Are you a wizard? Or a prophet?

I heard an interview recently with Charles C. Mann, the author of the book The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Groundbreaking Scientists and Their Conflicting Visions of the Future of Our Planet. In the book and the interview, Mann discusses the competing views of our environmental challenges. Faced with the threats like overpopulation and global climate change, Mann observes, people who offer solutions can be classified as prophets or as wizards. Prophets see the upcoming challenges and promote conservation and reduction in personal consumption. Prophets see that the world has natural limits and the only way to solve our environmental problems is to return to basics. We survive, a prophet would argue, by hunkering down and obeying natural rules.

Wizards, on the other hand, see technology and innovation as offering solutions. Rather than reducing consumption, wizards promote being creative and making more. We survive, a wizard would argue, by being smart and by innovating.

I’m not an environmental scientist so it’s hard for me to weigh in on Mann’s argument from a scientific perspective. Looking in popular culture, though, you can see the environmental prophets and wizards in the media. If we expand the lens a bit, however, I’m sure we can also see prophets and wizards in our own institutions. Maybe they’re not focused on environmental issues but they offer the same types of solutions to the challenges they face. Some argue for a return to tradition while others promote innovation.

Take higher education. If you ask any professor or administrator to solve the problems facing their institutions, they’re likely to offer competing perspectives. Some are prophets who promote solutions rooted in returning their universities and colleges to some imagined past. You may have heard the arguments. We need to raise standards. Or increase rigor. Or make the entrance requirements higher. They see the past as offering the solution to the future. A higher education prophet would argue that institutions of higher education were great once. Let’s make them great again by buckling down and getting back to what made education great.

Wizards, on the other hand, promote solutions rooted in innovation. Wizards argue that we improve schools by changing schooling. They work to create new supports for students and new pathways for learning. One “wizard” who comes to mind is a colleague named Dr. Brent Horton. Dr. Horton created the Biology Mentoring Program (BMP) at Millersville University to help underrepresented students persist in their major. By focusing on social mentorship, building community and celebrating achievements, the BMP has increased underrepresented students involvement in STEM-related fields on campus. The program was recently named as a recipient of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine’s 2018 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award. That’s how a “wizard” approaches things.

The interesting part of Mann’s book is that it’s not titled the Wizard versus the Prophet. Instead, I think most problems are solved through an interplay between wizards AND prophets. We need to consider innovative solutions as we examine ways to maintain tradition. It’s easy to write about how wizards and prophets see the world differently. It’s much harder to present a shared vision for how they work together to solve problems. Maybe that’s an idea for another post. Any suggestions?

Create Interactive Online Content with H5P

I’m always looking to expand the ways I engage my students in my online and face-to-face courses. I’ll look for new websites or applications that I can incorporate into my classes that can help students build their understanding of content or provide feedback to further their development. Years ago, I would use Flash editors to create simple matching games or multiple-choice quizzes to help student learn. Those efforts ended with the advent of mobile devices, however. Since mobile browser didn’t support Flash applets, I didn’t want to create something that only a fraction of my students could use. While mobile devices ushered in a new era of technology ubiquity and information access, the dawn of smartphones and tablets also sparked a downturn in Flash-based content online.

A colleague shared a site with me that has me really excited. H5P allows users to easily create interactive online content that they can embed on blogs, websites or inside a learning management system. Since its HTML5 compatible, it can run on any device. Want to create a simple matching game so your students can practice vocabulary words? Or maybe you want students to interact with a YouTube video you’ve assigned? H5P has you covered. With a few simple clicks, your students can be interacting with the online content you’ve created and getting feedback on their work. With over 35 different content types, there are so many possibilities for the creative instructor to inject interactive content into their courses. I envision geography teachers using the site to share interactive maps, history teachers sharing online timelines and biology instructors creating microscope images that allow students to zoom in and out.

Since the site is free and easy to use, instructors could also have their students use H5P to create content that they can share with their classmates. For instance, students could use the multiple-choice generator to create assessment questions to help their peers study for an upcoming exam. Since all of the content can be shared via links or through embedded content, they can be easily shared in a discussion forum. By being HTML5 compatible, the content can be viewed by students using computers, smartphones or tablets.

