5 Questions from Educon

educonEducation in this century is not so much about finding the right answers as in asking the right questions. As I reflect on the #educon experience this past weekend, I’m drawn to the volume of questions that show up in my notes, in my twitter stream, and in the conversations we had throughout the weekend. Here are five that have stuck with me:

Are we going to re-imagine learning or are we going to sharpen the pencil? 
Richard Culatta, the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the United States Department of Education, used a great analogy (video is here, start about 30 minutes in). Imagine you’re writing with a pencil, and the pencil is getting dull. Your work becomes sloppy. It’s hard to write. So you sharpen the pencil. And suddenly, it works a lot better. We focus too much on pencil sharpeners in education. We need more precise sharpeners, diamond-tipped, laser-guided pencil sharpeners. But no amount of sharpening is ever going to turn that pencil into a pen. We need to work on incremental change in education. We have to focus on how we can improve teaching and learning in small, easy steps in our schools. But we also need to work on inventing better writing instruments.

How can we embrace forced change?
Constraints are opportunities. Not having choices gives you the freedom of not having to decide. That sounds like doublespeak, but it’s not. Limits force us to be more creative and innovative. And while we may detest the new teacher evaluation systems and the new student tests and the new standards being thrust upon is, we should be looking for opportunities to leverage the changes into positive opportunities for our students.

In the late 90’s, we had a lot of conversations about Internet access in schools. Should schools have filtered Internet access to protect kids or uncensored access to provide open access to all points of view? Should they even have Internet access at all? How could schools possibly select and review all of the instructional resources as they’d done in the past? Then, the Children’s Internet Protection Act came along. You have to filter access, and exclude content that is obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors. The debate ended, and some would argue that we stopped having useful conversations about censorship. But every school in America got Internet access. The constraint of having to filter access got us past the stumbling block that was keeping us from using the resource. We need to find ways of doing that with the current challenges, too.

Should I start a TEDx?
This wouldn’t have made the list if someone hadn’t mentioned to me that we should host one. The truth is, I considered it before diving in to the EdCamp pool. There are lots of rules and restrictions, but it is possible to host a TEDx event. I’ve spent four years now promoting unstructured conversations in unconference formats. But there’s also something to be said about the crafted, curated address that embodies the TED experience. Conversations are fantastic, but a well-crafted six-minute (or 18-minute) speech can effect change, too. Plus they’re often used as the catalysts for meaningful conversations. Maybe it’s time to explore the option of bringing some sort of educational TED-like event to Ohio. It won’t be this year. It may not be next year. But it might be time to start thinking about it.

Can I create a multiple choice test that measures problem solving or critical thinking?
I think one too many people dismissed the multiple choice test, and I started challenging the idea that it can only measure recall of information. A quick Google search confirmed that lots of people are working on this (including this one, and this one, and this one). I’m not saying that essays and presentations and projects are not important. I’m not even saying that multiple choice tests are the easy way to assess student learning. But they are very easy to grade, and if we can get above remembering and understanding, they’ll still have a place among our assessment strategies.

What are we going to use to connect now that Twitter is dead?
I’ve been drifting away from Twitter for a long time. A couple years ago, I noticed myself following it less, and started creating lists to read instead of focusing on my home feed. Then, I started using aggregators like Paper.li and Flipboard to keep tabs on what people are talking about. But lately, I’m not even doing that very much. At Educon, I couldn’t follow the Twitter feed and pay attention to the panel discussions at the same time. And when the spammers started invading, I gave up on it entirely.

I’m going to try again. I plan to re-arrange my lists and introduce some new voices and try to reduce the volume a bit. But I’m pretty sure my use of Twitter has peaked, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next. It won’t be Facebook. It probably won’t be Google Plus. It definitely won’t be Pinterest. But something else is coming that’s going to bring us together.