School & District Management Opinion

What I Learned in 100 Posts

By Justin Reich — January 10, 2013 4 min read
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One of the most soundly-researched and widely-ignored findings in the annals of education is the need for reflection to support and sustain learning.

I’m 100 posts into this blog, so it seemed an opportune time to reflect on what I’m doing here and what I’m learning.

Data is an excellent prompt for reflection, so I started with a Wordle of all of my posts.

(Wordle provides a visual representation of word frequency counts. They probably aren’t actually as useful as a simple table of word frequency counts, but they are prettier. Wordle also doesn’t do word stemming, so “school” and “schools” count as two words, and really they oughta be one. But, you go to blog with the free tools that you have.)

I am quite pleased that “learning” is the largest word, and larger than “education.” I am also pleased that “student” is larger than “teacher.” School plays a prominent role, and I continue to be interested in these community institutions even as others seek to unbundle or privatize or give up on them.

Happy to find that these frequency counts aligned with my beliefs and mission, the next step was to take a look closely at my 100 titles and posts and see what I’m writing about.

First off, I’m clearly more of an essayist than a blogger. Posts, I’m told, should be between 300-800 words. Mine are almost never that short, except when I’m just highlighting an image or a video. (Some of the shorties are amongst my favorites). Most of my posts are usually north of 1,000 words, and actually, many of them are done in series, which is just a tricky way of writing 4,000 words posts.

My first series (posted on the old site), was a trip to Singapore with posts on technology, teachers, teacher leadership, equity, coherence, continuous improvement, and lessons, lessons, and more lessons. I wrote a three-part-series on robo-graders, a multi part series on Khan Academy and the Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000 content (the best one was the last: We Were Promised Jetpacks and Got Lectures), a two part series on teaching teachers to tweet and several posts on personalization (like here, here, here, here, and here... pick the one that works best for your learning style).

I believe the most important work I’m doing, and the place where I’m learning the most and pushing my own thinking the most, has to do with the policy ramifications of online learning, and especially the ways in which free market educational reformers have realized the potential of using online learning to advance choice and vouchers (or perhaps rediscovering what Ivan Illich hypothesized forty years ago). My policy pieces are among the least read and least shared, but I think they are grasping at trends with the most potential to remake the education landscape, in ways that might be quite bad for equity, civil society, and student learning.

I’ve posted quite a bit about iPads recently (the deluge, bad apps, appy hour, smashing apps, sharing practice, and teaching cooking). Are they the best device for education? I haven’t thought through that fully, mostly because people are buying them in droves, and I’m just desperately working with colleagues to develop a pedagogy and professional development to support them. If you know the work of Larry Cuban, you know that the odds that school-based use of iPads will have a big impact on student learning, at scale, are pretty close to nil. Maybe this time will be different, but not if we do what we’ve done every other time.

In a few places, I’m totally shameless about celebrating educators. I get a little pang of guilt when I post a “plug” for a group like teachers, edcampers, or librarians, because I know that those are easy titles to get a lot of shares and views. But look, librarians *are* completely awesome, and they should retweet a post that says so among themselves a few hundred times, because it’s true.

I’ve tried to be civil. I had a lovely compliment from Mind Shift editor Tina Barseghian today, who called the blog “anti-shrill.” That’s been my aim from the beginning; that readers can come here and find some evidence, some nuance, and some respect for people who have opinions different from my own. So here’s to an anti-shrill 2013.

So has the effort been successful thus far? That’s hard to know. In theory, the primary beneficiary of all this work is me (whoever is doing most of the talking or most of the typing is doing most of the learning), and I’m certain that my positions on a few concepts—virtual schooling, personalization, iPads and pedagogy—have been considerably refined by my work here. The discipline of blogging 2000 words a week may not have particularly helped my scholarly output, but I think it has been a good exercise for me to think more widely.

Has it benefited readers in any meaningful way? That’s hard to tell, too. Writing, like teaching, is an act of faith, that somehow my words will wend their way through the interwebs and rearrange the neurons in your brain for pro-social purposes. If that happened to any of you, well, I guess that’s good.

What’s up for this year? I need to keep it real on the research front, and continue to try to link my writing to the literature. (Sometimes it feels challenging, like so much of the edtech research literature has so little to do with the practical lives of educators.) I’d like to write more about my own work, grants, and ideas, because if I can’t make things relevant and comprehensible in this space, they probably aren’t worth doing.

And I’ll try to hold true to the original mission that I penned 100 posts ago: to help ed tech researchers understand contemporary classroom challenges, to help practitioners understand how research might shed light on those challenges, and to use technology as lens to revisit essential questions of teaching and learning. As I wrote in April:

I'm always energized by the incredible exemplars that I encounter from teachers who use new technologies to transform teaching and learning in their classrooms in powerful ways. I'm also often chastened by decades of research that shows that, at scale, technology has made only modest changes in well-established classroom practices. The conversations here won't really be about the technology itself--they'll be about pedagogy, curriculum, and relationships as seen through the lens of new media and new platforms.

If I’m doing my job, still true...

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

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The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.