Diagnosing Learning

I recently started watching a new Netflix series called Diagnosis. Dr. Lisa Sanders has written a column for the New York Times about peoples’ undiagnosed medical conditions to seek feedback from the greater community since 2002. This has now been turned into a Netflix documentary series, with each episode following the life of an individual with a medical condition that has never been diagnosed.

I was hooked within minutes of the first episode. Not because of the person’s unusual medical situation (while interesting) but the way they approached getting this person an official diagnosis for a condition that has been plaguing the patient for years. No longer was Dr. Sanders’ column just one-way communication, but now they are encouraging readers to interact with the column more than ever; specifically through a recorded video message to share their thoughts on what the person’s condition could actually be. It is all about casting a wide net for help and leaning heavily on the collective knowledge of “the room”, or in this case, the entire world. It was fascinating to see the high level of response the young lady in episode 1 received about her condition, within the United States and well beyond our country or our continent.

Both the doctor and the patient were fascinated and overwhelmed with the level of response they received. As an educator, I have encouraged and watched other educators do this to grow themselves professionally for over 10 years. In our age of information abundance and connectedness, we have the ability to learn from anyone at any time; not just in a physical classroom at a physical school building. While the results were fantastic in this documentary, it felt like the medical profession is behind here. Are doctors not encouraged to do this to better themselves and better help their patients? Why is this still treated as an anomaly as we approach 2020?

Image of the Earth with a connected wireframe laid on top of it.

Then this got me thinking on a “big picture” level about how this relates to teaching & learning. Are we creating opportunities for our students to reach beyond direct instruction and seek out learning opportunities elsewhere? What would happen if we encouraged this more? Students have lots of networks built up through the various mediums they use, but are we showing them (and allowing them to leverage) what’s truly possible? Which type of learning fosters more inquiry and creativity? We must think about what we want for our students and give them the opportunities they need to flourish.

The Innovation of Sour Cream & Onion

I recently was in the grocery store to pick up some potato chips (or ‘crisps’ as some other countries refer to them as). I entered the aisle, and this time was truly taken aback by the magnitude of choices I had as a shopper. I mean, lots of choices in the potato chip aisle is nothing new, however, this time I really caught myself stopping for an extra few moments to notice how many varieties, styles, flavors, etc. that there are in this one spot of the grocery store. We’ve certainly become accustomed to lots of choices, haven’t we? You might also be thinking, “Kyle, we need to find you a better way to spend your time on a Saturday!”. Side note: I love trying new/interesting flavors of potato chips. 🙂

One of the flavors I brought home was Sour Cream & Onion. This is a preferred flavor in my house. As I looked at the bag I thought, “I wonder how the development of this particular flavor came to be? What did that conversation and planning look like?”. I’ve always found really random history like this very interesting.

image of cans of Pringles potato chips
Image attribution: https://goo.gl/kVTBAH

While I didn’t dive into the history of this particular flavor of crispy potato goodness, I am going to make a fairly safe assumption that it stemmed from people who were tired of plain potato chips. I would imagine this is how the plethora of chip flavors all began – “You know what would taste really good? If we made potato chips taste like _____!”.

I then began thinking about innovation in education. The word innovation is used so heavily now. We’re all supposed to be innovative all the time in our teaching and the opportunities we offer students. It’s quickly become a buzzword like so many that have come before it, and we are certainly offered a lot of choices on ways to be innovative in the edtech world. Think of what the edtech space would look like as an aisle in the grocery store!

I’m not saying that being innovative is bad. What I’m getting at is we shouldn’t over complicate what innovation looks like. I think the idea of being/becoming more innovative is intimidating to some people. It needs to begin with something that we’ve become tired of; a particular lesson or unit, a process, a workflow, or the culture of a school or district. Or maybe we’ve discovered something just isn’t working as well as it used to – especially with learning opportunities we give our students and the ways we equip them to express their learning. It’s making the conscious decision (whether individually or collaboratively) that we are ready for something new – something more for ourselves and our students.

Don’t let all the options overwhelm you. Spend some quality time in the “edtech aisle”. Ask lots of questions. Seek help from your network. Select one and give it a go. Make an informed decision on what’s best for your students. I would then encourage you to share what you tried. Blog about it, share it with your school, find your voice to share the great things you’re doing in your classroom. We need more of that.