The Changing Face of Education?

I just returned from the invigorating and inspiring annual International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) conference, where this year’s focus included “blended”* along with “online” learning.  iNACOL Executive Director Susan Patrick spoke almost wonderingly at the explosion of the organization, from seventeen people who met together ten years ago to the more than twenty three hundred who gathered to share, compare, listen to and learn from each other.

Just a few years ago authors Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn predicted online learning would become the disruptive force that would change the face of education (Disrupting Class, 2008). Scott Benson, Program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that the Foundation’s Small Schools initiative attempted an education reform that wasn’t sustained once the funding went away. By contrast, he noted the blended and online learning demand is growing whether there is grant support funding or not. (To be fair, K12 online programs began with grant-funded programs like Virtual High School, now the VHS Collaborative, which began in 1996.) Still, his point is well taken: demand is driving this education initiative, and educators are doing their best to keep up, and the iNACOL conference is finely tuned to assist.

Sessions address key elements of this emerging educational context, including personalization, competency-based learning, policy drivers and barriers, funding possibilities, and emerging technologies. Presenters are practitioners, product developers, entrepreneurs, policy lobbyists, experts, and learners. Conversations are the norm, including “campfire” style “Meet the Expert” sessions. I confess I was most interested in discovering kindred spirits actively pursuing practices aligned with QED’s Theory of Change for Transformational Learning, and am happy to report I found several, such as the folks at Educurious, Jobs for the Future, and  Boston Day and Evening Academy, all of whom are helping ensure that this latest “redesign” is not simply more of the same with a different name and face (some of you  may remember filmstrips-on-video…)

At our session on Personalizing for Proficiency: Pedagogy and Practices for Student Centered Learning, Elizabeth Cardine and I highlighted QED’s free (everybody’s favorite word, alternatively known as “OER” – open education resources) Learner Sketch Tool,  an online tool designed to provide insight and information for learners and educators to improve learning outcomes. We also unveiled the beta version QED’s newest tool, the Transformational Change Alignment Analysis. (We’d love to hear your feedback!)

I particularly appreciated the spirit of commitment and collaboration that permeated the conference, reminding me of Fenway High School’s motto: Work Hard. Be Yourself. Do the Right Thing. After all, if we aren’t here to do the right thing by ALL – each and every – learner, those learners will take their engagement elsewhere. Guaranteed.

If you missed this year’s conference, check out the upcoming webinars, join in this growing international conversation about the future of learning, and mark your calendar now for the 2014 Symposium. Your voice as much as any other will help shape next steps for learners and learning!

* With a proliferation of competing terminology cluttering up the conversations, iNACOL’s latest publication, Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency Education by Susan Patrick, Kathryn Kennedy and Allison Powell arrived just in time.

Freedom and Choice

In a recent conversation with a friend who immigrated from Nigeria, we were talking about why he had pulled his two sons out of an after school program. “They were being taught freedoms in a way that goes against their family’s beliefs. The meaning of freedom is you obey the law. If you obey the law, you are free. If you don’t, you are not.”

My friend’s statement caught my attention. It wasn’t that I actually disagreed with what he was saying, but rather that I hadn’t thought of freedom in quite those terms before. I wondered about the relationship between our different upbringings and our interpretations of the word “law”. Did he include institutional “rules” under the heading of “law”? I realized, having grown up in New England, I’d come to associate freedom, particularly American freedom, to some degree with Henry David Thoreau’s notion of “civil disobedience” and a responsibility to disagree, albeit respectfully, with rules and even laws that were in violation of my moral beliefs.

Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar explores the complexities of choice, from how the culture we grow up in shapes our perceptions of and reactions to choice to the intricate relationships between choice and freedom, in her newly published book The Art of Choosing sildenafil citrate 100mg. Drawing upon Erich Fromm’s distinction of the two complementary parts of freedom, “freedom from” and “freedom to,” Iyengar asserts “True choice requires that a person have the ability to choose an option and not be prevented from choosing it by any external force, meaning that a system tending too far toward either extreme will limit people’s opportunities.”

Acknowledging the power of “the American Dream” in both shaping the ideals of the United States and serving as “the foundation for everyone’s life story,” Iyengar encourages readers to “acknowledge its power [so] we can also begin to understand why other nations and cultures with other dreams have very different ideas about choice, opportunity, and freedom.” Iyengar calls for moving to “whatever comes after tolerance,” stating “We cannot live solely by our own stories or assume that the stories we live by are the only ones that exist.”

In her TED talk about the danger of a single story, Chimamanda Adichie warns against allowing a single story to define another person, group of people, or country. Recounting how story has shaped her understandings of others as well as their understandings of her, Adichie remarks on “…how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” “Show a people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that’s what they become.” For instance, Adichie’s American college roommate was shocked to hear Adichie’s excellent English, and confused when told that English is the official language of Nigeria.

