User networks in the classroom

The delivery to P-12 school programs of a monolith of textbooks, standardized tests, educational software, computer hardware, classroom furniture and conventional instructors -- all occur through value chains. A series of steps add value to the previous phase and yield a consistent product. There's no way to respond to individual needs, interests or preferences. The value is produced by factories producing commoditized materials where high initial costs get amortized over a large sales volume.

In Disrupting Class, the authors expect many of these value chains to be replaced by facilitated user networks. Content-centric models of education will be replaced by student-centric approaches. The experience of value will change from taking what is offered to customizing from a vast range of modules to best fit each learner. The authors foresee the line of under-utilized computers against one wall of many school classrooms coming into constant use. I share their optimism about the possibilities of user-generated content, processes and experiences becoming mainstream.

There's another side to elementary, middle and high school classrooms in my experience. Those value chains delivering the same thing to every student are obscured by the phenomenal variety of experiences available in many school environments. This supply of choices and diverse offerings involves many other individuals besides the classroom teacher. The situation functions as numerous "facilitated user networks". Here's a brief summary of the key players and their roles in this collaborative production.

  • Teachers are famous for spending some of their own income to buy supporting materials for their classrooms. They spend time at home preparing for new thematic units, in-class demonstrations, and supplemental activities. They organize class trips and coordinate substitute teachers, teacher aids and guest presenters. They conduct individual parent conferences and special meetings when problems arise. When students are working on projects in class, teachers will float around to offer help or guidance to individuals. All this serves to break-up the monolith of deliverables.
  • The parents appear in classrooms as teacher aids and chaperones on class trips. They provide after-school transportation to sports, music or tutorial practice. They participate in the parent conferences and problem solving sessions. They often help with homework and outside research.
  • Other educators appear in the classroom to lend a hand to the classroom teacher. They may help to assist in mainstreaming special-ed kids or tutoring new readers. They may teach special subjects like music, art or theater. They may observe class activities to defend the teacher from criticism coming from particular parents, administrators or the elected School Board. They may observe particular students to make referrals to mental health services.
  • The students are often working together on projects or group tasks. They meet-up to coordinate rides home and after school activities. They may be involved in community service, helping kids in younger grades or roles involving school safety, cleanup and event coordination.
This phenomenal variety of activities and roles occurs by connections between people. The diagram only shows the kinds of possilble nodes, not the actual number. Two teachers that know one student may effect each other's self awareness and insights into the student. Two students working with the same teacher may grow to understand that teacher better. Two students can effect each other in a similar fashion. What occurs between them takes initiative, some creativity and a caring outlook. It's inevitable that both people will learn more about each other and themselves in the process. This "ecology of reciprocal value creation" has already obsolesced uniform textbooks, tests and teaching in many schools.

These emergent networks have not disrupted the value-chained delivery of uniform content. The introduction of all this variety and customization has merely provided sustaining innovations. Teachers like getting paychecks and paying their bills from their school districts. They enjoy the current rapport with parents, colleagues and administrators. They want to stay in the good graces of those who susepct they do not work hard enough at their duties. All this proves the premise of Disrupting Class that incumbents cannot disrupt themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment