Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Third Era

Over the past few weeks, many of us have expressed discontent with the limitations that we feel imposed upon us by external forces: departments, districts, state laws, federal mandates. I’ve found hearing from others who share some of my concerns to be a professionally beneficial experience, and I feel as though what I’ve taken from this class has prepared me to shift my pedagogy in a direction that will help my students engage with digital writing in a meaningful way. This week’s reading however, opened a more fundamental question for me, one that is perhaps a bit frightening to engage with: can our current system be adapted to keep up with a rapidly changing world, or is the system itself so rooted in an obsolete way of operating that, despite the best efforts of hard-working teachers, it is incapable of being salvaged?
DeVoss suggests that we “may be entering a third era” for the American school system, an era “in which institutional, social, and technological innovations are leading people to ‘extended learning throughout life and over many venues.’” This era would be the next step in a chain that starts with the “apprenticeship era” of the colonial days and continues with the “universal schooling era,” rooted in the work of 19th-century reformers like Horace Mann which brought about the public schools we know today (143). Such a suggestion is radical—ask how closely your classroom resembles a blacksmith’s apprenticeship, and then try to imagine what a model for education that is as far removed from today’s classroom as today’s classroom is from an apprenticeship would even look like. Would there be a single teacher? Is there a teacher at all? How many students would there be? Would the students all be the same age? Is such a classroom even a physical space? Much of what DeVoss draws attention to in this chapter—that “digital environments…are typical ‘on’ 24/7/365” (146), that our “students are learning to think, to read, and to ask questions in networked environments (150), and that “school is just one node in a (potentially global) learning network that young people have the opportunity to inhabit” (148)—points to the basic fact that a school that operates under basic assumptions like timed periods/school days, a nine-month school year, or a physically constrained learning environment might not be capable of serving students who have grown up in a constantly and universally connected world.
In fact, not a single model that DeVoss cites in this chapter as an example of effective digital writing/learning is a traditional public school. The Science Leadership Academy, which has reimagined its pedagogical planning to focus specifically on “elements of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection” is an experimental and selective public magnet school (144). The Digital Youth Network is founded on the notion that “schools alone cannot be expected to provide full support for students as media creators” (144), and DeVoss herself emphasizes that the thing that “feels significantly different at this particular moment” is that the tools we’re discussing are “not primarily tools for institutions at all. They are tools for learners and writers, and as learners and writers begin to sue them across any areas of their lives outside of school, these tools will have a profound impact on the core business of life itself” (142).
I don’t want to undermine the impressive efforts, hard work, and good intentinos that teachers bring to the classroom. Nor do I want to ignore the fact that “not all students…have access” to the sorts of tools that this “third era” would be predicated on. At the same time, DeVoss’ concluding sentiment—that we should “guide and respond to our students’ writing even though technologies continue to change”—is a half-hearted and milquetoast response when seven pages earlier she was predicting a fundamental shift in what school is (150). I guess I’m wondering if we need to turn the sort of institutional skepticism that we’ve pointed at Google and Facebook over the past couple of weeks on the educational system, and not just the parts of it we dislike. It’s easy for us to blame that one vice principal, or the College Board, or MCAS, or any other aspect of our job that we feel limits us. It’s harder, though more effective, for us to make the small, individual changes that will actually improve our pedagogy, and we should all most certainly make those individual changes where we can. But it’s terrifying to wonder if whether the fundamental pillars that education as we know it today is built upon are beginning to crack.

To condense all of that into a more manageable list, I guess I’m wondering
  • Do you agree with DeVoss about “something being different” about this moment for education, or have changes occurred before?
  • If we are indeed entering a new era for education, what does it look like? What basic assumptions are we throwing out, and what new ideas are we bringing in?
  • What are the costs and challenges of that sort of radical shift?
  • Where will that change come from? Will it be built within existing institutions? Or is the model for education that we need so far removed from what we have that we must begin building it outside our existing schools?


  1. I have to admit that when I hear the word “change”, I resort to this Burke-like mindset of slow progression, rather than rapid, almost characteristically, radical shift. After reading this section of the book, it seems as though DeVoss would agree with me: “It goes without saying that change happens slowly” (145). That being the case, I would agree with her following statement: “teachers and students use digital writing tools to meet their own teaching and learning needs” (145). We should not change to fit technology, but rather, technology needs to change in order to fit our needs – an idea often toted in class. This sort of ideology will help if change is truly to come slowly. Instead of dropping everything we have done in the past, we need to slowly incorporate technology where we can and are willing to. The slow integration of technology tools into the classroom will allow for both students and teachers to become comfortable with it without forcibly pushing it on anyone.
    I totally believe that there is a gradual shift in education happening right now. We are realizing that hands-on activities are reaching more students and offering a deeper insight and understanding of the materials and content than traditional lecture-style. More and more classroom are changing their desk plans in order to from small work groups (in a very Mazzini-styled fashion). These workstations are ways in which students can collaborate, help one another in understanding, and offer different interpretations. Besides the changes seen in the floorplan of the classroom, I don’t see much shifting in the actual environment due to these recent inclinations towards group work and projects.

