Opening Education: A First Walk through Campus

Dist 29 Schoolhouse

Dist 29 Schoolhouse used under (cc) from Lane Pearman.

A lot of change is happening in education these days that has me thinking about where it’s coming from and where it’s going. What have been the openings and closures that have shaped and are shaping the social machine of human education?  As I collect research and thoughts, I’ll be posting them here under the general category of Opening Education.

When I want to learn something beyond the obvious about a topic I know very little about, I like to pick a random entry point and just dive in. To start a new exploration on the history of education, I decided to dive in to learn about the built space of schools and after only a short time, I started to connect some rather interesting dots.

My first—admittedly quick and shallow—exploration of the history of K12 school design and building in the USA leads me to jump to the—perhaps rather obvious, but I think important—conclusion that school facilities in the USA have not been shaped primarily by educational goals, but by larger patterns in demographics and economics: Influxes of immigrants, civil rights being extended to or taken away from specific populations, bulges in birthrates, decreasing child mortality, and economic changes such as the move from primarily agrarian to primarily industrial and on to primarily service/knowledge economies.

For example, the nostalgic view of one-room schoolhouses one typically gets from Little House on the Prairie doesn’t touch on how the funding and construction of such schools was generated by government policies encouraging the westward settlement of the USA.

Or in the 19th Century, social changes including industrialization, immigration, urbanization, child labor laws, and compulsory education combined to generate larger school facilities in cities, designed as educational factories to process growing student populations.

There are many more examples of the close ties of school construction and social changes that suggest learning—as we might like to think of it—was not the primary driver of school design.

On the flip side: from Catherine Beecher, Horace Mann and Thomas Dewey’s work on educational reform to Richard Henry Pratt’s work on Native American education, I also found lots of examples of efforts to improve learning—and thereby society—that led directly to calls for changes in school design and construction. At turns well-meaning or self-interested, enlightened or benighted, these ideas and activities had widely varying impacts on actual educational realities, but none appear to have shaped actual schools as dramatically as more basic social forces.

In short: we don’t really design or build schools to better educate people. We design and build schools to process large numbers of people to fit into current socio-economic roles. Resources and efforts to design and build schools follow demographic and economic demands—not educational needs. Despite accompanying lofty rhetoric, most school design and construction seems to be driven primarily by reactive and shortsighted efforts to deal with current social and economic pressures, rather than our desires to have education shape and improve our cultural, social and economic future.

If that’s the pattern, what socioeconomic forces are shaping today’s educational initiatives? I’ll be exploring answers to that question and I welcome yours!

A Little Bird Told Me

Little Bird logo

I’ve been working in educational technology for the last 14 years: first at OMSI, then at Portland State, and most recently at rSmart, focused on Sakai open source collaboration and learning technologies. As of February 2013, I have joined former data-journalist Marshall Kirkpatrick‘s startup, Little Bird, here in Portland, Oregon, as Doorman: leading marketing, sales, and support.

I’m profoundly excited by Little Bird. While it may seem like a dramatic departure from my edtech work, at its heart, Little Bird is ultimately a powerful tool for learning, bringing you directly to the leading people and most worthy content in any topic. Little Bird can help anyone do with purpose what I have done haphhazardly and organically: building my own understanding and relationships by connecting to people that matter, first online, but then also, almost always, offline as well. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be joining Little Bird if I hadn’t first learned from, and then met and developed a relationship with Marshall on Twitter. Now with Little Bird, we are working to enable everyone to learn and build relationships that can change their work and lives.

Little Bird’s team is an awsome collection of wildly unique individuals, who nevertheless share inspiring intelligence and worthy values. I’m honored to be able to work alongside Marshall, his Little Bird co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick and Tyler Gillies, and our growing team of folks including Danish AzizPeat BakkeDevin Gaffney, and Brennan Novak. As much as I have learned from and loved working with folks around the world in the Sakai community and at rSmart, it’s a like opening a present every day to spend time face-to-face with Little Bird’s team of smart, thoughtful people, deeply embedded in Portland’s welcoming, innovative tech and creative communities.

My connection to edtech remains: for as long as it makes sense (or until my term ends, which ever comes first), I still serve on the board of directors for the Apereo Foundation—the new organization formed in late 2012 by joining Sakai and Jasig. Maybe the new experience and viewpoints I gain from Little Bird can add some valuable perspective to Apereo. At the very least, I know I’ll be looking at education, and the technologies we hope to make serve it, with a new, avianette lens.

