So the whole conversation that has developed over the last two days has been another one of those amazing, intellectually stimulating back and forths that I feel extremely privileged to be involved in. Let me just say at the outset that the number of quality, thoughtful comments that have been coming to this blog of late has just blown me away, and I thank all of you for being willing to participate. I can only hope that those contributing or reading are getting as much if not more than I. There is another entire post forming slowly that connects this to the whole Classroom 2.0 idea and some other stuff that’s evolving out of it…but that’s for another day.

Without beating a dead horse, this latest conversation has got me thinking, on a number of levels. First, on how interesting it is to see the nuanced interpretation of what I originally was writing about. Second, on how my own thinking keeps going back and forth as I read through the comments, pushed by people who I respect and admire greatly who have vastly different viewpoints. But ultimately, on how certain snippets, certain phrases push me to bigger insights or questions. I find that whole process incredibly interesting.

So here’s what got me to this post. Liz Lawley, who was one of the people who really helped me understand the pedagogies of these social tools very early on in my reading of blogs, left a couple of pretty challenging comments, which pushed me to think. In the second, she wrote:

Will, debates like this are absolutely a good example of a back-and-forth collaborative learning process. But expecting that people will systematically (a) seek out and (b) find examples of every important theme and its associated points of view is–I think–naive.

The real value of a formal educational process is that all too often “we don’t know what we don’t know”–and so without a systematic structured approach to a complex topic we run the very real risk of not seeing the big picture, and falling into the trap of generalizing from our anecdotal experience.

I hear that, but here are the questions that provokes for me…and they are sincere, not simply meant to start more discussion.

  • How much of people’s inability to systematically “seek out and find examples of every important theme and its associated points of view” is because we simply don’t teach them to do that in a systemic way from very young ages?
  • How much of that is because we are so focused on content and not learning, because the system that’s still in place hasn’t shifted at all to keep pace with the fact that we can connect to information and knowledge and teachers on so many new and profound levels?
  • Can we systematically teach students to “see the big picture” in ways that will allow them to construct their own process that might actually come close to replicating that formal educational process?
  • Or do those types of potentials only come at a later age or from experiences that cannot be replicated in a K-12 system?

Those may be naive, I don’t know. But what I’m struggling with is how do we re-envision what we do in our classrooms to prepare our students to leverage the potential of the connections now available to (most of) them, connections that have not been available in the past.

And while I know this is a bit of a different topic from the above, I’m not saying that physical space, high-level coursework isn’t going to remain important and in fact relevant for some pursuits. But I’m not convinced that stringing courses together to earn a degree has to remain as the only way to achieve “expertise,” which in an of itself is open to all sorts of different interpretations.

(Photo “Inspiring the Class” by Brian U.)

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