commenting on ‘What would Paulo Freire think of Blackboard?’

Drick Boyd’s “What would Paulo Freire think of Blackboard?” is a provocative piece worth moving to the top of your ‘I should look into this’ list. Online learning has become more prominent and easy-to-use. Boyd is correct in urging educators to check their assumptions about the internal and often-subliminal messaging written into the DNA of a commercial Learning Management System (LMS).

Information and artifacts move efficiently to and from teachers and learners in an LMS, however, how many of us have stopped to “wonder about the nature of their learning experience”? What symbolic language and encoded values come from the software itself? And do those languages and values reflect the lessons, language, and values of the instructor? Or even the school? How might educational theorists respond to what they see happening as the teaching and learning cycle in an LMS? Is it student-centered? Teacher-centered? Is it inclusive? Does it allow for questioning the dominant culture? Are there restrictions placed on student expression or exploration?

Boyd reminds us of Freire’s warning: a student interacting alone with a computer does not lead to a transformative education. Instead, educators must lead the way to discover new methods and pathways for using computers in community with students. This big picture goal becomes obscured when we purchase an LMS with its writing templates for assignments, curricula, and gradebooks. The Internet is a common space that has grown to become an essential public utility, such as gas, electricity, and water, and each of us has the right to have access to and voice in this town hall. Educators have an obligation to view their school’s LMS choice as a common space that will “redefine the way human users understand themselves and their relationship to the world.” Without that critical eye on the software used, students fall in line and develop a relationship to knowledge and information that is commodity-based, for with each correct blip submitted, up ticks their percentage grade in the course.

An LMS certainly has positive features, such as discussion forums, and channels for collaboration and democratizing the learning process. It is not all bad, however, it does take the user through a predetermined set of boxes, buttons, and clicks. Teachers, too, have this experience, as they quantify their learning outcomes. Cue film of teacher sitting alone with a software program that requires him to walk through required boxes, buttons, and clicks. That assignment is likely developed alone, not in dialogue, or perhaps efficiently imported from last year’s class.

Let’s focus our critical eye even more: we have a preponderance of information via text as the medium of delivery of content combined with a rigid pathway for inputting and receiving and interacting with that text. This teaching and learning experience was conceived, created, and packaged by the software company. Freire urged us to develop curricula in dialogue with students, but where is the LMS that supports that kind of openness and flexibility?

Perhaps we should consider returning to paper and pencil for some of the daily work of the Constructivist classroom.

What Would Paulo Freire Think of Blackboard: Critical Pedagogy in an Age of Online Learning,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol. 7, Issue 1, 2016, pp.165-186.

Augmented Reality could DISRUPT Reality

Disrupt the traditional reality of schools and education by augmenting it.

Technology use in education can certainly speed up our use of paper. However, that use maintains things as they are. Why are we “inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way”? (Seymour Papert, 1972).

To disrupt the norm, we should try to urge the conversation about schools and computers in a new direction. Let’s talk about how to get students to learn together with computers and technology, not isolated individually in a corner at a computer terminal. Let’s talk about the unknown possibilities of creating new unknown ideas and projects. And let’s talk about Seymour Papert!

Papert’s work traces the ideas of Dewey, Montessori, and Piaget to his ideas about a method to teach students how to think and build with computers. His suggestions go far beyond a simple computer lab or a computer in every classroom. Seymour Papert urges us to integrate computer science into the entire curriculum.

What happens when we make room for student control of the artifacts they produce and the topics they study? Classrooms can change. Schools can change.

Disrupt reality: We can aim at something other than test scores and grade point averages.

Experimental programs where students use computers in new exploratory ways have grown to become curricular models. In the past three decades, Seymour Papert helped push at the edges of what tradition expects. The students in his pilot programs often surpassed the test performance of those students who completed the traditional course without technology.

So what are we waiting for?

Let’s consider what might come next. Join me in considering a radical leap to three-dimensional virtual learning environments (3DVLE) in the classroom. And for school use, let’s also consider more than individual virtual reality goggles.

The unknown landscape resides somewhere where students together explore a multi-user augmented reality space. This will allow for offline and online interactions to happen in tandem. With augmented reality, 3DVLE classroom spaces can remain markedly human and preserve the intangible qualities of working together.

Here’s what I’m thinking about

3DVLE // three-dimensional virtual learning environment

Schools do not move quickly in response to changing philosophies, burgeoning innovations, or marketplace attitudes outside of itself. Innovations in the fields of art, medicine, and science evolve and adapt rapidly. The re-imagined classroom of the future has yet to take hold. Very few schools have broken the mold. What is our responsibility? What is my role? It’s true that most schools do not yet discuss the potential of a 3DVLE. The institution may be stagnant, but the students are not.

What is a Three-Dimensional Virtual Learning Environment (3DVLE)?

It is a digital space that capitalizes on the nature of human perception. Additionally, 3DVLEs extend visual information so that the user can interact with the data in real time, almost to the point of ‘feeling’ the stimuli. This ‘pretend’ is achieved by the software’s ability to deliver an immediate and immersive experience which allows for the learner to be in charge. Users in the 3DVLE can also take this subjective experience even further by creating new online identities for themselves. With these new identities, users are able to freely move about and manipulate objects in the three-dimensional environment. (Dalgarno and Lee, 2010)

Things are different now

Students daily bring to campus an abundance of microprocessors and have grown reliant on the widespread availability of ‘decent WIFI’. We are witnessing a new normal with student familiarity of computing devices, computing literacy, and multi-user engagement in online virtual environments. (Kellner, 2010) This near-silent shift has occurred over the last ten years. During this time, we are also witnessing a widening gap between the kinds of jobs available and the relevance of subject matters studied in schools. Additionally, schools and classrooms face a greater number of restraints placed on curricula and student outcomes. Accountability and funding policies largely dictate how administrators allow their teachers to use class time for what is ‘in the interest of students.’

We cannot predetermine human success

Earlier and earlier, students display great flexibility with complicated tools. (Kafai, 2015) However, schools who have already set their ‘June outcomes’ during the previous June, may end up with predetermined outcomes that limit critical thinking and problem-solving skills. While this may seem like a new problem, in some ways, it’s the same old one just moving at warp speed.

I propose to offer an analysis and a synthesis of Constructivist and Critical Theory concepts. And then I will construct a pedagogical approach to share. We can develop a transformational way to use Three-Dimensional Virtual Learning Environments (3DVLEs) in schools, and I intend to help.