I know that some readers may be thinking “HTML5 Content Editor? That sounds really scary!” In reality, the site cannot be easier to use. Not only can you create some really cool content with a few clicks, the site also offers tons of demonstrations and tutorials to help you get started. Definitely don’t let the technical jargon I’ve shared in this post scare you away. The site couldn’t be easier to use!

 

 

Navigating the Hype Cycle

A few weeks ago, a conference presenter shared Gartner’s Hype Cycle and discussed how the phases described the adoption and implementation of technologies in education. For those of you who may not be familiar, the Hype Cycle is broken down into five key phases:

Gartner_Hype_Cycle

Innovation Trigger: A new technology or idea is introduced. The technology is presented as the “next big thing” and is conceptualized as solving numerous problems. Significant publicity fuels awareness and the technology’s visibility.

Peak of Inflated Expectations: As awareness grows, success stories fuel increased publicity. Some schools choose to take action while others do not. Failed adoptions also begin to emerge.

Trough of Disillusionment: Interest begins to wane as adoptions and implementations fail to deliver. Some technology developers fail while others work to improve their product to deliver on early promises.

Slope of Enlightenment: The affordances of the technology begin to be better understood. Best practices and emerging research fuels new adoptions. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers.

Plateau of Productivity: More widespread and mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

If you’ve been working in education for some time, you can probably recognize this pattern for different instructional technologies and pedagogical practices over the years. Take gamification as an example. A few years ago, gamified learning environments were lauded as a major innovation in education. Gamified websites emerged that offered all sorts of educational benefits. Now, years later, those proposed benefited haven’t happened. At least not yet. Looking at the Education Hype Cycle Report produced by Gartner, they identify gamification as “climbing the slope.” Maybe research is starting to catch up to earlier promises.

But that’s the larger take away from the Hype Cycle. Early phases of the Hype Cycle are fueled mostly by techno-optimism and rhetoric promoting the technology. People see a shiny new object or instructional strategy and only see the promise and possibility. Authors and theorists write books that trumpet all sorts of benefits and opportunities. Technology companies set up stands at conferences and create ambassadors to advocate all of the (perceived) benefits.  The hype fuels more adoption.

And then the crash happens. The technology enters the Trough of Disillusionment and early adopters start to question the cost of their efforts. They may question the huge financial investment or the impact on student learning or the lost professional development. The trough is real.

But it’s during this phase that research starts to catch up. The techno-optimism is replaced by techno-pragmatism. An evidence base emerges that informs design and implementation. As more evidence and research emerges, we reach the Plateau of Productivity and can use the instructional practice or technology with efficacy.

As I think about the Hype Cycle, I’m left wondering which phase is the best time for a school to adopt a technology or an innovation. While I want schools to take risks and innovate, I also recognize that many “next big things” have disappeared after falling off of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. If you’ve worked in schools for any significant length of time, you have a story of some initiative that failed. Many of those initiatives failed because they were poorly implemented. Others should have never been considered because of the lack of evidence to support their implementation. Their adoption happened way too early in the Hype Cycle.

So, how do we better navigate the Hype Cycle? One solution is to develop a healthy skepticism of new initiatives that are proposed. I’m not advocating for anyone to avoid change or innovation but we have to be cautious when advocating for widespread adoption of technologies or initiatives whose hype is largely built upon unsubstantiated claims. Rather than just being skeptical, however, it’s also important for us to take small-scale risks and create pilot studies that can help to inform the knowledge base. It’s through our contributions that new technologies and innovations develop an evidence base to help it move beyond the hype.

Educators’ Roles: A Wicked Problem

Each year, the New Media Consortium (NMC) publishes its Horizons Reports that predict key trends, significant challenges and important development in educational technology.  These reports attempt to outline some critical considerations for different learning environment including library, museums, K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. I have a habit of collecting these reports and examining their predictions over the years.  For instance, the 2008 Higher Education Edition predicted that “grassroots video” would have a significant impact on education.  Considering the number of online tutorials that faculty make and the growth in flipped and blended instruction, it’s pretty clear that their prediction was on the mark.

