Friday, January 30, 2009

Systemic Change in Education Part 2

This is a follow up to my last post on Duffy's and Reigeluth's School Transformation Protocol

Circular-like Requirements for Concurrent Change
Duffy does a nice job laying out three paradigm shifts necessary for systemic transformational change in education (see summary above). While the term “paradigm shift”, may stroke many philosophers the wrong way, it gets at complexity theory’s idea of critical mass & phase change. In this regard it does convey the enormity of the task: how do you concurrently change core processes, social structures and environmental feedback? There is more than a bit of tension here. Instructional designers tend to resort to concurrent processes as a last resort, and even then favor tight recursivity over true parallelism (Kenny, Zhang, Schwier, Campbell, 2005).

When three concurrent shifts are required, it is hard not to analyze contexts and see one component as pre-eminent. I suspect something akin to Charles Sanders Peirce pragmatic semiotics could help illuminate additional facets here (1998). When combined with modern ideas of emergence, like those by Stuart Kauffman (2008), I believe we have strong tools and theories that can tighten up circular problems. Perhaps a quote from Duffy & Reigeluth’s article here will help.

Although the three paradigm shifts (changes along all three change paths) must be made simultaneously, given the interdependencies among parts of a school system, changes in the teaching learning process (the core work process that is part of paradigm shift 1) should drive the nature of the changes created for the other two paradigm shifts, especially for paradigm shift 2. (2008, p. 4)

One of the difficulties with circular/parallel change issues is our natural tendencies for single vision motivation. As a project’s scope increases, the probability of finding people able to maintain and convey a strong unifying central vision decreases. I suspect a practical difficulty in implementing the SST design will involve balancing three concurrent paradigm shifts. I think the SST design will be strengthened as researchers add additional pragmatic insights in this area. SST would benefit from operationalizing a academically rigorous method for concurrent multi-focused paradigm change.

Continual Processes
Modern ideas of emergence tie well with Duffy and Reigeluth’s complexity approach. A fundamental question complexity theory seems to raise is the balance between descriptors and drivers. What phenomena are better understood through context specific descriptions (ie. 18 continuous SST processes) and what phenomena are better understood through drivers and rules (ie. what natural tendencies operationalize adaptive group-level dynamics at work here)? One difference between these two perspectives is their role in forward prediction versus backward description. Descriptors may illustrate necessary but not sufficient factors. This is especially true in complex environments where it is not possible to pre-state all the factors required for a given future state (Kauffman, 2008). However when one looks back at descriptors, it is easy to see causation whose predictive relationship is anything but one-to-one. I wonder if the 18 SST processes mentioned fall into the descriptive trap?

When thinking about practical implementation, is it wiser for designers to think in terms of drivers , or observable descriptors? I suspect forward prediction is well suited to the leveraging of naturally evolved group-level drivers (Wilson, 2002) while summative evaluation is well suited to observable descriptors.

Thus, I suspect, the 18 SST processes will aid reflection on whether a given change has truly become systemic. The 18 SST processes should also give people a “feel” for the depth of change required by Duffy & Reigeluth’s three parallel paradigm shifts. In practice, I suspect those who implement change need to see a balance between descriptors and drivers. One of the main challenges in talking about drivers though, is not shooting from the hip. I think the tools of rigorous evolutionary psychology could be of great help here. For instance, David Sloan Wilson (2002) and Scott Atran (2002) have done an admirable job in teasing out some of the drivers associated with religious group formation. While this is not easy, I suspect similar methodologies in leading educational change may bear fruit.

In this regard, I wonder on what emergent level phenonema associated with systemic change should be handled? Are we better dealing with descriptors or drivers? Do we look at drivers through a traditional affective lens? Or do we start looking at drivers at a deeper level? This question seems to hearken back to the dilemma evolutionary biology encounters: what types of questions are best handled via proximate causes (ie in what ways is reproduction pleasurable) and what type of questions are best handled via ultimate causes (ie in what ways is reproduction selectively advantageous). Tackling these questions force designers to really think about the role of forward prediction versus backwards causation. Forward prediction certainly presents no easy solutions. As Stuart Kauffman suggests, the complex environment in which this is seated requires a reasonable blending of rationality and intuition. In this regard I think we can free up some chips for the ration side of the equation by looking to formalize hitherto abstract group-level drivers.

Atran, S. (2002). In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. USA: Oxford University Press.

Kauffman, S. (2008). Reinventing the sacred: A new view of science, reason, and religion. Philadelphia: Basic Books.

Kenny, R. F., Zhang, Z., Schwier, R. A., Campbell, K., (2005). A Review of What Instructional Designers Do: Questions Answered and Questions Not Asked, Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 31(1).

Parker, K. (1998). The continuity of Peirce’s Thought. USA: Vanderbilt University Press.

Reigeluth, C., Duffy, F. (2008). The school transformation (SST) protocol. Educational Technology. Retrieved Deember 23, 2008 from

Wilson, D. (2002). Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, University of Chicago Press.

No comments: