Thursday, February 21, 2013

Session #2 Interest Based Learning



This week's discussion was driven by guests Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist who studies connected learning, and her brother Joi Ito, an activist for open material and a critic of 'formal schooling'.

There are three main ideas I take away from this week

1. You need a diversity of motivation

     Mimi noticed that in highly successful learning communities this is often a common feature. In organic, high-functioning learning communities, there are a variety of members willing to take myriad roles and responsibilities. In many of these groups, there is not a single standard that all are being compared to. This allows for all to contribute at different levels and for the common good. When there are multiple roles and ways of recognition, the system does more than produce winners and losers. It produces a places where people are willing to explore, create, share, contribute, take chances, and do things for the end goal. When people can concentrate on their contribution to the group, without the burden of a single standard of comparison, magic can occur.
     How different is this model than that of schools? Students are all judged against each other by a single standard, specifically grades. This fosters ruthless competition and gives no incentive for students to work together and value contribution because it may spoil the individual accomplishments of one.  This also does not allow for one's interest to be recognized as the standard measurement is already predetermined. It is like my 5'9'', toothpick frame going into the ring against a heavyweight.
     Joi went on to add that this is a particular problem in places of higher education such as "Harvard". If students all have to do the same thing to get in and have the same profile, there is very little diversity of motivation in the group. Most of the group is motivated by individual carrots and sticks and may have a hard time sharing and collaborating with people.

2.  You can do just fine in school without learning

      I know this first hand because I was a professional at it. Mimi used two terms to coin the model of schooling in the United States, institutional instruction and corporate education. A better visual, though, was when she said that she found it quite easy to "crack the code" to school success. This meant she learned early on how to please teachers, abide by cultural norms, and follow the rule-based system.
       Joi, on the other hand, couldn't play by the rules. He could not compartmentalize knowledge and break it into history, math, and literature. He wanted a grand theory and hated how schools would not offer it. Worse yet, if he did not abide by the other team's rules, he lost. When he tried college, he noticed science was all words and numbers. To him, that was antithetical to his intuition. Science was hand-ons.
      What do we do for students that cannot and/or do not want to "break the code"? Why can't we meet them where their interests are? Why can't school reflect what they like? Mine craft? Pop culture?

3. Three fields that need to overlap and interact

      -the high-stakes, individual, market-oriented, competitive achievement field
      -the field with our interests, passions, and desires
      -the field with our community, friends, and family

      How can students navigate all three fields and have an appropriate mixture of all impact their learning in positive ways? What field needs more integration into school? Should school be the only place in a student's learning ecosystem? How can we encourage more overlap?

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