By Karl Fisch

In a recent discussion in the ADVIS Cohort Ning, Will Richardson posed a question about public perception:

So I’m wondering, if we believe that putting ubiquitous access into each student’s hands is the best way to teach that student to be prepared for a technology filled world, (and I realize that’s not a given for everyone) how do we best begin to make this case more compellingly to our constituents so that we have their support when we make forward thinking changes like the Calgary board did? Do we just ignore them and forge ahead? Do we “teach” them? If you were charged with changing public perception of technology and social networks in your community, what would you do?

An interesting discussion followed involving many different participants. What I find especially interesting in this discussion (as in many discussions in the PLP Nings) is how individual participant’s responses evolve and morph throughout the discussion thread. Let’s take a look at Jon Freer’s (from Solebury School) responses throughout this thread.

Jon’s initial response early in the discussion included this:

As I embrace this new world in my classroom, I have to say that I have been worried about the feedback I may get from parents. I still have a very hard time explaining these ideas to my colleagues (and have taken some hard hits because of it), so relating the value to parents or the public at large seems daunting.

. . . So how do you educate people who question the value of the internet itself? Tough question.

After several responses from other folks, Jon came back with:

Over the past few months I have been pushing to get up to speed on these issues (something I am not sure is actually possible) and have just started reading Here Comes Everybody. As I read it (I am just a few chapters in), I can’t help but think of the link between Shirky’s stories and education. The tone of the stories seem to hit me in two ways: 1) the people that were/are in the fields affected by the ‘information revolution’, like music stores and newspapers, didn’t really see the huge shift coming and if they did, they saw it, incorrectly, as something that would add to what they do, not replace what they do. 2) the real shifts to technology/social media based revolutions happen because masses of people want it to happen, not because an individual, group of individuals or company wanted it to happen. Music sales changed because the consumer wanted it even if record companies didn’t.

. . . If we can say that this same type of shift will happen in education (that is a big if in my mind, but worth pursuing a bit), the ‘product’ will need to be seen by the public at large to get them excited about it. That is the hard part. The product in this case seems to be well-educated students whose experience in 21st education settings has led them to great colleges (also 21st century style) and successful careers (or perhaps it is enough to say it led to great success in life). As traditional students and parents see this type of success and feel a little left behind, they will seek out that same experience. From there, making huge assumptions so far, there will be a snowball effect. If this shift is worthwhile (and I believe it is more every day) and it leads to increasing numbers of success stories, nothing can actually stop the change.

In my (slowly opening) mind, that means that I (we?) need to press on and realize that there will be near constant pushback and backlash. In those cases, I will do my best to help those folks see the value I see and keep pressing on regardless of their final opinions. Mind you, I am obviously still learning and will need to continue to work towards creating educational experiences that work for my students. But, happily, I seem to be headed that direction even as I type this.

After some more back and forth, Jon’s closing thoughts in this thread were:

I am coming around to the “not if, but when” way of thinking. Your [Will’s] recent tweet regarding your former colleague’s blog adds a question to my post: Can the students be the group that demands change and fuels the shift or must it be the parents? Interesting question, especially since it is the students that have the most at stake.

The discussion-based, grappling-with-big-questions, participant-driven nature of PLP lends itself wonderfully to the read-think-write-reflect-repeat cycle that is so important to personal professional development. No two participant’s needs are the same, and no two-participants experiences in PLP are the same either. While Jon’s thinking has evolved throughout this discussion thread (and throughout the year-long PLP experience), what’s even better is that the rest of us in the cohort can learn from Jon’s thinking in order to further our own thinking. We all have different backgrounds, different beliefs, and different teaching and learning situations, but we all have a common belief in learning together and working collaboratively to best meet the needs of our students. That’s Powerful Learning Practice.

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Karl Fisch

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