On Day 1 of this year’s DML Conference, I attended an inspiring panel entitled “The Open Source Learning School District: Moving Beyond ‘What If'”, hosted by David Preston, a PhD in Education Policy from UCLA currently working in a central California high school where he has been testing the open source classroom model for a number of years. In Dr. Preston’s classroom, students pursue their interests individually and collaboratively, develop online spaces to enrich and share their work, establish networks with other students and professional mentors, and are allowed the time and agency to create their own learning environments and processes.
The DML Conference often feels like a bubble. Hundreds of academics and organization administrators discuss all the ways the old learning models are failing students and the methods and theories for establishing new, 21st century learning models; but where are the voices of the students and the teachers in the trenches of the school system, struggling against the burdens of standards and test scores and budgets? Dr. Preston’s presentation offered a glimpse into how those new models could be implemented within those old-model constraints. And that’s the type of change I’m interested in. The one hour a week we can spend with one of our students is no match for the 13 years they will spend within the public school system. We strive to create a transformative learning experience for our students, but we should also strive to transform their learning experience within school.
Obviously Dr. Preston does not reflect the average public school teacher – he’s a doctor, first of all. He’s also published books and is invited to speak across the country about his classroom. His classroom is an outlier. It’s a test case. His administration has allowed him the freedom to experiment with his classroom; something nobody else in his district or even his school has the freedom to do. He is still burdened by the same constraints as other teachers, however. Students in his AP English course take the same test AP English students across the country take, though their educational journey has been very different. To paraphrase Dr. Preston, if the choice is between the old model and students passing the AP test, or the students creating their own transformative learning experience and not performing on the AP test, well, it’s no choice at all for Dr. Preston. Yet his classes yield results: His students have an 87% college acceptance rate, including Ivy League schools, in a school district with an historically low college acceptance rates. More importantly, the students are engaged in their learning and spend their time at school pursuing their own interests and connecting with people and organizations that also share those interests. And they have the online presence to show for it, as the students publish all their work and learning ventures online. During the presentation, students were present, via Skype, to add their perspectives and discuss their projects and learning experiences within the class.
This is the conversation we should be having as digital media literacy educators and organizations. How can the work we’re doing be translated into the public school system? Because it’s in those classrooms where students’ love of learning is nurtured or destroyed. We can pick up the pieces and introduce new ways of learning and communicating and playing, but that’s just not enough.
– Alan Berry, Education Manager