June 4, 2015

How stable is your philosophy of education?

The image on the left is what's known as a Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction. Discovered by Soviet scientists in 1952 it's a popular lab demonstration of what is generally referred to as a "nonequilibrium thermodynamics, resulting in the establishment of a nonlinear chemical oscillator". Not at all aware of what that is, but is sure looks pretty cool! Apparently, it was actually a fairly important discovery that helped to verify British mathematician Alan Turing's bio-chemical predictions set in his last paper before his passing in 1954. I first came across this phenomena after watching Fabian Oefner's Ted Talk about uniting science and art, then intensely searching for interesting science-based art and imagery. It reminded me of cloud-forms in Eastern Asian art, batik printing from Indonesia, and the undulation was simply mesmerizing. Deeper research into this phenomena produces another interesting phrase, "self-organization".  This connects me to the subject of today's long-overdue post regarding educational philosophy.

I've been in the game for nearly 20 years now. I'm discovering that this is just long enough for me to begin to observe the cyclical nature of edu-speak, pedagogy, and philosophy that I had always heard referenced by veterans many years my senior. This morning found me watching a video I'd had open in a tab for several days now. I was about to close it due to my lack of interest in hearing yet another reframing of something I've already heard before...besides, it's May, and I'm ready for summer. Nevertheless, the speaker is Stephen Downes, a man whose work has influenced me tremendously, and his presentation at the Chang School Talk 2015 also references the words "self-organization". It's not too divergent from his ongoing work, but he does do a good job of rephrasing what he and George Seimens have been building for well over a decade. Take a look:

In our state of existence, K-12 education is on the bottom rung. The wants and needs of society largely dictate the nature of research which slowly turns the nature of higher education which, in turn, advances reform in K-12 education at a glacial pace (whether it's needed or not). Twenty years ago, twenty years was a lifetime for me. Now, I'm a little more patient to see where all of this continues to go. What is its shelf life?  Is the model that says "dispose of models" altogether simply another example of a well-controlled product of academic research and self-service? I hope not, I like these guys and see great benefit from the application of their ideas in supporting learning for the sake of learning. While I may find grounding in the square-peg-square-peg approach to education for the sake of society, divergent thought has its benefits. At the same time, I don't wish to remain idle and smug while I wait for my opportunity to say, "Well, I've seen this before!" at a staff meeting. As much as I'm crafting a trade, I'm also working to improve a product. So, sometimes, you need to throw on a smock, grab a cherry-picker, and reach for those other shelves.

How many times has your outlook on education shifted in the last ten years?

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