Critical Thinking in Academia and Calling a Spade a Spade

I started my career in education as a middle school math remediation teacher, a job created for me as a December college graduate. I had no curriculum, templates or rules but was instead told to develop my own. This was a perfect start for me as a graduate from a program that empowered us to be creators of experiences instead of taking on the robotic like lens that many first year teachers were forced to do.

When I moved to High School as a Geometry teacher, all of that creativity seemed to change when I was handed a binder and told to teach from it verbatim. It was as if the life was sucked from my body in one 3 inch metal ring swoop.

It would be years before I found “my voice” again in my teaching and advocacy. Prior to getting there though, I may or may not have kissed a ton of “edu-frogs” in terms of buying into books and models that helped me “structure learning” in the garden that I came to believe that learning needed to be.

It doesn’t.

My moment of “Is this all there is” came through the lens of seeing students collaboratively learning in a non-traditional environment…playing active roles in their learning. This meant that I could no longer just accept the norms of school without questioning why we do it. I needed to advocate for a different approach where we didn’t place kids or teachers into boxes and expect them to remain as such.

I couldn’t allow us to talk about choice while also applying limits to those choices.

Don’t even get me started on training…especially technology training. It was too often that teachers were assumed to be complete and total novices instead of building on the technology that impacts our lives daily. (No different from content based trainings that assumed that content specialists didn’t have a clue about that which they were hired to teach)

It was as if the trainers themselves didn’t know the differences between teaching a session of content and designing an experience meant for deeper learning.

I had a burning desire to change this and while this need for change is what drove me into instructional technology…

…Sometimes I feel like I’ve entered the land of 3 inch binders all over again except now they are programs, templates, hashtags and books.

You’re killing me smalls.

We love our controlled systems a little too much and love to cry foul when there is pushback. I experienced this with Common Sense media when calling them out on the ridiculous slave game. The history teachers were up in arms because this game that they loved to play with their students was being called absolutely inappropriate. The tweets to “change my perspective” were insane and none of them seemed to want to listen.

People were willing to accept this program without fault…without question because this is what we are programmed to do as teachers.

At the same token, when I first joined the Graphite community, the lesson creation tool was absolutely defined to the letter as one model and again, teachers were willing to upload lessons under their predefined structures just because it was “their format”. I didn’t do this. Instead, I sent them a letter asking them to redo their system because none of us teach or design lessons the same and creating systems forcing a structure was counterproductive to growth.

It was crazy to me that according to their response, this was the first that they heard feedback in this way.

Time and again, with every tech company that I encounter, the feedback is real. Their systems should not define our systems…especially when they are created for us. Microsoft needed to hear that their collaboration tools sucked in order to begin to work out why. SMART needed to learn that they not only didn’t invent collaboration…but the tool that they created could easily be accomplished with existing tools. The good people of TED ED needed to know that teacher voice is more than just creating lessons of their content and that if their goal is to empower that and create change then perhaps they need to rethink what teacher voice means.

Why do you think that “certified educator” communities are created? To be fair, it is mostly to get their products into more schools but we have the power within us to use these open doors as a way of making the tools that we use fit our needs instead of fitting into their “binders”.

We have to push back and expect new innovations to be different and better…not the same and not the same functionality under new names.

..Even and especially when such programs are created by teachers for teachers.

Yesterday, I raised a pretty valid question about the latest craze in edtech…hyperdocs.

“HyperDoc is a term used to describe a Google Doc that contains an innovative lesson for students- a 21st Century worksheet, but much better” from HERE

It’s basically taking a worksheet and making it digital but not just in the sense of the worksheet itself but with links, media, tasks and maybe even space for students to add their thinking and send/receive feedback. There are a ton of free templates, examples and a book, which is amazing since this was created by a teacher who admittedly (via twitter) didn’t see her collaborative work reflected in professional learning. Kudos to her and her team for creating this and putting it out there.

The issue that I have here isn’t about Lisa and her work. It is extensive and brilliant.

The issue that I have is that people have taken this idea of having a google doc/sheet/slide or whatever and have rebranded them all as “hyperdocs” because they have links, interactive content, tasks, etc.

Hey…this isn’t new but is new for some. Without question or hesitation, many teachers are now simply accepting that every document built as a guided interactive lesson is a hyperdoc….not simply a google doc or slide but specifically a hyperdoc.

I applaud Lisa’s work and hey she can call her work and templates whatever she wants. Awesome!

But…are we really expected to say that this definition defines all work created in this way now…because there is a book? Am I violating some odd copyright if I refuse this definition of my work? How is questioning this universal acceptance of a not new idea as a new one not being supportive of teaching?

Again, I have nothing against this book and applaud those who are learning how to develop a digital lesson but I will always push back against the universal adoption of an idea as a process that now defines us all. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Also, can we stop with this notion that questioning people’s work and intentions is somehow a bad thing?

As I said on twitter…

I’m not sure how you instill in students the need to question norms which they do not agree if you yourself fall for everything without question.

Sometimes a spade is just that…a spade.

Perhaps it’s time that we start collectively calling it how we see it.

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