I came across the 2017 Higher Education Edition the other day.  While I tend to check out the educational technology predictions closely, in this edition, I was really interested in the “significant challenges” that they outlined.  The NMC groups these challenges into three categories: solvable, difficult and wicked.  Solvable problems are ones that the NMC says the systems “understand and know how to solve.”  By contrast, difficult challenges are ones that we may understand but for which solutions are more “elusive.”  Wicked challenges are those “that are complex to even define, much less address.”  In the 2017 Higher Education Horizons Report, the NMC identified “Rethinking the Roles of Educators” as a wicked problem.  Here’s their argument.

Educators are increasingly expected to employ a variety of technology-based tools, such as digital learning resources and courseware, and engage in online discussions and collaborative authoring. Further, they are tasked with leveraging active learning methodologies like project and problem-based learning. This shift to student-centered learning requires them to act as guides and facilitators.

While the problem seems pretty simply stated, it’s much more complex for a variety of reasons.  There are social, economic, cultural and political ramifications to this dramatic shift in educators’ roles.  As an individual faculty member at a public university, however, I don’t have much impact on these areas. It’s also hard for me to wrap my head around the complexity and interplay of these dimensions.  Working in professional development on campus, however, I need to consider how to successfully build faculty capacity to prepare them to make this transition successfully. Which is a pretty wicked problem on its own.

In his book Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, Lortie (1975) introduces the concept of apprenticeship of observation, which may be a huge factor that influences the “wickedness” of this problem.  As they navigate their education as students, Lortie argues, budding instructors are actually being apprenticed into the practice of teaching.  They observe how classrooms are used and how their content is taught.  When these students eventually enter they own classrooms as teachers, this apprenticeship informs how they use technology, how they engage students in the learning process and how they use classroom spaces.  Since many of us don’t have models of “student-centered instruction” in our personal learning histories, we can’t really envision educators’ roles in these types of learning environments.  Few of us have personal experiences with active learning as students.   Factor in the minority of faculty members who have direct experience with online, blended and flipped learning environments as students and the problem becomes even more complex.

Readers may be reaching this part of the post and hoping it will end with some solutions to this problem.  But that’s one of the challenges with these “wicked problems.” As we start to unravel them to identify possible solutions, we just end up seeing how complex and interwoven the problem really is.

References:

Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., and Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago.

 

Risk, vulnerability and change

Last week, as I stood on the perilous edge of a metaphorical cliff, I wondered whether I should take the jump.  Should I hit “Publish” and expose my poor teaching evaluations to the world?  Sure, I had written an in-depth reflection and reaction to my fall evaluations and outlined my plan for improvement. But, was I really ready to have the world know that my teaching didn’t cut it?  Moments before publishing that post, I can remember consciously worrying about people’s reactions and decided that I needed to put my thoughts out there. I wanted to hold myself accountable for my evaluations and to make sure that I’d live up to a plan of action for improvement. As I clicked to publish the post, I figured that I’d deal with the criticisms later.

Here’s the surprising part.  I didn’t receive a single criticism. Not one.  Instead, I received emails from former students, texts from colleagues and a phone call from a former professor. While many were reaching out to make sure I was okay, most were contacting me to thank me for putting it out there. They admired me for taking the risk, showing my vulnerability and tackling my emotions so openly.  It was not the reaction I expected.

I also wasn’t expecting the post to be viewed by hundreds of readers or be retweeted on Twitter as much as it was.  In my moment of vulnerability, I took a risk and it resonated with loads of other teacher.  One new faculty member even emailed me to ask if she could meet with me to discuss her Fall teaching evaluations so we could come up with a plan for improvement for her classes.  The reactions were honestly pretty inspiring.

As I’ve been reflecting on last week’s post, I decided to reread a post I wrote on August 2013.  Titled “the birthplace of innovation?” the post examines Dr. Brene Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability and shame.  In her presentation, Dr. Brown says:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

While I definitely felt vulnerable as I wrote and shared my post, I also saw it as a route for improving my teaching and fostering personal change.  While I worried about criticism, I should have kept in mind President Theodore Roosevelt and his moving words from Citizen in a Republic.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Strive valiantly, my friends.  Be willing to enthusiastically put yourself out there and to fail while daring greatly.  I’m sure you’ll be as inspired by the reactions as I was.

Thanks to all.