Mixing Stuff Together

At the end of yesterday’s post, I challenged everyone (including me) to

See what it feels like to break down a few compartments and let “stuff” mix together.

I did that physically with my weekend adventure, which is still “mixing together” so much that I’m not ready to blog about it. But I’ve also been letting some ideas mix together, and I think they’re ready – or almost ready – to serve up for public consumption. I’ve been thinking a lot about

  • the issues of experts and novices that we talked about last week – and how 20th-century, factory-model schools conceptualize experts and novices;
  • the closely-related conscious competence model; and
  • the theory of diffusion of innovations, which I’ve mentioned from time to time in previous posts, usually referring to Geoffrey Moore’s work on the subject.

In the course of this Google+ thread, I started to wonder if there was more to the diffusion of innovation than Moore’s writing on the subject. A quick Google search sent me to this Wikipedia article and to Everett Rogers’ seminal book on the subject, Diffusion of Innovations, which is partly available on Google Books.

I’m definitely still at a point of conscious incompetence when it comes to the diffusion of innovations! But I’m starting to see some connections among these three seemingly unrelated issues.

Why do factory-model school structures persist even though “everybody” agrees that they’re no longer optimal? According to diffusion theory, five factors drive decisions to adopt (or not adopt) an innovation in any area:

  • relative advantage
  • compatibility
  • complexity/simplicity
  • trialability
  • observability

There’s a growing consensus that changes to the factory model would have a relative advantage. But the other factors are problematic:

  • What other changes would a different model bring? That’s a scary unknown in the area of compatibility.
  • How hard would it be to change? That’s a huge, scary unknown in complexity.
  • What if it doesn’t work? Can I try it out without having to change everything? That’s a giant, terrifying unknown in trialability.
  • What if someone sees me mess up? What if they laugh at me or fire me or put a mark in my permanent record? For many educators, those are real and terrifying unknowns under observability.

Obviously, if you’re an early adopter or an innovator, these concerns are small to nonexistant. But even for the early majority, they’re very real … and that’s why so many innovations fail to “cross the chasm,” as Moore says. All too often, the innovator/early adopter community doesn’t realize that their friends in the early majority don’t speak the same language or have the same needs. So no one addresses the compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability pieces in a way that the early majority can embrace.

Where do you see yourself on the scale from early adopter to laggard? Which of the five factors seems most important to your decisions? And when it comes to educational innovations – whether they’re relatively small, like using the Tres Columnae Project instead of a textbook in your Latin class, or relatively huge, like abandoning the factory model completely – what kinds of reassurance and support do you need?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Published in: on August 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm  Comments (10)  

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  1. […] I’d also like to give thanks friends who contributed to Facebook group discussions about yesterday’s post … but if you’re not a member of those groups, you may not be able to see their […]

  2. […] you’ve read my posts from Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about how change happens – […]

  3. I have a new role this year in addition to teaching grade five. It is vaguely classified under the umbrella of innovation. I see this as giving me the freedom to trial, experiment, poke the box, make a ruckus and all, essentially, with blanket “approval” from administration. I intend to “use my powers for good” and to hopefully use this advantage in a trial/observable way that will result in a deconstruction of the factory model of schooling. Fingers crossed!

    • What a great role! I will definitely be interested to hear about how that works. I’m also intrigued by the very different responses that different schools, districts, and communities have to the notion of deconstructing factory-model schools. It sounds like yours is quite receptive. But so many are either terrified, unaware, or desperately trying to hold on to the factory mode while also embracing change.

      What do you suppose are some of the factors that cause these differences?

      • I think a lot of schools are scared. Scared of failing. Scared of fallout if the changes go badly. The thing is, schools don’t need tweaking, they need a revolution and that is never going to be easy! Mine is receptive, to a point. We are a growing school and whilst independent and therefore with fewer restrictions placed on us in terms of curriculum, we still have to account to our parents and board. I am excited for the coming year and the role I will play in being a catalyst for further change.

  4. […] diverse groups.  By no means were we “all the same” even to a casual glance.  So we “mixed stuff together” on a regular basis, and we broke down the compartments and echo […]

  5. […] adopter!  The early and late majority in any market have very different needs and concerns, as I was reminded last month, and it’s easy for us early adopter types to forget that!)  Anyway, I dutifully deleted and […]

  6. great post! thanks for the links on diffuse Innovation. One thing to remember is that K-12 education is a $263 billion a year enterprise. It is in the best interest of those within it to maintain a status quo–regardless of the advantages of change. Very similar to the consumption of oil, and this is a striking metaphor for education.

  7. One framework to consider “Why do factory-model school structures persist even though “everybody” agrees that they’re no longer optimal?” is presented in the book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” by Peter Senge. There’s a good summary of the key ideas here: http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm

    I found The Fifth Discipline circa 2000, and it was one of a number of inputs around that time that made me step back and think that education — and even how companies work — really could be done differently, while also helping me understand why discussing change was so complicated.

    One of the concepts discussed there is “mental models,” which are basically the cognitive lenses through which people look at the world. This is related, on some level, to people’s overall worldviews. In my continued search to uncover why it’s so hard to discuss this “why” problem, a key paper I found last year — quite relevant to the “mixing” theme — “Attachment, Self-Esteem, Worldviews, and Terror Management: Evidence for a Tripartite Security System” http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/faculty/swann/docu/fall395Pdocs/HARTSH~1.PDF

    Terror Management Theory research “indicates that much of human behavior is directed toward maintaining a sense of psychological security and minimizing conscious and unconscious apprehension and anxiety about personal vulnerability—including, ultimately, death.”