“It’s impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power,” stresses Adichie. “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

In fact, the implications of the single story perspective can be profound, as has been the case for my Nigerian friend’s sons. Despite coming from a country whose official language is English, their high school placed them in the English Language Learners track of classes. And that, my friend recently learned, means his sons will not graduate from high school college ready. Certainly for these two young men, as for many others, freedom from and freedom to are directly connected.



Written by Lucas Braley

Monday, 18 October 2010 19:08

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain


Too many times, it seemed, that teachers rolled their eyes. I had noticed that something was off about the student-teacher dynamic in my traditional Junior-Senior High School when a failing student was a chore for the teacher: Not because the teacher had to try and help him do better but because the teacher had to suffer through having this kid in his class. Also, when the limit of a student government’s authority is to organize and fund raise for dances, it cannot be said that the school’s administration is by the students and for the students.

These were some of the reasons I had for leaving my old school and applying to the public school of choice, Monadnock Community Connections. Unfortunately, I cannot claim to have been drawn in by the numerous admirable qualities of the program. At this point in my education, I was rather more concerned with escaping the jagged jaws of academic apathy than finding the ideal education for me. Sometimes the best things in life show themselves to us when we least expect them.

I don’t know what kind of person I would be today if I hadn’t made the choice to come to this school. I certainly wouldn’t have become a published reporter. I probably wouldn’t even be working on my novel. Though important, these aren’t the qualities that I am most proud of developing through Monadnock Community Connections. There was something that I got out of my personalized education that extends above and beyond what anyone expected from me: Hope.

Finding happiness in education is an idea as ancient as the Greeks, but very few people really like to talk about faith in public education. Whether it is the separation of Church and State or the lack of empiricism, it is a touchy subject that either gets uncomfortably pushed out of sight, or if not, the subject of heated debate. Either way, a curriculum established by a public school administration cannot hold religious bias. Only a curriculum crafted by the student would work, but who’s ever heard of such a thing?

When I came to MC2 (Monadnock Community Connections), I was a miserable teen fresh from his first year in High School. I had given up on hope and despaired of the fate of mankind. All I could see was the avariciousness and the loathing that I perceived everywhere. I had no interest in the beauty of discovery, nor did I have any aspirations or sense of purpose.

I believe that life is a story. Mine, like many before me, is one that begins with a fall from Grace. Telling that part of my story is unnecessary for the story I am going to tell you, but it is by no means unimportant. This story is one that begins at the climax and concludes far before the back cover closes. This story is the one about how I found hope, how I learned to love and how I found my love of learning.


Written by Lucas Braley

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 18:47

“In the Beginning there was nothing.” –Genesis 1:1


The Wilderness Orientation Trek (or WOT) is a mandatory prerequisite for those accepted to MC2. It begins with a few days of hiking with 60 pound bags for a total of 19 miles in 3½ days. After that, the group canoes down the Connecticut River for 72 miles in another 3½ days. Then the students wrap it up with a full day’s community service at a local farm and then finish with a one-mile sprint into their parent’s arms at the end of the journey.

Underneath this superficial description of the 8 day journey is a much deeper psychological element that complicates matters: You are going on this journey with 3-6 complete strangers under the expectation that you are supposed to get to know them during the course of this journey.

My WOT was with two guys, Justin and Taren; and two girls, Raven and Lil. My first impressions were: Justin and Taren are rednecks, Raven is a typical insecure teenage girl and Lil is nice. You know the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover?” Well, as it turns out, you shouldn’t judge it by the blurb on the inside either. Apparently the only way to read a book is from page one.

That’s the whole point of the WOT. It forces each of the kids to start on page one with each other. Spending this strenuous week in the woods together isolated from the outside world forced each of us to learn one another’s stories.

The first section of the trip was challenging for some more than others. For me, it was a great physical challenge, but the only emotion I was feeling was anger that I had ever decided to come on this trip. At the end of the hiking portion of the WOT, I was weary and wanted nothing more than to go home, shower and rest.

When we got to canoeing, tensions were high and the newly established friendships were shallow and fragile. The hiking was just difficult enough to give the false impression that the hardest part of the WOT was over. Though it sounded like a spring breeze when compared to hiking, canoeing was actually much harder. Sitting in the same position all day with no back support can be excruciating long before you reach your destination, and other challenges (such as blisters and extreme fatigue) were inevitable. Pain was an immovable obstacle to overcome.

In the middle of the trip, we stopped at a garden called <a href="http://64pathlif.simplweb viagra 100mg” target=”_blank”>The Path of Life. The garden was a pathway that symbolized the beauty of life and presented it in life’s stages. It was such a beautiful experience that the hour we all spent in that wonderful place was completely silent. For the first time in that week of sweat and blood, we found peace.

While at the garden, something miraculous happened. The Path of Life affected my soul with an awareness that I had hitherto been oblivious of. The mind that had created this masterpiece had been inspired, and I stood in awe of the product of His masterpiece. God had spoken to me for the first time that night, and though I did not recognize His voice, I loved it all the same. I think it was this experience that opened my mind to the possibility that I might not understand the way the universe works. This would be a crucial revelation for my studies at Monadnock Community Connections School.