Many commenters commented on the undesirability (or futility) of “requiring people to learn.” I understand and probably am in agreement with that idea. And yet we try to do this all the time, in education and other professions. The idea that we should require professionals to stay up-to-date in their field is by no means radical. Teachers, administrators, lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc. – we all are required by law to go back to school, participate in workshops, attend conferences, and so on (interestingly, professors aren’t). If we can require people to learn via face-to-face (or perhaps online course) settings, is requiring educators to use RSS readers any different?
Another thread in the comment stream was that we shouldn’t force educators to do anything. Rather, we should demonstrate the utility of tools like RSS readers and then hope that educators will be drawn into using them. This, of course, is the professional development strategy that we use for most desired changes in P-12 education. How’s that working for us? Do most school organizations achieve whole-scale educator adoption through the use of training that is designed to induce, rather than initiatives that “force,” educators into action?While I’m a big fan of individual choice, I also confess that I’m skeptical of the efficacy of the inducement approach. I think we get a few educators that way – usually the ones that are change-oriented in the first place – and the rest go about their business as usual. For example, Suzie Martin said in her comment that she hopes to get 5 staff members out of 40 to use RSS readers. I don’t think it’s naive to believe that we can do better than that with our professional development.
In a similar vein, we all can think of examples where desirable wide-scale educational and/or social outcomes only were possible through forced action. You know, things like mandatory school attendance, seat belt usage, vaccinations, and desegregation. Is “forcing” people to do things always bad?
Douglas Reeves says that “action drives belief,” not the other way around. He contends that it’s usually difficult to see the benefits of something before we do it because it’s too abstract. We have to start doing it – and thus turn the conceptual into something more concrete – before we actually see the benefits and buy in. This is why, for example, many school districts require educators to be in professional learning communities (PLCs). At the beginning, most educators aren’t clear what the benefits of PLCs will be to them. Over time, however, if the initiative is done well (and, unfortunately, in education that’s a big if), the idea is that educators will start seeing – through their ongoing PLC activities – the benefits of belonging to such a group. Does action drive belief or does belief drive action?
Stephen Downes has been hammering at us edubloggers for years to get out of the echo chamber and expose ourselves to a diversity of voices. Similarly, Tim Kastelle notes in his commentary on Ethan Zuckerman’s TED talk that “Connecting ideas to each other is the core creative act in innovation. And it is well-documented that we make more creative connections between ideas when we are exposed to a greater diversity of ideas.” Do we believe that exposing educators to a diverse set of high-quality peer voices is beneficial? If so, how do we go about making that happen? In the past we’ve relied on conferences, workshops, book clubs, and the like. Can’t we take advantage of digital technologies’ efficiencies to help us accomplish this goal?
Daura said in her comment that “Not everyone is on the technology train, and I don’t think anyone should be forced to jump on board.” Kalyn replied in her comment, why not? I agree with Kalyn, not Daura. I realize that I’m mostly preaching to the choir here, but technology really isn’t an “edufad,” is it?
Gerald Aungst said in his comment that “if admin says we must do it, it’s probably not good for us.” Really? Have dialogue and trust levels between administrators and teachers degraded so much that a blanket statement of that sort is true? I know that’s a fair statement for some districts but I hope that’s not true at a large scale because, if so, we’ve got much bigger problems than whether educators are effectively integrating technology into their work.
These are some of the main thoughts that I’m mulling right now on this topic. I’m still sold on the idea that exposure to a (perhaps pre-curated) diverse set of high-quality voices of professional peers who are doing interesting things with instruction and/or technology would be beneficial for all educators. For me, the questions are not around the benefits but instead around the scalability of such a change.
As always, I welcome your feedback. Thanks, everyone, for the great conversation!