Tag Archives: Choices

An End to Gatekeeping as We Soar into 2024

My final article of last year was a contemplation of the need for a radical shift in education, advocating for a departure from traditional structures. One focused on responsibility and an optimistic mindset. Without focused intention, I seemingly then followed up by writing about the underpinning importance of spirit and the value of authenticity. At midnight tonight, we will welcome 2024 and I am curious what the year ahead holds in store. My best guess? An increasing awareness and an availing of oneself in an age where gatekeeping no longer has a place. The word “gatekeeper” may just be the quintessence of 2024. 

The Continual Changing Landscape of Education

The past week on several occasions the word “gatekeeper” surfaced. It is highly sensical too when we consider how anyone is now able to self-publish. Consider the ubiquity of not only social media but how an individual can reach over 160 million people/followers on a platform like TikTok. Or, how Tik Tok now has over 1 billion subscribers! Further, consider the rise of the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and how it continues to revolutionize content creation. Not only is it faster and more efficient, but it also is becoming more accurate. The point is, if you have something to share, you not only have an audience but are free to share.

Essentially, gatekeeping is defined as the practice in which a hierarchy of power holds power and can limit access. My initial understanding of how the world was changing in a very practical sense occurred as I traipsed the world back in 2011. Irrespective of location, be it in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco or the Amazonian River Basin of Ecuador the response to, “How did you learn English?” was always the same. “English” could be substituted for beekeeping, dancing, cooking, or any other skill, and yet the response was always…

“YouTube.”  

Long gone are the days when an institution, course, or teacher is necessary. Nor is the cost of learning a deterrent. An internet connection and time are all that are required. Individuals with the will to learn something, anything, have been doing it for more than a decade. This second millennium allows us the opportunity to move through time and space differently. Access, not gatekeeping is where we are now. And access even to what is considered “the best.” For example, Yale no is longer limited to just Yale students. “In recent years, Yale has expanded its offering, including the online Coursera classes which are estimated to have over one-and-a-half million students in 2023.”  Specific to education, the term gatekeeping is about controlling the rate at which students progress to more advanced levels of study in the academic setting. Thankfully, learning as we know it, is no longer limited to institutional settings. Not only can we learn anything, from anyone, anywhere, and at any time, but we are also free to progress at the most fitting rate. 

Technology’s Influence Unveils a World of Choice

One might go so far as to say there is amovement” underway. One rooted in choices. Just consider how we continue to see an upswell in such choices as this abbreviated list:

  • Online Learning Platforms: Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy
  • Micro-Credentials and Badges
  • Homeschooling and Unschooling 
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses
  • Gamified Learning 

*Note: Udemy alone registered 870 million course enrollments as of June 2023

Inherent in each is the removal of the traditional gatekeeper. Such choices have however elicited a question concerning credentials and their verification. James Mattiace expounds in The Global Credentialing Landscape: Messy, Massive and Meaningful, “The world is getting more complex. Different countries are adapting their educational and professional certification programs and there is a proliferation of fraudulent credentials, which will likely get worse before it gets better as we enter an increasingly AI-infused world.” Whatever the case, we need not be reminded that there continues to be great value in access to non-traditional, credit and non-credit learning experiences continues to increase. 

Education’s Real-World Power

It might serve us to follow the mindset of influential worldwide leader, Jeff Bezos. On more than one occasion he shared, “I have learned to use the word ‘impossible’ with great caution.” 2024 is about possibility. Not only are all things possible, but quite probable. A look at the “real world” tells us so. As part of my formal training as an educator we were assigned to read Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Though the book had a profound impact on me, it was minimal in comparison to what I learned from my practicums and working in a diversity of settings. Settings that were very different from the theoretical university classroom or that which I had experienced growing up. Over the course of a year, I would experience four 3-month rotations in settings where I would be with children growing up oppressed. In schools where students were the sons and daughters of seasonal migrant workers, in schools where 100% of the students received free lunch (and often breakfast too!), and also in schools where I would support severely and differently-abled students who were mainstreamed. This was the “real world”. The best teacher would be the setting and the children, in accordance with what Freire believed education to be. An education that he quoted as “freedom.” Not the formal school curriculum which he distrusted. This quote, “Education is freedom” is as timeless as it applies to today. A learning which supersedes the heads and hearts of academics, but is more about the hands and feet on the ground. It is about doing the work now. A clear realization and also trust that all that is needed already exists. Pivotal in this is the reality of humanity’s resilience. To attempt to hold this back, or in other words “gatekeep” is misguided.

