Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Coming Clash in Blended Learning

Blended learning doesn't mean the same thing to everybody.  The model being touted by the Christensen Institute  is essentially a teacher replacement model.  The model described by Garrison and Vaughan focuses on the quality and quantity of the interaction between student and teacher and "the sense of engagement in a community of inquiry and learning, achieved through the effective integration of Internet communication technology."

That difference was highlighted in a webinar I listened to recently by two of the Christensen Institute's disciples, Arthur VanderVeen, VP of Business Strategies for Compass Learning, and Tom Vander Ark,  author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World and CEO of Getting Smart, a learning advocacy firm. The different models might be attributable to the different arenas in which the two pairs work.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are part of the corporate business world that is trying to take over the K-12 educational system; Vaughan and Garrsion are professors of education and researchers and have so far focused primarily on higher education.  Both  groups have intentions of impacting the other's realms. 
  
Their respective intent and purpose probably has more to do with the different models, though.  Garrison and Vaughan are interested in developing a stronger richer community of inquiry and learning; Vander Ark and Vander Veen want to blow things up and make money putting them back together again.  They follow the Christensen's Institute's disruptive model.  I've written about Christensen's disruptive model previously in a discussion of the book, Disrupting Class.   That book was all about using technology to replace teachers and create new models for the U.S. K-12 education system.  As I pointed out, the first edition of the book didn't mention blended learning.  They've added a section on their brand of blended learning in later editions.

 9 and 1/2 minutes into their webinarVander Ark and Vander Veen  brought up the notion that their blended learning model would reduce the need for teachers and change teacher work rules; that's code for fire teachers and bust unions.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are selling to the corporate / charter school money making interests all too prevalent today.  The counterpart to that in the higher ed world is the MOOC phenomenon, which is also based on the notion that teachers are expendable and cost too much.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are well connected to moneyed interests, so I'll give them the best odds for the early rounds in the coming clash between these two models of blended learning.  In the long run, though, I think "the quality and quantity of the interaction and the sense of engagement in a community of inquiry and learning" will carry the day.  I'll go with Garrison and Vaughan.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jim Lenfestey's Phantom Quiz - An update of Walt Whitman’s 'By Blue Ontario’s Shore'

Jim Lenfestey recently gave me a copy of his outstanding new book of poems, Earth in Anger: Twenty-five Poems of Love and Despair for Planet Earth.   We were both reading at an Open Book event which had been arranged by our mutual friend, John Caddy.  The event was supposed to have happened on Earth Day, but it got snowed out and was re-scheduled for a week later.  Jim hadn't been scheduled for the original Earth Day event because the launch of his new book was happening that evening.   Earth arranged for Jim to read his poems two weeks in a row.  I guess some of the people who drove through the blizzard to get to the original reading were a little miffed that it was cancelled.  I hope they pick up Jim's book and divert that energy as he recommends with his poems.


Jim read By Azure Huron's Shore as his last offering that evening and it's the final entry in the book, but I think it should be read first.  This Phaantom's quiz places the poems in an context of urgency that allows the supple rhythms of the poems more space to undulate.



BY AZURE HURON’S SHORE
NOTE: In 1848 journalist Walt Whitman and his brother Jeff traveled to New Orleans to help establish the newspaper the Crescent.  After three months, according to his own hand-drawn map now in the Library of Congress, they returned up the Mississippi and through the Great Lakes, passing through the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Huron, then Erie, then Ontario.  In the 1867 edition of “Leaves of Grass” he included “As I Sat Alone By Blue Ontario’s Shores,” in which he encounters a “Phantom” who quizzes him on the qualities necessary to undertake the American project of creating and healing a nation.  Inspired by Whitman’s interrogation, I wondered what “many and stern” questions the Phantom would put to poets and citizens today to undertake our necessary project, healing and reclaiming our broken, reeling planet.  In the Invocation, I changed but one word of Whitman’s, substituting “earth” for “nation.”  The rest of the Phantom’s interrogation came fresh through me in one burst as I sat alone by azure Huron’s shore.  Originally published as a broadside, it may be reproduced free forever.



