provide.  Some students may be able to succeed academically, and even intellectually, without that, but most will not and none will do as well in its absence.

In addition to the teacher’s vital role in facilitation and support, the school community as a whole provides an essential foundation for both learning and growth.  Within a school there is not only friendship but also membership, and that membership - school spirit if you like - provides an important anchor for young people.  It is in public schools that society is forged, its values and behaviours inculcated.  In communion with others, students grow beyond their family and out of their childhood to become independent adults and citizens.  It is the experience of community that bonds students to their school, not the curriculum."

I could not agree with Bruce more that a student needs each dynamic inquiry and feedback.  I also could not agree more with Bruce that friendship and membership are important anchors for young people.  But where I might disagree with Bruce is around whether or not a school needs to provide this to a student.  I think that a student can get these essential elements anywhere.  At anytime.  At their leisure and convenience.  At their fingertips. With a community that is much larger than any school.  It is their online network, the equivalent to our PLN.

I want to qualify that I don't think that online dynamic inquiry, feedback, friendship and membership are superior to that which occurs in schools.  Similarly, I don't believe they are necessarily inferior for students--I believe that it truly depends whose shoes you are standing in.  As adults, we might feel one way.  As a student, they might have a decidedly different opinion.

When I look at my quiz above, I can honestly answer yes to each of the questions that are posed.  I have forged bonds with people from all over North America that I have yet to personally meet.  I can get feedback and encouragement from a variety of perspectives almost instantaneously.  My knowledge has never been extended further than it has been through my PLN.  And I very much feel like a part of a special community of dedicated professionals who are committed to students and learning.

I say these things only having been connected to my PLN for six months.  Prior to this time, my PLN was comprised of those in my community and a few people around the province that I had worked with, went to school, with, or met through someone else.  Unlike many (most?) students in our buildings, I have not been texting, connected to Facebook or any other social media tool for the past several years.  I cannot imagine the network and the relationships that some of our students have.  And while there are still people behind these keyboards around the world, it seems to me that students are capable getting this sense of belonging from places other than the hallways and the classrooms in our schools.

So I guess the question is, are we losing THE commodity (relationships) that schools provide?  Maybe not, but it IS something to think about.


  1. Cale, considering my last post regarding the potential groupthink pitfalls of twitter, my overall experience has been positive.

    I do see schools as a having an integral role in modelling true community. Working in a faith based school school this a defining value. Our school needs to a place where service, equality, respect and love abound. I also think that many of these values can be better modelled in a face to face context. Especially in times of crisis or joy, having some support you or celebrate with you is important.
    I currently don't see my PLN providing that same depth of support. At least not yet.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Johnny!

    I agree with you, there are many things that a school can provide to its school community. The things you list are just some of the things that a school does for you and your students. I do wonder, though, as online technologies and relationships continue to evolve, whether the learning about characteristics such as those which you list will continue to deepen.


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