Inciting disruption

I heard from a colleague yesterday who’s coordinating business sponsors, other digital learning specialists, and in-house tech coordinators to “disrupt” a  school district’s practices by using digital tools.

“Disrupt” is the operative term; I’m not exactly sure what this entails in her situation. What’s interesting to me is her comment that Disrupting Class [1. Christensen, C., Horn, M., Johnson, C. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw Hill.] had a major impact on the district’s decisions to move ahead.

I’ve encountered the book and its ideas everywhere. Co-author Michael Horn on a recent podcast, a vcast of Gardner Campbell on authentic disruption, Scott McLeod’s  presentation “Current leadership models are inadequate for disruptive innovations.”

Many of the ideas about web-inspired transformations in educational practice are not originating in the word of academic research on literacy, school reform, standards, best practice, etc. They’re coming straight out of the business world, where action and results are everything.

For example, Seth Godin may be an MBA marketing expert and business innovator, but he’s also an instigator.  His latest book, Tribes “is about the most powerful form of marketing–leadership–and how anyone can now become a leader, creating movements that matter. ” [my italics]

On his website, business consultant and technical writer Clay Shirky says of his book, “Here Comes Everybody is about what happens when people are given the tools to do things together, without needing traditional organizational structures.”

Even many of the ed tech specialists/educators I’m interested in advocate connecting. Doing. (These folks include Will Richardson, Bud Hunt, Henry Jenkins, George Siemens, Alec CourosScott McLeod, and many, many  others.)

I’m reminded of the New York Lottery’s slogan, “You gotta be in it to win it.”  Translate that to the arena of technology in education:  you’ve gotta explore social networks, blogging, microblogging, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, etc. You’ve gotta put some of it in your life so you can see for yourself what becomes possible.

I’ve been online for a long time now. What I’ve noticed is that I see the world a little differently. It’s smaller, for one. Foreign countries don’t feel so inaccessible, for example, not when Twitter buddies are based in Australia, London, Germany, Canada, (Texas). The people don’t feel different from me, especially when they have some of the same worries about schools or policies that I hear daily.

Over time, I’ve also come to see myself differently. As I’ve found people and solutions and ideas, I’ve come to have a sense of myself as being more capable, more creative, more effective. It’s not that I began to think out of the box, it’s that there no longer was a box.

These days, internet tools make it possible for teachers to partner with another teacher across the country and have their students share writing. They can work with a school in a different country on a project that will make a difference to a community. They can bring the world into the classroom through video, streaming news and arts programs– the list is endless.

I think teachers who have access to and use technology will start to notice that their conceptions of public schooling feel tight.

As the students start to blur the lines between in-school and out-of-school lives, I think teachers will start to ask questions about other kinds of boundaries: “Wait– what is the line between Social Studies and English? Where does one start and the other leave off?” or “What do you mean, we have to take a month to do test prep– in workbooks? We’re doing real work here!”

I want teachers to be the instigators of real change in our schools. They may be the only ones who can. Why? A million reasons. Administrators have too much invested in the existing structures. Ideas about what learning is are evolving but that information is slow to spread (I hear it in parental demands for grammar worksheets– a practice that we know doesn’t work.) Beliefs about the purpose of education are tangled in politics and taxes. And on and on.

In a nutshell, not much in the field of education has ever willingly changed. I hope my friend has a mighty wide seat belt for her upcoming ride.

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