BFTP: The quiet disruption

We hear a lot about "disruptive technologies" in education. Yet judging by apperances, most classes looked pretty much like they did 100 years ago - students in desks, facing the front, teacher in charge, standard curriculum, uniform assessments. (At least, pre-pandemic.)

Yes, some teachers used small work groups now and then. Funny looking chairs, collaboration spaces, and multiple TV monitors instead of a projectors could be found here and there. Textbooks were going digital. Worksheets distributed and collected via GoogleDocs. A few assessments done online.

But what had changed fundamentally? Look carefully, true disruption is tough to see.

This is because it was not the adults who were driving the truly disruptive use of technology in the classroom. It was the students themselves. Quietly. Individually. Non-confrontationally.


Given an Internet connected device, whether personal or school-provided, students can self-individualize their learning during class. If a teacher has not made a persuasive case for the importance of knowing subject-verb agreement, double-digit multiplication, or the historical importance of the Crimean War, students have an alternative to glassy-eyed submissiveness or defiant rebellion. They can learn about things of interest and acquire skills of they see of value.

I suspect many teachers will not object to this - at least initially. Quiet learning, regardless of topic, is preferable to classroom disorder. But here are some questions I would be asking as technology disrupts the education process - quietly:

  • How do I increase the relevance of what I am teaching to gain/regain student interest?
  • How can we help students realize that some knowledge and skills may not have immediate application to their lives, but may be foundational to other learning?
  • Should I acknowledge those who have tuned-out of my syllabus and try to directed their learning to related areas?
  • Will my students' mandated assessments and other test scores tank? If so, are there ways to demonstrate my students are still learning as a result of attending my class?

I don't know if we can accommodate self-individualized learning in our traditional school systems. Are we just trying to compete with digital photography by offering a better grade of film photography?

 And where was self-personalized learning when I was in school?

Original post 8/9/16

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