Global Learning Ecologies

“Imagining how events could be otherwise than they are is a hallmark freedom and power of human beings” D. Bob Gowin (1988)

“a little girl came to the teacher after class and said to the teacher, “What did I learn today?” And the teacher said, “That’s a funny question. Why do you ask me that?” The little girl said, “When I get home, Daddy will ask me, ‘What did you learn today?’ and I never know what to say.” Seymore Papert: The Future of the School

First Words

The hierarchical, managerial, and corporate controlled curricular structures of the “school” are not adequate to meet the challenges faced by the worlds young people in the twenty-first century. Further, the one hundred year absence of systemic change in education provides an environment that is ripe for deep change. In 2010 global education systems still lack meaningful consensus on educational change. Though mainstream acknowledgment is beginning to solidify around the need for computers in learning to address the “21st century skills” (Hayes Jacobs ed. (2010); Bonk (2009) Davidson and Goldberg, (2009) the system of “schooling” is still static. The bulk of school and curricular policy remains dangerously static (Apple, 2010, Darling Hammond, 2010) and rooted in what Apple, Au, and Gandin (2009, p.3) have called “the ideological and institutional processes and forms that reproduce oppressive conditions”. The realization that educational systems are harmfully unresponsive to needed change raises in importance when considering that our world systems are in decline and globalization operates without regard for much of the worlds cultures (Apple, ed. 2010).

Our interdependent world calls for a deliberative, culturally conscious, and collaborative generation. With this in mind the future role of education as a change agent has never been more important. In the following posts I will propose a new learning ecology that redefines rather than refines educational research, design and praxis. My thoughts are grounded in the seminal work of critical educators (James Beane, 1995,1997; Michael Apple, 1990,1996, 2009, 2010, Boulding,1988), Network Learning and Connectivist thinkers, designers, and practitioners (Roberto Greco  George Siemens, Steven Downes, Alec Curousa, Martin Weller, Graham Atwell, Leigh Blackwell et al), Learning Scientists ( Mitra, Sawyer, Krajcik and Blumenfeld, Fishman Davis, (2006), and visionary leaders in many different fields, spaces and times (Illich (1971); Mitra; Jacobs; Hine; Brazee; Maxmin; Alfred (2009).

The time for a deep change in education has come. As the world realizes ecological overshoot (Catton Jr., 1980; McKibben 2006, 2010), systemic global social crisis (UN millennium Development Goals, 2010; ICISS, 2001), and the exponential growth in global connectivity, education can and must help catalyze a new global civic culture through the radical restructuring of how we provide learning to our world.

A reflection.

As we consider the slight arc of change in global education over the last one hundred years the fact that the world is facing an uncertain future is not surprising. Similarly when we utilize our social imagination, it is not surprising that we ideate about myriad new configurations, wishes and hopes for education: “if only we could…., wouldn’t it be wonderful if….,we need to change….”. The change we seek might ensure that those facing uncertain futures might do so with the tools necessary for the systemic change needed. I will advance that what we need is a deep and systemic change in education to promote learning that bypasses the traditional structures of the status quo; which today define the purpose and products of the educational system in the twenty-first century. This post will spend little time addressing the status quo, for as in the climate change debate where there is no quantifiable argument against the fact that the world is warming because of C02 emissions from fossil fuel consumption, there to is no quantifiable debate in education about what the deplorable conditions in education today. Yes, there are myriad proponents of structures in education who defend the bricks and mortar school. These educationaires grind on in there protectionism of command and control managerial structures in education with impunity. These strong educational polities have exhausted the last 40 years with nothing more than millions of dollars spent and subaltern communities further rooted in there societal malaise. Minimally changing the status quo in education through reform large or small is a noble but ultimately futile endeavor as the factors that reinforce oppressive educational conditions have colonized education to the point of full enculturation. Revisioning research, design, and practice in education is therefore a vital step to realizing real change. The potentials for addressing real change in global learning through a nexus of Critical Education, network learning, experiential learning, and emerging learning sciences are real. As Elise Boulding (1996)remarked, “the materia prima is at hand. We can join the company of persons-in-becoming who are working to give it shape, or we can stand on the sidelines wailing. The choice is ours”. For this century our choice is vital. We must seize our moment and give it shape.

An ongoing vision I have, what I want to be a part of….

Sanguine voices are heard on a coastal beach in Maine as a group of high-school age young people gather around multiple mobile devices that are networked to their peers in China, New Zealand, London, Uganda and Bolivia in a project called “The Interdependence of Global Water”. This international project based learning pod are gathering, some waking at 1:00am to view sea run Salmon return to spawn on the Penobscot River in Maine, United States. These young people are doing more than watching; they helped make the Penobscot River viable for this process again through their combined research, writing, and service efforts. In partnership with indigenous communities, business interests, academics, local, regional and national governments, and conservation biology organizations they have joined a coalition to remove dams and restore native salmon spawning corridors. There study was intense, memorable and had lasting impact on all involved. As these young people wove service and action into their “core” themes of study: society, environment and economics, there lives were changed, and they helped catalyze a movement for new learning around the world. What we find out is
that these young people are collaborating together on similar projects in all of the six world regions mentioned and in concert with each other in a new learning ecology. There are no “walls” in this learning ecology, rather these students learn year round, individually and in groups at regional based learning centers where they come to collaborate, problem solve and socialize with other project based learners. The bulk of the work these brave young people accomplish is done in the field, at home, or traveling in “mobile learning labs” utilizing the most innovative eLearning tools imaginable. The blended eLearning networks used to collaborate on the integrated global projects mentioned, where also leveraged to connect domain territory specialists and mentors to young people as they constructed an understanding of quantitative reasoning, social sciences, literature, experimental sciences, and visual arts in integrated project based learning. The ePortfolios of each learner on that beach in Maine and around the world would be constructed to exhibit learner mastery of knowledge territories and to meet international and national standards in education. This is international learning done across cultural, environmental and economic borders; creating a global frontier for critical education.

I know I have missed a few below (will update)….

Alfred, G. R. (2009). Wasase: indigenous pathways of action and freedom. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press.

Apple, M. W., Au, W., & Gandin, L. A. (2009). The Routledge international handbook of critical education. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W. (1995). Education and power. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W. (2000). Official knowledge: democratic education in a conservative age. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W., & Beane, J. A. (2007). Democratic schools: lessons in powerful education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Beane, J. A. (1997). Curriculum integration: designing the core of democratic education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Boulding, E. (1988). Building a global civic culture: education for an interdependent world. New York: Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America: educational reform and the contradictions of economic life. New York: Basic Books.

Catton, W. R. (1980). Overshoot, the ecological basis of revolutionary change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: how America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press.

Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society. New York: Harper & Row.

McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth: making a life on a tough new planet. New York: Times Books.

Sawyer, R. K. (2006). The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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