  2. Tim,

    I believe that we have already entered a new era for education, and this can be seen with the changing perception of vocational high schools in the last decade. When I was in high school, only the low performing students attended a vocational high school because they had no hope of college. Now it is more difficult to get into a vocational high school than it is to get in some prep schools, and this shift has all occurred in a relatively short amount of time. Although this may be partly due to shaky job prospects for college grads since the recession, many students attend a vocational school for more than just a trade to fall back on; hands-on learning and real life skills are appealing to parents and students alike. DeVoss states, “Researchers and critics alike note that despite the potential that technology holds, little substantive change has occurred in teacher’s classroom practices” (142). This may be true for academic classes, but it certainly doesn’t apply to vocational courses that are in tune with the needs of their field and are constantly acquiring the latest tools to meet these needs.

    I must admit that students on the academic side are still learning in a very analog way, but I see this changing as well. Next year, all freshmen are required to take a literacy course (in addition to ELA), which includes digital literacy. In addition, for the first time, seniors are taking a stand alone composition course (in addition to ELA) where they have the opportunity to produce multimodal compositions. DeVoss points out the need for educators to blend in-school and out-of-school learning opportunities (146). This is already happening on the vocational side since the upperclassmen spend much of their shop time out in the field. I think it could happen on the academic side as well by creating opportunities for students to connect classroom compositions to authentic writing opportunities. In short, by creating authentic, hands-on learning experiences, academic classes can adapt to students’ needs in the same way that vocational courses already have.

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  4. I agree with Brandon (and DeVoss) that change happens slowly, and we as teachers need to make the small changes we can within our classrooms. This is especially true for me
    since much of the discussion about the need to extend learning outside of the school day to meet student need is not applicable to the community college setting where students for the most part come to campus for classes and rush out for jobs and family responsibilities. My focus, therefore, needs to be on what small changes I can make in class, what I assign for homework, and ways of connecting the types of writing students do outside of class academic writing in the classroom.

    Like Brandon I was most focused on the authors' point that we must first figure out our learning/teaching goals before focusing on the particular technological tool. DeVoss writes, "...For Lehmann, focusing on change through the use of digital writing tools alone misses the point, as it will not transform pedagogy. Instead he suggests that teachers and students use digital writing tools to meet their own teaching and learning needs" (145). This makes a lot of sense. In my experience of doing the remix, I noticed that after figuring out my argument, I began thinking about the tool that I would use. But I quickly realized I needed to shift gears and figure out what strategies would most effectively achieve my goals of making an effective argument. The choice of which technological tool to use should not be our first question. Rather this should follow from thinking about the goals for the assignment.

  5. In this post, I am going to respond to your question: "If we are indeed entering a new era for education, what does it look like? What basic assumptions are we throwing out, and what new ideas are we bringing in?"

    As you noted above, DeVoss believes that we are entering into a new era, the third era, which DeVoss argues to be a drastic change in the American school system. In this new developing American school system, innovations will lead to "extended learning" across different mediums and focuses. I believe that we are moving towards a new realm of education, however, I do not think that this change will be as drastic or as soon as DeVoss seems to believe. In other words, we might be approaching DeVoss's transcendental academia, but I do not think that it will be the impending third era of education. Perhaps the fourth or fifth, but I definitely think that these changes are too drastic in comparison to where we are now.

    I apologize for being too political here, but we are facing bigger problems than making sure that our classroom can stand the digital and technological shifts of the future. Before we can discuss our plans for the future, we have to be aware that our educational system as we know it might not exist within the next four years. Currently, our educational system being headed by someone that wants to get rid of public funding for schools, and therefore, most Americans might not have a classroom to be digitized in the future. To dream of a digital classroom, whether it is beneficial for our pedagogy or not, seems a bit far off and pointless, when we have to keep in mind that more than half of the classrooms in the world might soon fail (as was originally planned for them).