 Answers Not in Dollars but in “Sense” 

“You hear that Mr. Anderson?” is a memorable line from The Matrix that many readers might remember. The query comes as Agent Smith holds Neo’s (Mr. Anderson) hand on the train track. The sound of the train thunders towards them. “That is the sound of inevitability!” threatens Smith. Yet, Neo defies the odds and does not succumb to death. His strength is akin to what is held in store for today’s youth. Africa’s youth but one possessor of the palpability of power, wisdom, and resilience. Such spirit can be seen in Ugandan children’s dancing. The video is not meant to be tokenism nor reductionist but simply showcase the electrified sense of vibrancy, life, and possibility. The children soon will be part of Africa’s working force. I hope that the remnants of colonialism will not act as gatekeepers. 

By the late 2030s, sub-Saharan Africa’s working-age population will reach 1 billion. Though India overtook China this past year, both with nearly one and a half billion people, sub-Saharan Africa’s population will soon outrank both.  What might this mean? Hopefully a compelling sense of urgency to invest educationally. And yet, how this might look, might require a bit more imagination or possibly radical simplification. A desire to color outside the lines, and not necessarily abide by unsustainable practices traditionally attempting to place band-aids on gaping wounds. Instead, how might we create choices within communities? Tap into the expertise and wisdom of elders. The answers are not in dollars but in sense. The sense of inside out and not outside in. An understanding that everything needed already exists. 

Might 2024 not only be a decline in gatekeeping but also a greater realization the world over, of our greatness. The Master Persian Poet Rumi said it best:

“You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.” 

So, let us soar into 2024.

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Negative Effects of App Attachment

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I was speaking to a friend recently about an argument he had with a teacher. The teacher was adamant that if they could not use one particular app, their classes would come to a halt, and learning would immediately be suspended until further notice.

Obviously, I cannot think of a single application or subscription that is that critical to learning. I am not referring to a complete environment like Google Apps for Education. I am referring to people getting angry, and going into a panic, over a single application or service.

More and more I see these conflicts among teachers and schools (similar to the Curriculum in a Suitcase problem).

Schools and teachers need to be aware that being a fanboy or fangirl will not be rewarded. In fact, the odds are that being too connected to a particular solution will more than likely lead to a lack of resources and very real disappointment.

Cancelled Without Notice

This is an excellent page to look at: Cancelled Google Services

There are 43 services listed that have been cancelled, even though many were used by numerous people. Google Wave was hugely popular with schools, and then one day, Google closed it down with very little notice.

In 2017, the popular library service RefMe was bought by a competitor and shutdown. This service had a popular paid version, and customers still lost access to the product they wanted.

The fact is many of these companies are funded by venture capital. If they do not meet their required metrics, they lose their funding and are quickly shutdown or sold. Often when companies are sold, the services they provide are shutdown. The intellectual property and user data is more valuable than the actual application.

Where does all this leave a person who has built their entire practice around a single service or product? Desperate and angry.

A Basket of Solutions

A basket of currencies is an interesting model to reflect on when setting asset management policies. A basket of currencies helps set a value, so that if one currency happens to plummet in value, the value of the target currency is not impacted significantly.

Applying this to educational technology asset management, schools would:

  • Make a requirement that departments have a defined set of resources they are using
  • Complete a regular review of those resources
  • Develop a process to allow teachers to regularly propose and pilot new resources

The influx of a few new solutions will buffer the school against big changes made by products and services they are using. Thus, not allowing a single company’s decisions to shift the learning, purchasing, or culture of the school.

In addition, there must be an annual expectation that technology will change and training will happen. Having a culture where people expect stagnation is dangerous in a technology driven environment that is based on companies constantly cannibalizing one another.

Brands Do Not Care About Learning

I have been recommending Apple laptops for many years. However, after the recent round of Apple changes to their base laptops, I am no longer recommending Apple without a discussion about the current downside of the new designs; and a review of the briefly held negative status of the Macbook Pro published by Consumer Reports.

The truth is, there are many options now that are better for many types of schools and users. Apple changed. They changed to meet their market. They did not make decisions to improve learning at K-12 organizations. Apple chose to make more money.

This holds true for all the big players in educational technology. Their decisions are focused on growth and profit. They want to take as much of the market as possible. Sometimes that means creating innovative new features, and sometimes it means making a cheaper product to increase margins.

Hardware is normally purchased in cycles of 3-5 years. That means, every year 2 or year 4, a platform review should occur. The practice of always buying the same brand without a critical analysis of that brand is the equivalent of letting the brand dictate the options available for teachers and students.

Schools should make good choices and be able to adjust to the market. Teachers should be aware that change is always on the horizon, and using technology is an agnostic endeavor.

Buy into the school. Buy into the curriculum. Buy into people and ideas. Do not sellout to software, services, and nicely branded machines.