Sunday, July 15, 2012

Part Two: Avoidance and Escape

Burke continues his trained incapacity discussion further by introducing avoidance and escape. It is natural for human beings to avoid an “unsatisfactory situation” (book is written in 1954 – Skinner anyone?). Burke is more critical of those who use the term escape – the term focusing more “to designate any writer or reader whose interests and aims did not closely coincide with those of the critic.”  Forbes magazine writer Rick Unger had to post this note at the end of an article on government spending

NOTE: Some of the comments to this piece have gotten well out of control, involving threats and obscenity to other commenters and myself. While I welcome and encourage comments from all points of view, obscene remarks are removed and not tolerated. I’ll be happy to jump back into the conversation and reply to some comments when those who are misusing the forum settle down.

And it happens in our hallowed halls of educations. During Sal Khan’s keynote address at BlackBoard World, the backchannel Twitterverse lit up with anti-Khan sentiment. Heck, I posted a picture of me standing cheesily before our presentation title slide to my college speech team alumni page and got a flame message about learning management systems being “so 1997”. (Really – flamed on Facebook... and from an alum who is an ed tech consultant!).

I just returned from the Jesuit Secondary Education Association’s Symposium focused on building adult Ignatian Learning Communities in our schools to meet the challenges of education for 2020. In table discussion, we explored our individual orientations and in dialogue identified where our trained incapacities hindered forward movement. We openly explored alternative strategies, weighing pros and cons based on experiences. In an electronic manner, I participate in a similar experience in Twitter #chats (#BYOT Chat – Thursday nights at 9pm EST for a shameless plug.) These two venues allowed for multiple orientations to dialogue without hyper-criticism and name calling. Ideas are freely shared, given and accepted.

I think Burke was trying to point out the challenge of dialogue when dealing with topics that make people uncomfortable – because the dialogue challenges existing orientations (again, context is key people). Related to educational technology – online learning, 1:1 initiatives, eBooks, mobile tools – the past 5 years have seen a dramatic upheaval in how we communicate, collaborate, consume and create. The alternative strategies may be overwhelming as they change the orientation too fast or dramatically. Asking an educator to embrace a 1:1 program when they have never had a personal laptop is disorienting. Criticizing that same educator for trying to avoid or escape (I hear "resistant to change" a lot) is unfair. I hope we remember this as we enter the 2012-13 school year. Recognize context – experience alternative strategies – reflect on how to reorient in light of experience. St. Ignatius in 1524. Kenneth Burke in 1954. You and me in 2012… This will take time - more time for some, less for others – but settle down, settle into the dialogue and together, settle some of challenges in orienting education in the 21st century.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Jen and JD Show Episode 3 On Location

If you haven't noticed, JD and I are down in New Orleans for the annual BlackBoard World educational extravaganza. Check out the most excellent, and actually OFFICIAL (he got a button and everything), BlackBoard Blogger over at Confessions of a Jesuit School CIO for details of the event.  It's been a good week.  We've met some folks, learned a bit about why BlackBoard bought Edline (probably something to do with 20,000+ K-12 clients) and saw the sites of New Orleans.  We've been acting like people who don't ever leave the Midwest very often and posting pictures of food, churches and an epic riverboat cruise of the Mississippi shipping lanes on Twitter like crazy (and occasionally Facebook and Instagram) so feel free to peruse our 21st century chronicle of our adventures.

And we found time to film the ever growing in popularity (we're up to 20 views!)  Episode 3 of the Jen & JD Show!  Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Reading: Kenneth Burke’s Permanence and Change

Part One: Trained Incapacity

In his book Permanence and Change, Kenneth Burke discusses the idea of “trained incapacity” (the origins of the term – maybe Veblen, maybe not – is not the point here for the one or two Communication scholars who may stumble upon this blog post). For Burke, trained incapacity infers training so ingrained in the learner’s orientation (context in Jesuit speak) that the learned way of doing things efficiently works against future success. In a Pavolian example utilizing chickens trained to a bell food signal and then receiving punishment for following the bell… Burke concludes, “With their past education to guide them, they would respond in a way which would defeat their own interests.” Or to use his human example, business(people) who have been so trained in one form of competitive finance that they cannot see the value in alternative strategies and refuse to change strategies even if economic environment changes (hmmmm….can’t imagine what that would be like…).

As educational technologists, we too have our trained incapacities. Our orientation of school is still students in neat rows, quietly working on the same task to become the most efficient college student/worker/voter/adult. I am dismayed at the number of advertisements from technology vendors I receive which show rows of students with the same device sitting, blind staring at the screen. I am annoyed at twelve year old Inter-Active Whiteboard technology touted as new and innovative when it is still a teacher at the front of the room making “knowledge” happen on a board. I start yelling when I read of tablets as textbook replacement – same model of read and answer the questions at the end of the chapter (with pencil) but using a device which could open the world if not locked down from gaining Internet access. School still looks like it did in 1920… only with more demands on electricity and a bit more shine. We respond to the shiny-pretty food bell as quickly as the chickens in Burke’s narrative.

Where do we block alternative practices with the phrases “It will never work” or “We tried that in the 90’s” or “The students will just go to Facebook”? Where do we block alternative practices because it is noisy, messy and not in neat rows? Being open to growth is a Jesuit goal of the Graduate at Graduation – a value we consciously strive for in all our graduates. As educators, let’s have the same openness to growth and change. Our BYOT model is an alternative strategy. In dialogue with students, teachers, parents and vendors we have challenged orientations. We have asked people to let go of past educational orientation. August 9th is a big day for Brebeuf – our first day of 1:1 BYOT. It’s frightening, challenging and exciting for me. A challenge to my 20+ years of training in education which is disorienting when all my past experience is also learning in neat, hushed rows. Neat, quiet, geo-specific rows is not the world our students will inhabit. I need to be open to alternatives to facilitate their movement into a world I cannot imagine. I challenge us all to reflect on where our training as educators and technologist incapacitates us and to be open to alternative strategies… and beware of those food-bells.