BY AZURE HURON’S SHORE

(An update of Walt Whitman’s By Blue Ontario’s Shore, section 12)


INVOCATION

Are you he who would assume a place to teach or be a poet here on this earth?

The place is august, the terms obdurate.

Who would assume to teach here may well prepare himself body and mind,

He may well survey, ponder, arm, fortify, harden, make lithe himself.

He shall surely be questioned beforehand by me with many and stern questions.

Who are you indeed who would talk and sing of the earth?


***

THE POET’S TEST

Do you know the depth of the waters, and the height of the sky, and their composition?

Have you befriended the trees where you live, know their roots, their crowns?

Have you studied the rocks beneath them, to the fifth epoch?

And the birds above, their songs and what they eat, and where they nest?

And the people who lived there before you, and your ancestors, to the second millennium?

And the rivers and lakes, their subtle watersheds and hidden springs?

And do you swim in the chill and warm waters of your seas and lakes indiscriminately? And with relish? And know the sources of pollutants threatening your waters? And fight against the dark rain with armies of petitions and voters’ guides and drives and meetings?


Are the glaciers and the jungles your friends, the serpents and beasts and birds your guides, the pigs of the sty your helpmates, the microbes and fungi your intimates?

Do you shun or reform all religions that deny the primacy of the earth and its processes? That believe mankind unable to destroy everything good? Or save everything good?

Do you accept with joy the findings of science?

Are your taxes paid to the federal, state and municipal authorities without complaint, as the recognized price of civil living?  Do you wish to pay more?


Do you believe in the Holy Trinity: the water, the grass, the air?  And do you worship them every day with acts of kindness and political clout?

Are you sickened unto death that the biodiversity of the earth is plummeting? The Arctic sea ice melting?  The oceans acidifying?

Have you read the 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Or at least the Executive Summary?

And know that its finding of warming for the most part due to the burning of fossil fuels has been everywhere affirmed, including by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, even the George W. Bush Administration?

And are you hot with anger at the lies about the cause of changing climate spouted by those with fingers black with oil, breath black from smoking mines?

And will you slay with dark thoughts the miscreants at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Rush Windbag and others who perpetuate those lies?

Will you fight back with evidence and heat and love for the atmosphere which is the life blanket of our planet?


Do you firmly believe there is no such thing as evil, but only abundant ignorance, stupidity, shortsightedness, self-dealing, self-loathing and fundamentalist self-righteousness?

Do you “fear a lie as others fear fire,” as Chekhov said, and know that “inside you is an inexhaustible fountain of ideas,” as Brenda Ueland said?

Do you believe in families and communities green and cheerful with good schools and happy parents and joy shouted from the schoolyards?

Have your studied Emerson’s essays The Poet and Nature, foundation stones of the spiritual democracy of our nation and all nations, who saw the divine in every person and particular of nature, including these Great Lakes?  He who begat Thoreau and Whitman and Dickinson and Bogan?  Jim Bogan?

When you gaze at the person you love, and the multitudes you love, do tears of gratitude spring to your eyes?   Do your hands fall open in gratitude to the waters, the grass, the air?  And for people who fight for the waters, the grass, the air?


By azure Huron’s shore,

do you stand at the water’s edge, tasting the delicious energies of the grass, inhaling the delicious energies of the air, and fearlessly plunge into the dark waters, for the sake of your soul, and the soul of the earth?

Monday, January 21, 2013

If You're a Teacher You're a Leader Part 2: McGovern, Inouye, et al.


When the four of us had finally settled into the little golf cart like train car, George McGovern introduced me to Senators Daniel Inouye and Charles Percy.


