The Condition of “Open”

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“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” ~Seymour Papert, (The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap, p45)

Right now, think about the typical classroom in whatever school that is a part of your life. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a superintendent, take an inventory right now of what “conditions” exist for kids in that room. Make a list. What systems or structures or roles or dispositions are in play when it comes to a student’s ability to learn?

Now look at the list. Does it support “invention?” Do those conditions create an environment where kids learn deeply, as in using that “learning” and wondering more about it long after the school day has ended? As in solving or “inventing” solutions to real problems that exist in the real world?

Or do they support “schooling” in the sense that we’ve traditionally known it?

Papert, who unfortunately passed away last year, argued for conditions that expanded kids’ agency to learn. And I’ve been really moved by that question of conditions for a number of years now. To me, it’s foundational. Those classroom conditions tell powerful stories about what the teachers in them and the schools around them believe about what learning is and how it happens.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of classrooms begin to change in terms of the conditions that are present. There is a move toward passion and relevance and making. It’s not a wave yet, but it is a ripple that’s growing. My sense is that current conditions in the world writ large will force that ripple to grow as more and more in education begin to understand the changes required by the profound shifts in technology, the environment, globalization, and more that we’re living through right now.

Few classrooms are “learning out loud,” however, a phrase that connotes the idea that openness and transparency are now essential conditions for learning in school. And there’s no one better than David Wiley to drive my thinking on that, and to make the compelling case for sharing our work online in the context of Papert’s “invention” idea:

As I’ve reflected more on the recent writing on open pedagogy, it’s led me to trace some of it’s intellectual heritage to constructionism. And while I realize that I’m significantly under-characterizing constructionism by saying so, and I apologize in advance for those of you who are more familiar with the work, if you’re not familiar with constructionism you might think of it as “learning by making.” When learners work to create artifacts that have real value in the real world, awesome things happen – and that awesomeness has nothing to do with open. But you can add the awesomeness of open to the awesomeness of learning by making to get a multiplier effect. Here’s specifically how I’m thinking about it (today):

Learning by making… Society gets to build on…
in the classroom. nothing.
in public (e.g., the artifact is posted on the web). the ideas expressed in the artifact.
in the open (e.g., the artifact is posted on the web under an open license). the ideas expressed in the artifact as well as the artifact itself.

I know that many in education are not comfortable with the “Society gets to build on…” part when it comes to student work, especially in K-12. But this now a modern condition for learning. We consume, we create, we share, and we learn as others read, think, add their context to our ideas and artifacts. And, importantly, we do the same for them. Today, given our connectedness, this condition of openness and sharing really isn’t an option. And when we allow our work to be remixed and repurposed openly, when we create it an then give it to the world to use without restriction, learning multiplies.

Just like in real life, there’s no requirement here to share everything we do in classrooms openly. For instance, we’re getting ready to offer an online experience for leadership that we’ll be asking participants to pay for. That’s part of our livelihood. But in school, “giving it away” is one way of nurturing even more invention. And as David says, it leads to new ways of thinking:

And that brings me back to the basic logic underlying my interest in and excitement about open pedagogy:
1. We learn by the things we do.
2. The permissions granted by open licenses make it practical and legal for us to do new things.
3. The ability to do new things will likely lead to new kinds of learning.

So, check your list. Is “open” one of the conditions you thought of? And if not, how might you add that amplifier of invention to the classrooms you care about?

Image credit: Alan Levine

Also published on Medium.

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