Is It Really A Disruption?

I finished Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns a couple days ago and have been trying to put my reactions into some sort of order since.  I’m not sure I have done that yet, but comments from a few folks in my aggregator have helped a bit.  Will Richardson reports a conversation with Andy Ross, VP of the Florida Virtual High School:  “Andy said that their research shows that those kids do better on the standardized assessments than kids in physical schools, primarily because of the deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery.”

I couldn’t help but think of Christensen who argues pretty persuasively for online learning as a disruptive technology and uses the virtual high school as an example.  But it’s still school, isn’t it?  Sure, the students don’t meet face to face with a teacher but is meeting with that teacher online to learn content in order to pass a test really that much of an innovation?  In particular, I think it’s the phrase “programmed delivery” that makes me a little queasy here.  In the comments to Will’s post, Sylvia Martinez makes the point that drove it home for me: “This future of school sounds a lot like what we do now, just delivered in different ways.”

Christensen’s vision is a bit different as he imagines technology being used to customize the delivery in a way that makes sense to individual students.  But his vision of school in 2033 doesn’t seem all that different to me.  The bell still rings, students still assemble in classes, and there are lots of unanswered questions:  Are the kids still taking high-stakes assessments that drive the curriculum?  Are they still earning Carnegie units?  Are schools still funded by seat time? In other words, is it still about content rather than pedagogy or collaboration?

Tim Stahmer also drives the point home when he suggests that what passes for disruption still operates within an organizational paradigm that puts really limits on learning as he thinks about the candidates for education secretary:

Most are still committed to the traditional concept of “school”, one in which the teacher dispenses information to students assembled in groups for a fixed period of time each day for a fixed number of days each year and all of whom have a goal of moving on to a traditional college.

And, then there’s Dean Shareski who offers his own take on Will’s post by discussing the importance that face-to-face learning plays in his class: “While I can’t say to any more certainty what the future of school will completely look like, I do believe that the opportunity for students to learn from each and others will be more than just rhetoric which it pretty much is now.”  That was the one piece of Christensen’s vision that I appreciated without reservation: students helping each other learn. And while technology can support that interaction, it won’t be really useful until we develop a culture of collaboration.

3 thoughts on “Is It Really A Disruption?

  1. Karen,
    It’s you are right to look at all these critical comments. I think there is a lot of wishful thinking about “schools of the future”. Before they are well defined, people put their hopes and dreams into the empty places and magically morph them into their own vision.

    As they say, the devil is in the details.

  2. Hi — Thanks for your post. Agree with your point. If the disruption comes and it still looks like today’s schools, we won’t have achieved much. I don’t think we hit the point enough in the book, but I’ve made a point of saying this on the trail quite a bit. If we use the old metrics and regulations to judge the disruption, it’s not clear we’ll move the needle forward at all in a way we’d really like to.

    So, to answer your questions on these points:
    “Are the kids still taking high-stakes assessments that drive the curriculum? Are they still earning Carnegie units? Are schools still funded by seat time? In other words, is it still about content rather than pedagogy or collaboration?”

    I hope the answer to all three is no and that we move to a system that worries about mastery, for example. We’re pretty clear in the book about the disruption of assessment, just to give one concrete example that is in the book.

  3. Thanks, Michael, for the clarification. I’m still digesting the book but I did feel like you were in the same boat I am…trying to grapple with what the period of transition will look like as we move (hopefully) from the high stakes testing environment to a more student (and teacher) friendly learning environment.

    I haven’t had a chance to see you on the trail but am hoping to attend your session in Second Life next week:

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