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Stuff and process

March 9th, 2009

Ok, so now I’m buzzing with Ally’s thoughts and Michael and Layla’s thoughts and I’m pondering this connection between 21C learning and technology. Into the mix let’s pour Jane’s thoughts about knowledge and Artichoke’s thinking about core curriculum and what it all means.

Ok, so there’s the STUFF you learn at school—that’s the facts/content. And there’s the PROCESS of the way you learn—that’s the pedagogy, etc.  If we make that separation, then technology is sometimes a STUFF (because it’s a skill base—my daughter “takes” technology) and sometimes a PROCESS (because it’s a method of learning—my son sometimes does maths on the computer).

But now I want to take Ally’s last entry really seriously and think that maybe the thing technology can do for us is help us think differently. That’s what Michael and Layla are pointing out too. And one of the ways I think we need to think really differently is to no longer separate the STUFF from the PROCESS. And maybe technology, because it goes in both of those directions, is quite a useful way to get us to think differently.

This means that it is most helpful to us when we’re not thinking of it as either a stuff or a process but we’re thinking about it for what it can enable—the connection that Layla talks about, the new thinking Ally ponders. If we could use technology—because it’s so new and flashy—to learn that stuff and process are not on different scales but could be the same, we could take that learning into other spaces. We could learn that putting kids in groups to think through something isn’t a PROCESS for their learning but the a big piece of the actual learning itself. We could learn that climate change isn’t just a STUFF, a content for kids to learn about, but a process for thinking differently about the world. If we can reconcile this difficulty about technology, maybe we could approach other key competencies differently and begin ultimately to have a different sense about Shakespeare’s place in the curriculum.

But what about Michael’s worry about the Faustian bargain? I wonder about this all the time. I used to teach in a masters degree programme for practicing teachers called Initiatives in Educational Transformation (fantastic programme, by the way—New Zealand needs something like this). We taught a course about education and technology, and we found that there were really two kinds of relationships our teachers had to technology: they loved it (uncritically) or they feared it (uncritically). It was so hard to have conversations about the Faustian bargains, about how each step forward is its own kind of loss.  I wonder if we need to have some of these conversations not just about technological changes but also about the changes to the 21C idea of education in the first place. Have we paid attention enough to our mourning of the old ways? I’m not sure. It’s all part of the same jumble for me, the same key question:
How does thinking shift the way technological change shifts, the way my growing kids shift, the way the our planet is shifting? How can we support these shifts? Maybe if we collect stories of shifting thinking, we can figure out more about how it happens?

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  1. | #1

    I think your idea about not separating the stuff and the process is really important. This gets away from the binary thinking of emphasising knowledge or emphasisng process. You obviously need some stuff to think with – you can’t think in a vacuum – and similarly it is not enough just to know stuff – you have to be able to use it (to think with it).
    If we see process and stuff as two separate entities they will continue to compete for time and I suspect in times of stress teachers will fall back to whichever focus they are already more comfortable with…and this brings me to another idea in your blog. If teaching in a C21st way requires teachers to think about education in a qualitatively different way, how best can they be supported? I like the metaphor of transformative change in education being like rebuilding a plane in mid air. Teachers have to keep everything going for the students they have in front of them today whilst they try and make changes that require them to really question everything they are currently doing. William Bridges talks about the three phases of transition – the end (letting go of what no longer works), the neutral zone (where the old doesn’t work but the new is still not quite in reach) and the beginning (doing things differently). It’s a somewhat scary thought for me that I might need to let go of something that I’m currently doing without having a clear idea of what I might be replacing it with (and I don’t have to face a class of students each day). Perhaps your idea of collecting stories about previous experiences of shifting thinking might help us identify how this transition can be managed.

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