“While it might feel great to plan a week out meticulously (and believe me, I had something planned), it sometimes feels even better to let go, to give the kids control, and to jump on the teachable moments.”
~ Paul France
Where does all of this lead? What will be the result of an exploration of Critical Instructional Design? What is the result when we question our assumptions, redefine the familiar, examine our praxis anew?
When I am asked why I don’t use assessments (or rubrics) (or learning objectives) when I teach, I answer that I believe that 1. participation is an individual choice; 2. learner contributions are meaningful content in the course; 3. there are no “right” answers to the questions I’m bound to ask. I could builds assessments for courses I teach, but that would require a sense that learners would accomplish what I want them to accomplish.
John Holt asserts that education is no longer something that learners give themselves. He says that education today is “something that some people do to others for their own good, molding and shaping them, and trying to make them learn what they think they ought to know … its purpose is neither wise nor humane.”
How do we ever know for certain that what we want learners to accomplish is what they should accomplish? In truth, we don’t. But if we don’t at least manufacture outcomes, then we teach into a space of uncertainty, un-measurability—and that’s scary.
Amy Collier and Jen Ross have written about the idea of not-yetness, a theory antithetical to evidence-based teaching. In “What about Qualitative Research in the ‘New Data Science of Learning‘?”, Amy offers:
Maggie Maclure calls the push for evidence-based education “animated by the desire for certainty, willing to sacrifice complexity and diversity for ‘harder’ evidence and the global tournament of standards.” The push for “harder evidence” often pushes out the kinds of learning and evidence that come from post-structural, phenomenological, and critical approaches. For example, the Evidence-Based Teachers Network proclaims that studies on teaching and learning involving few students, no comparison groups, or only one teacher constitute poor evidence. After all, randomized controlled experiments are the “gold standard” — why would we accept anything else?
The problem with the evidence-based approach, Amy goes on to say, is that it can’t account for learning that might be tied to a person’s identity, to the intersectional way in which they approach the material. Evidence-based teaching assumes the student is something of a “blank slate”, a mind filled only with the prerequisite knowledge for the material at hand. It does not, in other words, account for what the learner brings with them to a class—their learning history, the parenting they received, their socioeconomic status, their gender expression, their ethnicity, any history of trauma or success in learning.
Emerging technologies in education, as defined by Veletsianos (2010), are those which are ‘not yet fully understood’ and ‘not yet fully researched, or researched in a mature way’ (15). It is not only technologies, but also practices, subjectivities and pedagogies involved with them which are marked by this ‘not-yetness’ (Collier and Ross, forthcoming). At the same time, the relationship of educators, institutions and educational researchers to technology is one that has often been characterised by attempts at control, efficiency and enhancement (Bayne 2015a), underplaying more ‘disruptive, disturbing and generative dimensions’ (7). Working with the not-yetness of digital education means engaging with complexity, uncertainty and risk, not as factors to be minimised or resolved, but as necessary dimensions of technologies and practices which are unknown and in flux, or what Barnett and Hallam (1999) call ‘conditions of radical and enduring uncertainty, unpredictability, challengeability and contestability’ (142).
The benefits of the not-yetnesss approach—of “messy” learning—is that it requires a level of authentic engagement that mimics or replicates the learning we do outside of formal education. “Authentic” is, of course, a tough word to bandy about, but here we mean authentic as learning which responds to the real: real problems, real situations, the real environment, and the real “content” that learners bring to the table. Joshua Block offers:
I am slowly learning to embrace the struggles that students experience as they engage with authentic work. If I don’t allow learning to be messy, I eliminate authentic experiences for students as thinkers and creators. I find it important to regularly remind myself that frustration leads to insights and that learning is not necessarily the equivalent of mastery.
Frustration leads to insight. Learning isn’t equivalent to mastery. Can these be productive tenets of a critical instructional design?