Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why Teach? Teacher Motivation and ED 2.0

We think about teaching primarily as school teaching. This can make it hard to understand why teachers would want to contribute voluntarily to ED 2.0 projects. But when we broaden our view of teaching we unlock this mystery.

School Teaching and Alienated Labor

A school is a formal organization structured along the traditional hierarchical framework of the firm. Whether public or private, a school involves the coordination of many teachers and staff members in order to get a job done.

Nominally this job is to deliver the curriculum, to cover the materials, to facilitate the achievement of learning goals. But as an organization, the job includes keeping the organization running, preventing conflicts from flaring into violence, protecting against law suits, and many other goals.

The hierarchical ordering of the school structure is needed in order to retain the flow of communications down from higher levels about what is to be done, and up from lower levels that the top-down requirements are being met.

Teachers have some authority to structure their classrooms and plan lessons, but they are constrained, often severely, by decisions made at higher levels. Often these constraints box teachers in; they feel hamstrung to act in knowing, creative and practically effective ways because they are forced to follow miseducative mandates. The best contemporary example is NCLB, which is reducing teaching to test prep. One recent Education Week article notes that 40% of teachers are now "disheartened". Another from Ed Week reports that top-down dictates, robbing them of professional autonomy, affect them even more negatively than poor working conditions or poorly prepared students.

Teaching is thus a prime example of what Karl Marx called "alienated labor". Teachers do their jobs even as their labor furthers ends contrary to their own own. In teaching, they nullify themselves as educators. Why do they do it? They need the money.

Teacher Motivations and ED 2.0

Teachers working in schools may do it mostly because they need the money. But there is more to the story of why teachers teach.

Research shows that past a certain rather low point, more money does not make humans happier, and past another point, more money actually contributes to unhappiness. Teachers and other workers need enough money to live decent, respectable lives, and to feel they are being compensated fairly. Beyond this, money does not drive them, or most of the rest of us, very much.

Four other motivations become dominant as soon as we have established a financial basis for a dignified life, and play important roles even earlier.

1. The first is self-development, the need to continue to build upon our knowledge and skills, to get better at what we do, to actualize our human potentialities. Because the philosopher Aristotle made such a big deal about this, this is sometimes called the Aristotelian Principle.

2. The second is creativity or originality. One of the deepest human pleasures is to create, to see something beautiful or elegant come to life through our own efforts. The great psychologist Ernst Schachtel called the pleasure arising from our spontaneous self-activity "activity affect". Great teachers love to organize their classrooms as elegant spaces for learning and their lessons and units as aesthetic as well as practical achievements. Picasso said that he loved making art so much that he could not conceive of a life for himself that did not consist in making art most hours of every single day. Let's call this the "Picasso Principle".

3. The third is self-assertion or ego. All of us want to matter, want that our lives "make a difference". "Kilroy was here" says it all. The kid carving his initials on a tree says "I exist". This is an expression of the desire for recognition. The artist signing a picture, the author publishing a book, the teacher co-authoring a curriculum guide or textbook, is acting in accord with the "Kilroy Principle".

4. The fourth is the natural human desire to do good and coincidentally, to see oneself as good. There is a strong innate basis for empathy and pro-social behavior. And because humans are self-conscious, because we both are ourselves and see ourselves, are objects to ourselves as well as subjects of our experiences, we cannot fail to also judge ourselves using the same ethical categories we use to judge others. Despite our immense capacities for self-deception, we cannot not know what we know -- when we act against moral principles we apply to others we cannot entirely fail to judge ourselves and undermine our own sense of our moral goodness. Nothing is more harmful to our lives than this undermining of our own self-esteem. As a result, self-consciousness conduces to pro-social motivation. I will call this the Rescher Principle, because the philosopher Nicholas Rescher has explained it so clearly, even though it is found in philosophy since Plato. (See, for example, Rescher's Unselfishness: The Role of the Vicarious Affects in Moral Philosophy and Social Theory. Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press), 1975.)

Teaching and ED 2.0

In the last post I considered the place of teachers and teaching in ED 2.0. The question now is why teachers would contribute to spontaneous voluntary self-organizing projects such as the imagined Wiki-ricullum or the YouTeach Video platform.

The answer is this:

1. The Aristotelian Principle. Such contributions provide pathways alternative to conventional school teaching in which teachers can further develop unalientated knowledge and skills: in subject matter disciplines, in creative pedagogy, and in communications technology;

2. The Picasso Principle. Such contributions provide social, cultural and technological pathways for unalienated creative and elegant works: video courses, novel curricula, creative projects in children's literature, collaborative projects and many more;

3. The Kilroy Principle. Teachers are human. They want to feel they make a difference. Their alienated work in school actually works against the sense that they matter; it nullifies their personal agency, subtracting them from their own classrooms. Their contributions to ED 2.0 projects, like those of the contributors to LINUX code, are concrete proofs of their existence and links to communities of mutual recognition;

4. The Rescher Principle. Most teachers are strongly motivated by the desire to be good and to see themselves as good. Participating in projects which improve the quality and diversity of learning experiences, reducing costs to poor children and poor districts (e.g., open source textbook projects, free video courses), connecting students with those from other social class and ethnic backgrounds, etc., are all opportunities to do good in concrete, visible, ways.