    However, if I were to entertain this idea, I think that the future of education will look like the classroom clips from "Zenon Girl of the 21st Century" and Khan Academy. The learning tools will be digital and tech-based, but the learning will be individualized and leveled like online video games, you can play with friends or you can play with others. In this future, teachers as we believe them to be, one educated adult in each classroom, will evaporate and instead educators would be hired to create individualized learning assessments that progress individual skills. In other words, there will be lessons, learning, and that's it.

    1. Can I just say...I love "Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century" and I'm so glad that you just made that comparison....

  6. Tim, you bring up some interesting questions and I’m glad that you chose to consider this “third era” of schooling- an era that aims to “extend learning throughout life and many venues.” (Devoss, 143) I found this to be a pretty significant claim, but I think I might be a bit more optimistic about our ability to adapt as educators! Brandon claims, “We are realizing that hands-on activities are reaching more students and offering a deeper insight and understanding of the materials and content than traditional lecture-style.” I agree and I think that we are taking huge steps in the education field toward a more collaborative environment, which is partially due to our present digital resources. Drucker describes a book as “a kind of snapshot across a stream of exchanges and debates, especially a scholarly book.” (162) While this type of informational exchange has always existed, because of the present digital transformation, we are seeing the importance of collaborative learning now more than ever. We are beginning to see writing, and all information, as an evolution of theories over time through collaborative processes. In school systems, we have begun to emphasize class-wide discussions, and as teachers, we now attempt to consider the contributions of our individual students in relation to the class environment as a whole. Instead of perceiving the teacher as a single “distributor of knowledge,” we now see the teacher as a mediator for exploration and collaborative learning. This shift in thinking can only be amplified by the integration of technology in the classroom, which we now view as an archive of combined knowledge, and a tool for discussing and expanding knowledge through global collaboration. With a new focus on collaborative learning in the real and digital world, we are beginning to teach in ways that emphasize an endless potential for sharing and expanding knowledge.

    Because of our digital evolution, I also believe that we have drastically increased our focus on procedural knowledge (as opposed to shallow, rote memorization), and this coincides with a focus on flexibility and adaptation. We now claim, as teachers, that writing can never be perfected and that revision is endless. We now pay more “attention to acts of producing and less emphasis on product.” (179, Drucker) Just as we want to teach strategies for navigation through the digital world, we also want our students to identify and practice reading/writing strategies, and we want them to assess the rhetorical situation attributed to such strategies in relation to the contexts of their own lives. We no longer see knowledge as fixed, but malleable. We no longer portray an “end” to the study of our fields, but instead, we encourage a “growth mindset” in relation to the strategies we teach. While we may have a long way to go in terms of utilizing technological resources in the classroom, and while these resources will indeed constantly change, I believe that our new-found emphasis on collaboration and strategic knowledge will guide us toward such educational transformations which seek to “extend learning throughout life and many venues.” (Devoss, 143)

    Sidenote: I came across this photo and I found it to be a great representation of our dilemma regarding intellectual property! (but I couldn't figure out how to post it directly to the page)

  7. This is a really interesting discussion that I think Tim aptly set the stage for with his emphasis on the "radical" third era prediction that the authors of BDWM present. I want to respond specifically to the last two comments left by Jamilla and Amanda, who provide a nice glass half empty vs. glass half full response to our current moment. Like Jamilla, I often feel like we've reached a point where we have just given up (cue Amanda's representation of intellectual property!) on sharing the resources we've relied upon to get where we are. To put this another way, institutions are now claiming to provide "choice" through digital schooling, all the while defunding low income brick and mortar schools. These new options are "good enough" for the others, since we've used up all of the other resources already. This will lead to a situation in which the digital classroom will be the cheap and low quality alternative for those families who cannot afford to transport their children to a well funded "public" school. We can see this happening already in higher ed. UMass is facing a funding crisis. What's the answer? Online schooling. Everyone knows it generates income and is an "adequate" alternative for students who can't afford to go to an expensive private college. On the other hand, I find myself very much agreeing with Amanda about the positive implications of digital acts of producing, which will lead to learning dispositions that are "lifelong." This kind of "habit of mind" is a healthy outcome to this third era, but this can only flourish if capital- and product-oriented institutions do not ruin it for the rest of us.

  8. Tim, great post. The discussion it is producing will hopefully spill over into class in productive ways. Perhaps this is the promise of the third era: the collapsing of the binaries of public /private, work / home, school / play, etc. As always, our discourse has begun before we enter class. Indeed, if our constant reference to previous classes and blog posts in class and on this blog, or our inclusion of our personal and professional experiences are any indication, the collapsing of the various domains above, which have until now been discreet, is occuring. Moreover, we have involved “play” in the classroom in the forms of critical creative projects such as digital narratives, hypertexts, etc. Similarly, so much of our discourse involves the various technologies and platforms that mediate our private lives, as well as, a healthy dose of pop culture at times. I don’t see where one domain ends and another begins – which might be helpful moving forward.