 The 'train' car was on a set of tracks that ran underground from the Russell Office Building over to the Senate.  A few minutes earlier, Senator McGovern had walked hurriedly out of his inner office to greet me, saying without stopping, "I'm sorry, Dan, I've got to go over to the floor for a vote and I have another meeting in half an hour.  Walk along with me and maybe we can chat a bit after I vote."

  I was reminded of that day when I read Kevin Cashman's explanation in The Pause Principle of how the three types of questioning and listening need to merge in order for breakthroughs to occur and growth to be sustained - the kind of breakthroughs and growth that also make a classroom vibrant.  Cashman says,

 "For growth to have a lasting, transformative impact, three interrelated pauses that arise from questioning and listening need to merge: building awareness, building commitment, and building practice. If all three are present and informing one another, breakthroughs will occur and growth will be sustained. if we do not help others to sufficiently pause for each of these phases, the results will most likely dissipate over time."
 
  Senator Percy's traditional quick pump was accompanied with a "Well, what brings you to Washington, young man?" When Senator Inouye enveloped my outstretched right hand in his left, it felt gentle and kind, a friendly Buddha like acknowledgement. I didn't even notice that he didn't have a right hand with which to shake.   Senator Inouye's  listening eyes told me that he, too, was interested in my mission.  I was there representing South Dakota at the NATA convention (NATA is now part of TIA.)  The main focus of that convention was to stop the Bell System's attempt to make outlaws out of their competitors, competitors like me.

  It was indeed a heady day for me.  In addition to the appointment with Senator McGovern, I had met earlier with Rep. Larry Pressler Rep. Berkley Bedell, and Sen Jim Abourezk's chief of staff. The convention attendees from some of the big states were having trouble just getting an appointment with a staffer of one of their congressional reps.  When I stepped off the elevator and into the Senate lobby with George McGovern's hand on my elbow and Senators Inouye and Percy just behind me, I saw a few heads on very expensive pin-stripped suits turn to check me out.  These were lobbyists, and several of them had big cigars.

 I shuffled my polished cowboy boots and tried not to be too conspicuous in my faux suede sport coat until Senator McGovern appeared a few minutes later to usher me out into the bright afternoon sunlight to walk back to his office.  He confirmed that I was Jimmy's grandson and had once lived in Artesian, just north of his home in Mitchell (Grandpa had been a delegate to the national convention in 1960.) Having connected by family and place, McGovern said, "Now, how do you think we should be looking at this bill."  I was very glad that I'd been coached by the PR people hired by NATA on what to say.  McGovern didn't respond with a canned response like Pressler had earlier in the day.  He thought and asked some clarifying questions, which I don't remember exactly, but I knew he wanted to understand.  And he didn't make any promises, but when he said, "I think I'm with you on this one and I'll have, and I don't remember the person he named, look into this a little more, and we'll let you know how it goes" I believed him.

I was walking tall to the debriefing back at the convention hotel.  The PR team that was keeping track of congressional visit results looked at me a little doubtfully when I ticked off the members of congress I'd talked to that day.  I told them McGovern, and Inouye, were with us and probably Abourezk and Bedell, too.  I told them Percy's comment about the CWA probably meant he was not to be counted on, and I told them I thought Pressler could be flipped because I didn't think he understood what he'd theoretically co-signed.  I found out later that Pressler had eventually held back his support of the Bell proposal.  McGovern wrote me a note about a month later saying he thought the bill would not be acted on that year, and he thanked me for participating in the work of government.  The 'Bell Bill' never became law.

Talking to and being listened to by that collection of leaders that day was an unforgettable lesson for me.  There were nuances in the levels of awareness, commitment, and practice in the way each of those men listened and questioned, but all were masters of each. Congressman Bedell reminded me of my best college profs; McGovern was, of course, a college prof before he became an international political leader.  Being a teacher, at any level, requires daily application of the listening and questioning skills that Cashman talks about as crucial for leadership.  Teachers, like politicians, are always campaigning; they need to get votes of awareness, commitment, and practice from their students every day, sometimes hourly. Teaching is leading.