Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Change and Predictability

It's funny, within minutes of publishing my last post, a friend commented:
A little heavy handed on the change business, huh? And predictability? Don't kids need more rather than less than that in their lives? Especially in school?

As to the former: I think (for once) I'm actually not being heavy handed concerning my position on 'change'. The reason I like the WoW comparison is that it gives us the example of change coming in while the game is already on top. In other words, the real 'cataclysm' going on here is that they've got 11 million users who love the game as-is and now they are in effect destroying the very fabric of the world those people love. That takes guts. But by-and-large as I watched the chats play out in the backchannels of Azeroth's cities over the weekend, most folks are thrilled by what's coming; it was a total love-fest for this move.

We as educators have to understand that while we may at times be wary of change, our constituencies -- both students and parents -- are ready for it. For example, I hear over and over the question of how parents will respond to social media in the classroom. And I always respond that after a full year of using blogs, Twitter, and a variety of Web 2.0 tools, I haven't received a single parent complaint. And in fact I have received a handful of thank-yous from parents who want their kids to be using this stuff in an authentic way.

As for 'predictability', I do understand the notion that classrooms need to be a place of stability and safety for students; but I don't think that challenging predictability in any way undermines that. In my own experience, I remember changing the entire format of a term-paper assignment on the spot in front of a class of Juniors because an idea one of them had was much better than the idea I'd worked up over the course of a few days. In another case, I saw a veteran teacher suddenly up and change his course requirements in the middle of a course -- to the benefit in learning of all of the students (you should've seen the projects they accomplished after the upheaval!). I know another teacher who scrubs predictability out of his classroom environment by carrying on twice-a-week lotteries for seating arrangements. Again, this doesn't make the class less stable, rather it fosters more interaction between kids who otherwise wouldn't. And lastly, I caught a teacher over the summer learning everything he could about Twitter after reading about it in TIME; he ended last June totally bummed out on ed tech, but coming back into it this fall post-Twitter, he's pumped and he's starting by having all of his students Tweet.

So I'd say that you've got to be open to spontaneity. That doesn't mean you can just wing it; after all, as any jazz musician will tell you, you've got to bring your A-game to any improvised set. Improvisation is an artform. It needs to be practiced and honed; the artist needs to learn from mistakes and assumptions. But, in the hands of a serious practitioner, improvisation -- and the disruption of predictability -- is a nuanced method of expressing understanding, compassion, and new forms of accessibility.

And I'd argue that these are the things kids need more of in school.

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