Another dot in the blogosphere?

Paths of resistance

Posted on: October 2, 2017

This blog post by Gary Stager was an uncomfortable read, but in a good way.

It is easy to buy in to ideas and practices that have not been processed critically with rigorous research or reflective practice. It is much more difficult to question what passes for wisdom simply because it is widespread.

I do not think that Stager was against Chromebooks per se. He seemed to be against their uncritical acceptance and use.

In terms of technical affordances, he critiqued Chromebooks for their limited capabilities, particularly in contexts where wifi and pedagogical bandwidth were low.

If someone asked me to summarise his blog post, I would say that Stager critiqued the implementations of Chromebooks as reaching for low-hanging fruit, touching them, and then touting that accomplishment like Trump (Yuge!).

Stager’s critique reminded me of Chromebook competitors rationalising their popularity in the USA due to their use for standardised tests [1] [2]. The devices are cheap and easy to administer.

Their relatively low cost is the most often cited reason for buying them en masse. This is accompanied by the rationalisation that it is better to have some form of 1:1 technology in the classroom than none at all.

While that is true, this does not address Stager’s argument that we need to do better because we can and must do better. I deconstruct his argument another way — it is about acknowledging the paths of resistance.

The path of least resistance is often administratively driven. Chromebooks are low cost, relatively simple, and easier to control via hardware and software settings. This path is about regulation and schooling while giving the appearance of progressiveness.

The path of most resistance is trying to change what teaching already is — command and control, standardised content, reliance on an expert or restricted sources. This other path is about avoiding the shift to what learning could be — independent exploration, uncovering, creation, critiquing.

Administrators and teachers take the path of least resistance because it is easier and avoid the more difficult option. In Stager’s own words:

Making it easy to do school in a slightly more efficient manner should not be the goal. Making the impossible possible should be.

But here is how our opinions fork in the road. I agree that the administrative approach is easier and more common. However, this does not mean that there are no efforts that focus on the professional development of teachers so that they leverage on Chromebooks in the service of learners and learning.

Sure, the Chromebook is underpowered compared to an alternative like a MacBook. But the practical realities are that 1) cost is a critical barrier, 2) kids need to learn how to learn and work in the cloud, and 3) specialised programmes can buy and use the cheap alternatives (Rasberry Pis) that Stager mentioned. The savings from the cost of devices could be channelled to connection to the cloud and specialised alternatives.

This is like a meta application of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). When applied to a learner, it is about designing a challenge that is just out of reach of that learner and providing scaffolding to help him or her get there. In the case of schooling systems and teacher education, it might be also about providing a surmountable, not impossible, mission for teachers to change their old habits.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones. -- Todd Rose (In “The End of Average”)

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