Saturday, June 30, 2012


At the ISTE Conference I went to a session with Will Richardson about unlearning.  Right at the start of this presentation Will quoted from Clay Shirky:  "the change we are in the middle of isn't minor and it isn't optional".  I've been thinking about this a lot.  About how if schools haven't yet made changes to the way they are enabling students to learn, then they are certainly opting out.

Will talked about choice and how this fits in with the move from a scarcity of information to an abundance of it.  He asked us if we had an income of 30,000 dollars a year what would we choose to spend it on?  Most of us wouldn't have a lot of choice.  We need a place to live, we need food to eat, clothes and so on.  But how about if we had an income of 30,000,000 dollars?  We could choose what kind of home to live in, where to live, we could choose to spend, to save, to buy a big car, a small car and so on.  He said information is like this.  We have a lot of choices now and we can always connect with someone who can answer our questions.  However schools are still operating as if we have limited choices.  Outside school is a very different place from inside school.

Will quoted from Michael Wesch who writes about ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous communication, ubiquitous information, ubiquitous speed, everywhere, from anywhere and on all kinds of devices.  Will talked about the fact that there is an abundance of information, tools, opinions, teachers, data, news, resources, media and schools and because of this we can create our own curriculum and find our own teachers.  He talked about  what Alvin Toffler wrote about literacy:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. 
The participants in Will's session were asked what they thought we needed to unlearn in this world of abundance.  One of the suggestions was that we need to unlearn "don't talk to strangers".  In this new world strangers will help us to find the information we need.  Another suggestion was that we need to unlearn our view of assessment as being an end, rather than a means to an end.  We need to unlearn what learning looks like, to unlearn that teaching automatically leads to learning.  We need to unlearn our concept of the school community, to unlearn the bell schedule.  Here are what Will thought were the 3 most important things for us to unlearn:

Delivery - too often we are concerned with delivering things. If we deliver something we own it but in this age of abundance students need to own their own learning and to think and create on their own.  Will talked about the difference between empowerment and engagement and how we need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and towards the idea that education is something that we create for ourselves.

Competition - we make too many comparisons between test scores, teachers and so on and yet in a world of abundance we need to cooperate and not compete. We want to take and share the best with everyone because there is no advantage in knowing more than the prison next to you. The world doesn't care what you know  The world cares what you do with what you know. 

Assessment -  we make it as easy as possible to assess but often it's meaningless for example a lot of assessments are not looking at problem solving. If we don't assess what we value we will end up valuing what we can assess.  School is the only place where students can't take the technology out of their pockets and use it to answer their questions -  it's not the real world. 

To unlearn you need to understand the context for change.  We have to feel. anger, grief, excitement, Teachers need to reflect by looking at their own learning and practice first and then act and innovate, connect and engage others.   Schools need to change in ways that serve kids. We have to take conversations out of schools. 

Will left us with an interesting image, that of a balance bike.  On a traditional bike children learn to ride with training wheels.  Yet all training wheels do is to allow them to pedal - to ride a bike you have to learn to balance and you can't learn this with training wheels on.  The new "balance bikes" don't have pedals, you just have to learn to balance and then after that it's easy to pedal.  Schools are a bit like that.  We need to get rid of the training wheels, we need to learn how to balance the bike.  

Photo Credit:  Nate's new balance bike, by Aaron Wagner, 2008  AttributionNoncommercial

1 comment:

  1. Hey Maggie:
    I've had Toffler's quote on my email signature for quite a few years now. Unlearning has to be an essential skill - and my experience has been that it is perhaps hardest for teachers especially around teaching and learning! Thanks for sharing these thoughts.