    You rightly point out that none of DeVoss et al.’s examples are ordinary. However, I wonder if they do not exhibit the sort of flexibility which would allow them to be applied to a variety of programs in beneficial ways. The Science Leadership Academy is useful for thinking how the third era might look. As Brandon noted, we do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and the SLA model provides a rubric for avoiding just this. This program emphasizes “inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection” (DeVoss et al. 144). These square up very nicely with leaders in the field of composition in the WAC (writing across curriculum) and WAW (writing about writing) camps. These concepts are broad enough to involve sub-concepts such as rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, etc. One of the more provocative features (which we discussed briefly last week) is the concept of educator and student as “co-learner,” who work collaboratively with “outside experts and community members” – hopefully, “members” are often leaders and descision makers. Involving the outside is important if we are to prepare students to engage critically with the various media which they consume in their private / public lives (again, the binary is collapsing I believe). Additionally, the egalitarian streak is appealing.

    Erin, I am intrigued by “authentic . . . opportunities” being included in education. It suggests these many collapses, and their benefits in certain instances. Do the students opperate as “students” during one part of the day, and “professionals” in another? If so, perhaps we have an example of the public, work, and school environments collapsing. I wonder if there is an element of play to it all as well, with students simulating and performing, while “playing” insofar as they are aware that they are opperating in an environment of diminished stakes which might act as a frame to practice for post-secondary education settings. At any rate, it’s interesting.

    The link below leads to a talk Thomas Friedman gave at Brookings about his book, Thank You For Being Late, in which he thinks the effects of technology on politics, geopolitics, education, ethics and community. It is noteworthy for this particular conversation, because he describes AT&T’s “nano-degree” program, which aims to foster the life-long learner concept in employees. The rest of it speaks to much of the reading we have done in this class as well. As an aside, I am often skeptical of Friedman, but this was interesting.

  9. Tim,
    When I first read the chapter, one belief that was stated that really struck me was, "despite the potential technology holds, little substantive change has occurred in teachers' classroom practices." I instantly had flashbacks of my school year, where I had incorporated google classroom, set up a website where absent students could go to check the daily agenda and homework, utilized chromebooks to complete class projects, had students annotate “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” online, and many more instances where technology was incorporated daily in my classroom. While I do agree that change takes time, I don’t agree that substantive changes haven’t been made in terms of technology use in the classroom. Of course there are still educators reluctant to fully incorporate it unless it is forced on them but I still feel that the majority of teachers welcome the use of technology in their classrooms that foster meaningful learning experiences for the students.

    The field of education has never been static. Students’ needs are constantly changing and educators have done their best to keep up with those changing needs. For quite some time, learners’ demands have shifted toward a more technological approach. Educators have been trying to fill that demand for as long as it has existed but these things take time. One thing that I do feel is different is the way in which we ask students to interact with technology. For a very long time, students using technology consisted of Microsoft Word for essays and Powerpoint for presentations. Now, there are so many different modes to work with. There are so many different ways we can get students to engage with the content while using technology. These different modes allow students to learn so many more skills. For example, when working with iMovie for the first time, I learned many more technical skills than just the content I was approaching.

    There is a basic assumption made by both teachers and students that writing is just one thing. It’s an essay, typed up on a word document, organized into neat paragraphs. Standardized testing forces us into this mindset with its lack of creativity. Unfortunately, one thing I have noticed is that students don’t transfer knowledge well so you have to teach them exactly how they will be tested (at least when preparing them to take state tests). Therefore, when discussing writing with my students, I usually do it in traditional ways. While I do see the importance of the traditional essay in the classroom, I wish I felt more free to do other types of writing with them like scripts for digital stories, collaborative online writing, and many others. However, I think that in order for this to be a more accepted classroom practice, standardized tests and the Common Core need to change. Unfortunately, I just don’t see this happening anytime soon since David Coleman believes that “people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” :(