    I think that much of human behavior is also directed toward people’s search for meaningful, interesting, engaging activities and situations — especially in today’s world of media saturation that’s often associated with both overwhelm and boredom. Many people seek a sense of pressure, anxiety, and dramatic context. Yet, the experimental evidence does show that when people’s sense of what they believe is threatened, they seek to compensate the challenge to their sense of identity or security, or their interests.

    All of these concepts — interests, attachment figures, self-esteem, worldviews, and the things one finds disturbing, all relate to the core concept of “identity.” Who someone is, how they see themselves, and how others see them.

    This brief clip of Robert Mnookin’s discussion of identity in the context of negotiation illustrates that point. Mnookin is author of the book, “Bargaining With The Devil: When To Negotiate, and When to Fight”:
    Robert Mnookin: Identity is a Factor in Conflict – Mediate.com [0:41]

    Often, a key component of identity is one’s education. So, it can be difficult for people to accept that there was a problem with their own education. (In my case, I think there was a problem.) In many cases, I’ve heard people claim their education didn’t matter to how their life has played out. But to say something was missing can invoke a sense of loss, and related vulnerability. But being open to those feelings can help people see things more clearly.

    Dan Ariely: Beware conflicts of interest

    “These stories, and lots of other experiments we’ve done on conflicts of interest, basically kind of bring two points to the foreground for me. The first one is that in life we encounter many people who, in some way or another, try to tattoo our faces. They just have the incentives that get them them be blinded to reality and give us advice that is inherently biased. And I’m sure it’s something we all recognize and we see that it happens — maybe we don’t recognize it every time, but we understand that it happens.

    The most difficult thing, of course, is to realize that sometimes we, too, are blinding by our own incentives. And that’s a much much more difficult lesson to take into account, because we don’t see how conflicts of interest work on us. When I was doing these experiments, I was helping science. I was eliminating data to get the true pattern of the data to shine through. I wasn’t doing something bad. In my mind, I was actually, you know, a knight trying to help the process to move along. But this was not the case, I was actually interfering with the process with lots of good intentions.

    I think the real challenge is to find out what are the cases in our lives where conflicts of interest work on us, and try not to trust our own intuition to overcome it, but do things that prevent us from falling prey to these behaviors, because we can create lots of undesirable circumstances. I do want to leave you with one positive thought — I mean, this is all depressing, right? People have conflicts of interest and they don’t see them. The positive perspective, I think, of this is, if we do understand where we go wrong, if we understand the deep mechanisms of why we fail and where we fail, we can actually hope to fix things.”

    Another approach to use comes from Theory of Constraints — http://www.goldratt.com/pdfs/toctpwp.pdf — which is used in manufacturing and other business contexts, but which is abstract enough to be applied to anything, including education. It gets into the psychology of thinking processes as applied to objective organizational processes. This theory has even been demonstrated in the form of the “business novel” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goal_(novel)

    The following video, based on Theory of Constraints, breaks down in dialogue some of why people avoid change, and how their sense of incentives, interests, and risks feeds into their evaluative processes:
    Overcoming Resistance to Change – Isn’t It Obvious?

    In the interest of time and space constraints, I’ll leave it at that, but I’m interested in adapting some of these ideas into a form that can spur more discussion. One of the challenges of the online environment is figuring out what to post where. Another is figuring out how to mix dialogue with people’s exchange of background knowledge and references. With all the information resources out there, often people have totally different frames of reference. And without shared background knowledge, communication is difficult.

    That gets into the topic of experts vs. novices, and how expertise is acquired and shared. One reference on that is chapter 2 from “How People Learn: Mind Brain Experience and School” — http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9853&page=31

    And that comes back to time constraints. In my ongoing process of learning, I have dug through a lot of videos and blogs over the past year, in particular, doing that almost full time, while adapting things I find interesting into visual info-layouts, and recording video explaining my process. But I have to decide which path to go down at any given point. For example, I’ve read a fraction of the posts on this blog, even though I find them very interesting and I like the use of bold keywords to simplify reading. I’d like to read more, but I have many other things vying for my attention. One of my goals is to adapt essential points into lessons or a guided sequence that learners could go down, in their own self-directed learning process.

    And that, in turn, leads back to the question of expertise, and helping students become experts in the general process of navigating information and learning key concepts. And that leads into the question of what people should learn over the long periods of time they spend engaged in learning (or surfing information), and how both learners and teachers/mentors can go about figuring that out.

    That connects through to Michael Wesch’s post from last August:
    1991: Who we were and Who we need to be

    I’ve given a great deal of thought over the past year and a half about the past two decades. What have I learned? How did I spend my time? What prompts, media, and discussions did I encounter and participate in creating? And, how does this tie back around to the question of what people should know and teach, and how, in a world where learners have more control and empowerment than ever, but often struggle with having an active process of engaged learning. Part of the problem, I think, is a lack of continuity — and that’s something I think can be addressed, in part, by helping learners understand their place in an unfolding sequence of events, where not even the experts have figured everything out, and where one’s own learning might well be relevant to the ongoing process of deciding which path to go down.

    In the end, the reassurance and support I’ve found is in a sense that I’m not alone in the quest to figure things out. Life is not the automatic sequence of events that it’s often expected to be, but rather an unfolding story that we’re all continuing to write. And it’s the universal principles of story, that provide a sense of continuity in an age of disruptive innovation.

    • @Screenstorming, thanks so much for this wonderful comment and all the great resources! I’ll respond at greater length when I’ve had a chance to digest everything.

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