In the readings for my Evaluation course, a concept struck me: when something fails, do you blame the theory or the implementation? I think that in education, great concepts often get abandoned because of poor execution and a lack of understanding about the implementation. Researchers Leviton and Lipsey describe this as not knowing the inner workings of the “black box.”
I first read about the notion of “the black box” in the context of the economics and education last fall. Economic researchers frequently write about inputs and outputs. They examine what goes into the black box of schools in terms of time, money, or resources and then measure what comes out – student test scores, teacher evaluations, etc. However, economists rarely open that box.
The same thing happens with schools when they look to implement a new program. In their 2012 article, Theoretical Frameworks to Guide School Improvement, authors Evans, Thornton, and Usinger explain that most educational reform efforts occur absent a defined theory of change. Instead, schools and districts implement new plans or programs without defining why they believe that these change efforts should work; what they hope to achieve; and how they might measure success. In other words, they often take a black box approach.
For my dissertation work, I have to define the theory of treatment for my intervention study so that if something goes wrong, I will know if the problem lies in the theory or the execution of my design. To do this, I have to define the logic behind my assumptions, the causal or correlational relationship between variables, and the literature to support my claims. This latest blog post at least helped me to wrap my head around the concept and the process.
From a constructivist perspective, learning is based on past experiences (Ertmer & Newby, 1983). So why do we expect educators to incorporate deeper learning and 21st-century skills — areas that few teachers have engaged in personally — without first providing those initial experiences on which to build new knowledge and understanding?
Last week at the EdTechTeacher Innovation Summit in San Diego, I had the opportunity to facilitate some hands-on, Design Thinking activities for teachers. Each one afforded participants with an experience on which they could build new understanding of what it “feels” like to be a student in a non-traditional classroom. Whether through littleBits, BreakoutEDU, or the Extraordinaires, educators engaged in the design thinking process so that they could formulate an idea of what it might look like in their classroom.
Whether the goal is design thinking, project based learning, deeper learning, 21st-century skills, or any other new form of instruction, what may be most critical is ensuring that all teachers and administrators can have that initial experience on which to base new knowledge. If the goal is to transform education, then everyone needs an opportunity to learn.
>> Read the full article on EdTech Researcher.
Sabba Quidwai and I have been discussing ways to leverage the power of digital tools to support deeper inquiry for quite some time. Since she started her job as the Director of Innovation at the USC Keck Medical School in the Physician Assistant program, we have bounced ideas for ways that she can support her graduate students with this task. Once I also became a student last year, then we gained even more opportunities to explore this concept of digital note taking for a greater purpose.
Last fall, the two of us recorded a Google Hangout as we introduced the idea of tagging and organizing as a means to ask better questions (you can watch below). Our work also inspired us to co-author a new blog post series. The first product of this collaboration launched on EdSurge as Beyond the Binder: 3 Strategies for Empowering Digital Tool Use in the Classroom.