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.

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