Looking back, I’d like to give my deepest thanks to the people that made my journey with Sakai and rSmart possible: first and foremost, Chris Coppola, who helped me start that journey and lead me forward with his thinking, drive, and values. Wende Garrison and Trish Harris, who put a lot of very smart wind and perspective in my sails and sailed along with me. Kim Thanos, who continues to advise and inspire me in so many wise ways large and small. The whole rSmart team, but most especially Brooke Biltimier, Brenda Chapman, Tom ChapmanDuffy Gillman, Paul HauserOrla MesterErik Mertz, and Lance Speelmon, who always seemed like close collaborators even though we were so often working at a distance. In the worldwide Sakai community there are too many to name who have been my brothers and sisters in the campaign to make education better: but I thank you all and hope to continue to serve you at Apereo and beyond.

Change thyself: A recipe to overcome addiction to thoughtless conservatism

Used under (cc) from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sophiadphotography/8068255361/

Used under (cc) from sophiadphotography.

My father-in-law, a wise and beneficent man that I’m proud to consider a close friend, recently sent an email to someone politically conservative that I thought was particularly well-written and offers powerful, yet practical suggestions for how someone might begin to wean themselves off what might be seen as an addiction to the worse kind of “conservative” messages that pass in some circles as reasoned political thought.

My father-in-law’s post was inspired in part by an editorial by the New York TimesDavid Brooks: How People Change, and a lecture he attended by Professor David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, among other works.

With his permission, following is my father-in-law’s recipe for personal political change. I’m sure someone from the other side of the debate (as if there were real debate, as if there were two sides) could come up with a similar recipe to wean someone like me off of what I consider valid, reasoned political debate and get me believing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh actually made some kind of sense rather than just making money from hyperbole.

1. Prevention: stay away from Beck, Rush, any source that uses incendiary language, which they know excites the emotional centers of your brain, rendering your frontal lobe—the discriminating, judgement, executive functioning part of your brain—mute, and activates the emotion-tagged memory part of the brain (the limbic system), both of which are working away muscularly “under the hood” out of awareness. Stay away from sources that regularly excite feelings of “righteous indignation” for the same reasons, however tempting they may be.

2. Put money on the line: Put 100 dollars in the hands of someone else which will be contingent on your changing. For example, if you don’t follow through, the money will be given to MOVEON.org.

3. Engage in social supports: Announce your intentions to cut off contact with Rush, Beck, evangelical groups, routine email pieces that reinforce above themes . Announce and seek support for involving yourself with the Southern Poverty Law Center for example.

4. Feelings: Use negative feelings such as anger as welcome cues to look at whether they are attached to old undesired beliefs and understandings. Remind yourself that these are old and no longer work for you and reward yourself with substituted positive feelings of heightened self regard as you turn to new desired beliefs and attitudes. Reward yourself with a cup of fresh coffee as you pick up the New Yorker or some other news source that fact checks information. Activate feelings of altruism associated with support of genuinely needy persons who lack the resources to improve their lives.

5. Habits: Embed 1-4 in a consistent routine which is laid out in detail. The guiding notion is repetition. Remember that the brain is plastic, but it needs lots of practice to create new grooves. I personally think of 3 months as a useful interval to create a new personal narrative with sufficient robustness to resist backsliding. Long term memory works that way. It takes time, and memory tagged with strong emotion is especially resistant to change. So be patient. Backsliding is just another opportunity to rehearse the above. In due time we might have a different dance

Sakai + Jasig > Apereo

Used under (cc) from http://www.flickr.com/photos/80375783@N00/2601593917

Used under (cc) from 80375783@N00.

Recently institutional representatives from the member institutions of the Sakai and Jasig communities voted overwhelmingly to combine their two organizations into a new, umbrella organization focused on open educational technologies and practices: Apereo.

Inspired by other multi-project open technology organizations (eg, the Apache Foundation), Apereo’s mission is to assist and facilitate educational organizations which “collaborate to foster, develop, and sustain open technologies and innovation to support learning, teaching, and research.” Sakai and its Collaboration and Learning Environment (Sakai CLE) and Open Academic Environment (Sakai OAE) projects will maintain their brand and identity, living on under the Apereo umbrella along with Jasig’s many projects such as Bedework, CAS, uMobile, and uPortal. We are especially excited to extend and enrich Jasig’s established incubation process as we work to become a fully multi-project organization. Read more about Apereo and its formation on our FAQs.

I’m honored to be on Apereo’s founding Board of Directors, along with three of my fellow Sakai Board members: David Ackerman (NYU), Josh Baron (Marist), and Steve Swinsburg (ANU/Flying Kite), joined by four estimeed colleauges from the Jasig Board: Jim Helwig (Wisconsin), John Lewis (Unicon), Robert Sherratt (Hull), and Tim Carroll (illinois). One of our first tasks as founding board members will be to initate elections to bring on more representatives from our now joint community.