All of these motivations exist to different degrees in different humans, whether or not they work as professional teachers in schools. So we should not expect that every potential teacher-contributor will be motivated to join self-organizing educational communities. And we should also not expect anything approaching an equal contribution from those who join. My postulate is that like wikipedians, many people will want to contribute something to ED 2.0 and some few will devote themselves to it as a fundamental life commitment.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Teachers of ED 2.0

Who will teach the children?

When mass education became entrenched early in the 19th century, "teacher" became an occuptional category. A teacher became someone who worked in an official capacity in a school. Teachers went to special training colleges, earned professional certificates and state licenses, received tenure, and were granted certain privileges and social recgnitions like other professionals. These professionals so came to dominate the world of teaching and learning that teaching without a license became as frowned upon as practicing medicine without a license. Imagine:

What? Your child isn't learning to read in school, and YOU are teaching him yourself? Don't you know how much damage you can do when you don't know what you are doing? Better to leave such serious clinical problems to professionals!

Mass Collaboration and the Erosion of Professional Status

If this sounds silly today (it didn't 20 years ago) it is because Web 2.0 is demonstrating (I almost said "teaching") that these professional categories are accidental; they rely on contingent historical circumstances. These are changing, so professional categories are eroding.

In industrial society tasks previously performed at homes and neighborhood workshops moved to factories. By the 1890s essential women's household productive tasks like making children's clothing and transforming raw agricultural materials into foods were being taken over by national clothing and food manufacturers. Women were recruited to the factory workforces of these industries in large numbers, emptying the home of both productive work activities and adults to bring young people along. Schools became essential for both custodial supervision and the facilitation of learning. The school day and the school year became longer. As districts became consolidated schools became large organizations requiring lots of administrative control. A "real teacher" was a person whose activities were subjected to this control. Despite more than a hundred years of progressive theorizing, schools remain administrative bureaucracies.

Today's society is post-industrial. Firms retain command and control functions, but draw on a global labor pool organized in supply networks. Many workers, dismissed from the factories and clerical staffs of large firms, now work as free lancers and consultants and move in and out of flexible work teams; they have joined what Daniel Pink calls "free agent nation". While many have lost job security, they do have their work lives more under their own control. More can teach their own children or cooperate in homeschool networks or as charter school parent-teachers. They can allocate some time and energy to collaborative educational efforts.

Examples of mass unmanaged collaboration abound

As Don Tapscott notes in Wikinomics, when Goldcorp's geologists were unable to find the remaining gold deposits in an older mining preserve, the firm opened up all of its maps and surveys to the outside public, and invited them to search. Working collaboratively, students, military officers, engineers, teachers, and a diverse group of others identified the most promising areas.

When Proctor and Gamble ran into problems introducing new product lines, they opened the process to outsiders, including their own customers. Working collaboratively they identified new products more successfully than the firm's science, marketing and sales departments.

The two lessons these examples teach are these:

(1) Where previously only "professionals" were empowered to work on solving problems, Web 2.0 networks can now recruit diverse and unpredicable cadres of non-professionals who collectively can contribute even more than teams of professionals can. You do not have to be a "professional" in a field to make a seriously useful contribution to solving its problems.

(2) There are many more intelligent people outside any organization than working within it. While the costs and administrative bottlenecks involved in managing these armies of contributors inside a firm are impossibly high, their talents can be engaged for self-organizing collaborations using Web 2.0 tools. Wikipedia and the Amazon.com platform are great examples of this principle.

Teachers of ED 2.0

We are moving back to the natural idea that a teacher is not the fixed occupant of an organizational role, but anyone who teaches someone something. Lots of people can contribute to that, in diverse ways large and small. These are the teachers of ED 2.0, and Web 2.0 tools can facilitate their efforts..

Some teachers will continue to work within schools on a professional basis. Some young people will continue to need custodial supervision outside of the home. Others adjust well to school routines and seek the social interaction with their age-group peers. But homeschooling is growing rapidly, and charter schools are opening new roles for non-professional teachers, including parents, of course, but also artists and craftspeople among others.

Through wiki platforms modeled on wikipedia and other web 2.0 models, curriculum units and lesson plans will be developed collaboratively by professional educators and non-professional peers. Let's call this the wiki-riculum. Vast armies of unmanaged contributors will propose, develop, aggregate, and continually improve materials designed for teaching. Just as previous encyclopedias provided formal guidelines for contrributors to wikipedia, existing learning materials (familiar to all home-schooling parents) do the same job for the curriculum materials wiki. In addition contributors can propose and develop additional guidelines to facilitate their work.

Through UTube type video platforms, everyone with a desire to teach anything about any topic will be able to upload lessons and demonstrations on an unpredictable range of topics. Others will mashup these up with additional images and text content to improve them. Still others will select and aggregate, creating coherent sustained learning experiences out of the myriad elements available.

Sound implausible? Well, we have UPorn, where amateurs and porn professionals act out their sexual fantasies for their neighbors and the global community of voyeurs. If the social barriers for this sort of thing have evaporated, why is it difficult to imagine UTeach, the video network where non-professional teachers can teach?

