Blogging Disrupting Class #8: Chapter 5 -- The SCL System
Blogging Disrupting Class #8: Chapter 5 -- The SCL System
The previous post summarizes how the last part of Chapter 4 of Disrupting Class focuses on the classroom of the future and how assessment will be done. Chapter 5 ("The System for Student-Centric Learning") describes how such a system could be disruptively implemented in US public education.
The opening vignette has two nice examples of future innovations which we can hope will become more widespread: one is access to a 'language buddies' (a native language speaker who helps you with learning a foreign language(, while the other is a sort of 'tutor barter' where one student gets chemistry tutoring help in exchange for English tutoring. The narrative then resumes by explaining how computer-based learning (CBL) has yet to move into its second, more disruptive stage which will cause the "flip" and mass adoption (pp.122-124). Basically, current CBL is not yet modularly designed, so it's still expensive to build; but moving into the second stage requires not just a disruptive product, but also embedding that product into a "disruptive commercial system." For education, this means having to change the "entire system for creating education materials, making the decisions about which materials to adopt, and delivering the content to students" (p.125). The authors briefly describe several examples of how this happened in the commercial sector, then explain the three types of business models 9p.126-127): solution shops (e.g., most special education), value chains (e.g., textbook production/distribution), and facilitated user networks (examples forthcoming).
The next section describes public education's present "commercial system" as primarily a "value-chain business." If you think that conceiving of public education as a business oversimplifies things, particularly as it is conceived in Figure 1 (p.128), join the club! This of course raises the question of how well their incomplete model will work if it ignores significant components of the actual education system. To their credit, it does appear that their model of education maintains fidelity to their model and is internally consistent. There are also a few good insights along the way, for instance why textbook publishers won't ever change the industry (p.130), or why non-standardized textbooks will never be adopted in the current system (p.131), or why it's so hard to innovate with curriculum in the current system (p.133). Still, the steps of this commercial model (pp.128-133) repeat the misassumptions introduced in the previous chapter -- treating students as mere inputs with fixed intelligence types and preferred learning styles (p.129), and reductively equating "dominant teaching method" with intelligence types (p.131 -- are you getting as tired of intelligence types yet as I am?).
Disrupting Class then turns to describing the process of disruption toward student-centric learning (p.134-141). The first paragraph offers a welcome development: "platforms that facilitate the creation of user-generated content" (yay!), a subject of special interest to me. They envision students, teachers, and parents to be using such products to create and assemble tools which will help students learn. One question which immediately comes to mind is whether most parents are ready to take back this much active responsibility for their children's learning, but let's let that one go for now.
User-developed online tutoring tools distributed through user networks are the key products in this second wave of disruption (pp.136-137). The authors continue their content-centric perspective on how such products will look: "people will assemble [tutorial modules] into entire courses whose approach is truly student-centric --
custom-configured to each different type of learner" (P.136). Curiously, they make no mention of reusable learning objects in this context, and so they do not address the question of why this doesn't happen so much with current content. (Hint: assembly required.) On the other hand, one can see parallels with what is currently happening with the Open Education Resources movement -- I'm not sure yet whether that helps or hurts the authors' argument. I'm pretty sure that equating modularity with content modularity (p.137) does hurt their argument, though: are individal learning problems always content-based? (No.)
The authors also fall into the now-common trap of confusing the learning potential of social networking tools with their educational potential: "...lots of people can create their own animations. Check them out on YouTube. Second Life is very popular online..." No kidding?! I've learned lots of interesting things from YouTube. (Second Life is a different story in my case.) How much of what's there can be related to education? Not so much -- and the key overlooked question here is, what will cause this to change? What will move people to create content for educational purposes vs. learning purposes? What will move the obstacles that enable this to change? Lower costs, greater customizability, a looming teacher shortage, better match with intelligence types? Pardon the skepticism, but all I see is a field of dreams so far,
especially the part about people posting content based on intelligence types (p.138). (Don't the authors know any other relevant educational theory?)
OK, the next section on user-generated content makes me feel much better. Although I didn't think all that much about Dan's story (pp.139-141), the general point about learning by teaching is useful, and made me realize that I'd fallen into the same trap with my focus on student-generated content (SGC) : perhaps I should broaden that area of inquiry to a focus on learner-generated learning, of which SGC is a subset.
The end of this chapter focuses on lessons from other industries with regard to disrupting regulated markets. The key: disruption can prosper "in a completely independent commercial system outside the reach of regulators" (p.141). In the case of public education, this will happen when user networks (there's the example I promised) of students, parents, and teachers "circumvent the existing value chain and instead market their products directly to each other" (p.142). This in turn will create opportunities for businesses to support this effort by creating a useful technological platform for nonprofessionals to create student-centric learning tools, and by building and facilitating user networks (p.143 -- the authors refer to this in the singular, but goodness knows why they'd expect one singular network). Somehow, teacher participation in this will diminish union opposition to the resulting transition; computer-based online courses will gradually replace textbooks (but is it the delivery medium that is the key variable?), and student-centric learning will become mainstream (p.143).
Or at least that's the plan (PS: don't tell the regulators...;-)