  10. It is very clear that there is "something different about this moment for education." We as human beings are at a moment of evolution that is going to make or break our future success. This moment, the creation of the internet and further development, will the the time period that our future generations will look back on and study in their history books. It will be the bookmarked moment in time that changed us into whatever we become. The hardest part about living in this time period is the uncertainty of what's next. It may be unfair to the people living in this rapidly changing time period, but it is necessary. Now what that means for education is the big mystery for us. I don't have the answers, but I can make an assumption that the whole system will have to change. It will have to either become entirely digital or some sort of hybrid. Those seem to be the two discerning options of what's to come in all fields. We'll either go full Robot or Cyborg =)

    As far as the cost, there is the obvious financial aspect of overhauling the system. Schools, like Umass is doing, will have to invest in more digital work spaces and newer technology. But that is the lesser cost, in my opinion. The real cost comes at the price of human interaction. Some could argue that skyping is just as good as a face to face, but those people are wrong, and should be used for science experiments. Just kidding, checking to see if you're still following me (I might lose people will the Robot and Cyborg talk). I can't speak for everyone because it is always the case that some people are different, but for myself and those like me, I can't learn the same at home as I can in class. Sure, if my options are a "digital dig" as BDWM puts it, or nothing, then it would be cool to see a digital dig. However, I know that I won't retain nearly as much as I would if I were to be on an actual dig. This is where I feel torn. When we speak of access, then I love the idea of going digital. My fear is that we will replace the non-digital with the digital just because. I like the hybrid option better so we can use technology and digital space as a tool to improve the learning situation but never as a replacement. If I were a betting man, I'd have to say that we'll see either 100% Robot, or an uneven split with Digital (Robot) being more utilized.

    The last thing in this chapter that I feel is complicated is the idea of extending learning outside the classroom. (147). I know that we are learning all the time, and that it's great, but facilitated learning after school seems a bit too exhausting for children. The 6 or 7 hour day they already have brings enough conversation to the table about whether or not they are learning effectively. Adding extended hours is too much. I vote we overhaul the system in place, find things to cut out and then add in some digital space learning. It is important to allow kids to be kids and spend time with family and friends.

  11. Great post, Tim -- I enjoyed your thoughts on this conclusion (or beginning?) to this book, and the topics that you bring up. In my opinion, we are already seeing glimmers of this "third era" that DeVoss talks about: we are bringing in students "hidden literacies" and skills in order to individualize learning and connect school and home in this "third space," we are having students collaborate on research and writing projects, and we are giving students more options in terms of mode and audience for their writing. The term "life-long learners" has been around for a while now, and experts have been preaching the virtues of "inquiry-based learning" for quite some time (Chomsky comes to mind). I don't think that there will be a totally sudden shift in how we do things, especially since many schools do not have the funds to use all these tools, and since some administrations are reluctant to change, as we've discussed. I agree with commenters above that we as teachers can take the initiative to make gradual changes in our own classrooms toward more collaborative work and digital writing for our students, as long as they fit learning goals -- technology should serve learning, not the other way around.

    I want to second Jamilla above -- As we've been discussing DeVoss' book, I've been thinking a lot about Betsy DeVos (what a coincidence) and how this threat to public education will affect access to digital resources. I fear that much of what DeVoss describes will continue to benefit only the most privileged school districts, while lack of access and insufficient funding will keep this "third era" out of reach for those in urban and rural districts.

    One thing I wondered about was the highlighting of "networking partners" and outside organizations to promote this expansion of learning outside of school. In theory this sounds great, I wonder how realistic it is to rely on them for providing education outside of school. I volunteer at 826, and while I'd love all students to have access to this resource, I know that's practically impossible. There's no doubt that organizations like these are great, but how do we ensure that students have access to them if they want them? In response to Rob's comment on kids being burned out, I absolutely agree with that too. In Korea, my kids were at hagwon (afterschool programs) until 10pm, for anything from English and math to taekwondo and piano lessons. How much is too much?

  12. I have compared the Summer Camp I am working, alongside this course. As I do so I am noticing the shift in classroom. The only “newer technology we use” are cellphones, essentially, we take the kids to different locations and allow them to explore. And in turn I have noticed a funny similarity between nature (physical location and changing it) and the digital arenas we access through the internet/ technology etc.
    Our shared experiences inside a classroom, through digital communication, or exploring a park are all very similar in their educational values. To answer the reality question, I can always find a cliché “everything in moderation, including moderation” Our ability to travel digitally, physically, and creatively in a classroom all have a place in the education of ourselves, and our students.

    So, maybe we have classes of 20-30 with three teachers. Our morning session will hopefully be some sort of physical location change. “get out of the classroom” Then, lunch a little bit more movement and classroom time, where the multimodal education takes place. 8-4 pm. I like this approach and it works for my summer camp, I like a variation of that for Public Education.


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