Meanwhile, in the schools new kinds of educational professionals will emerge to coordinate the uses of these products and facilitate their use by school-based teachers and home-school parents, and to coach students using these diverse materials in programs of auto-instruction.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What is ED 2.0?

What is ED 2.0?

ED 2.0 is the use of web 2.0 applications in education.

To make this initial definition useful it is necessary to say something about the meaning of "Web 2.0".

Web 2.0

The term "Web 2.0" was coined by Darcy DiNucci in 1999. She noted that "The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens." She added that this interactivity will migrate from the computer screen to mobile devices, especially cell phones.

The term "Web 2.0" gained traction in 2004 when Tim O'Reilly organized a now-famous conference to consider the status and future developments in the new interactive or participatory applications on the Internet. Since that time the term has come into common usage. Web 2.0 has also been called the read/write web, the participatory web, the user-generated content web, and other terms.

At this point is may be easiest to define Web 2.0 in terms of familiar examples. The advantage of this sort of definition is that almost everyone interested in learning about Web 2.0 is completely familiar with most of these examples. The downside is that the definition will tend to limit imagination by making users of the term think about possibilities by reference to those examples and not the underlying concept or technical capabilities.

Web 2.0, thought of in terms of the most familiar examples, is the Web of wikis, with Wikipedia being the most familiar, blogs with comments, eBay and Amazon as platforms for businesses, UTube and Flickr, social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin and Myspace, microblogging networks wuch as Twitter, etc. What is common to all of these Web applications is that users not only download static content they seek, but also upload content: documents, videos and photos, entire business enterprises, and in the process form links, user groups, and networks.

Web 2.0 depends on certain features of software which enable this sort of interactivity. However it is unhelpful to think about Web 2.0 in terms of technical features. It is the social uses, not the technical capabilities, that make Web 2.0 different, and interesting.

Network Effects

O'Reilly has emphasized 'network effects' as the key driver of Web 2.0. What are 'network effects'?

We can think of many social situations as networks, with each unit as a node. There are in any network positive or negative effects to each node from such features of the network as size, or speed, etc.

Let's first consider a negative network effect of size. Thinking of the road network of LA as an example, and the roadway between Santa Monica and City Hall as a piece of the network, imagine the effect of the number of drivers (the number of nodes) on each driver. If there are no other drivers, then the network affords the one driver on the road between Santa Monica and City Hall a frictionless connection. Up to a certain limit, each additional driver does not affect the value of the network. But past a certain size (which is in fact passed every day) each additional driver decreases the value of the road network, adding friction (traffic) and making it more difficult for each driver to get where they want to go. The more additional drivers, the more traffic, the slower the drive, the less value the roadway.

Now for an opposite example, think of the FAX network. The first FAX machine user gets no value at all, because he or she cannot use the machine; there is no one to send a FAX to because no one else has a FAX machine. Up to a certain limit the situation does not improve very much, because the users can only use the machine to FAX documents to a small handful of others. But past a certain limit and the FAX machine becomes useful, as many businesses have FAX. Then it becomes expected for businesses to have FAX machines, and the FAX becomes a highly valuable, then necessary tool. The more users in the FAX network, the more value the network has for every FAX user (node).

Some simple arithmetic shows that positive network effects grow rapidly. If there are only two nodes A and B in a network the number of connections between them = 1. If we add another node C, the number of connections = 3 (A-B, B-C, A-C). If we add one more, D, the number of connections now = 6. Add one more, E, and the connections = 10. The point: the number of connections grows much more rapidly than the number of nodes.

Back to ED 2.0

The task of imagining and building ED 2.0 consists of constructing a platform upon which can be established an indefinite number of teaching-learning networks. In a comprehensive learning materials network, anyone -- teacher, scientists or researcher, homeschool parent, commercial provider, etc., can post useful materials.

Imagine for example a "wiki-riculum" where every conceivable topic might be developed, amplified, tested, assessed, for use by anyone interested in teaching about or learning about that topic.

I take the notion of "every conceivabnle topic" seriously, because the voluntary contributions of users, motivated by the urge for creativity, by sheer vanity, or by social virtue (the desire to contribute to the good) will extend the range of topics far beyond what any administrative organization can create and establish.

Few schools can field a course in Vietnamese literature, for example, because the costs of developing the course and making it available as a for-credit option are too great. But the Vietnamese community, including the many teachers from Vietnam (located in the US, France, Viet Nam and elsewhere) can readily contribute such a course through the gifts economy. As a result so many students of Vietnamese origin can have access to an on-line course in their national literature, perhaps on a very low cost-no-cost basis.

Imagine endless edblogs developing support materials for every topic in every subject matter, with comments and useful links to additional materials, resources, problem sets, assessment tools.

Imagine a Facebook-like application for teachers, breaking through the barriers of teacher isolation, providing support networks, assessments of tools, links to worked out lesson plans and curriculum units, etc.

These are among the ideas that we will be exploring in this Blog.

Please add comments, or communicate directly with me to add your voice to this exploration of ED 2.0