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Ed3 Weekly: The Good, the Could be Bad, and Definitely Not the Ugly

Image by Walmart

“The military also buys soap and water, but that doesn’t mean soap and water must be boycotted by those who hate war. They also buy pencils, and it’s perfectly clear to me that a man could use a pencil as a dagger or he could write a prescription to save a child’s life. So how tools are used is not the responsibility of the inventor.”

– Buckminster Fuller, Playboy Interview


The past few weeks have featured some fascinating advancements with AI technology. Meta announced an AI tool that creates video from text, DALL-E revealed its image creator is open to all users, and AI music…well that’s been happening for a couple of years now.

Along with these advancements have come a number of concerns about privacy, data, and the line between human and technological design. Narratives have emerged that try to paint the technology itself as the culprit. The quote by Mr. Fuller expresses the idea that it is not the tool, but how it is used.

Some of the resources for this week really push this idea to its edges. One of these is the highly sensitive area of marketing to kids in the metaverse. This CNBC article looks at how Walmart is testing this out in Roblox.

Issues around plagiarism have arisen as well as AI technology has improved at composing paragraphs and even full essays. In these cases, a fundamental question is at play. Is a piece of writing still an original creation if I have programmed something to write it for me?

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. Education writer and teacher Scott David Meyers outlines how universities are using decentralized models to create and share knowledge.

There does appear to be a need for some sort of oversight and regulation within these industries regardless of how we view the impacts of these technologies on society. The final resource for this week is a detailed report by McKinsey & Company on web3.

All of the resources for this week help us dive into these ideas in detail. They help us look closely at the idea that Mr. Fuller was espousing, it’s not the tool itself that’s good or bad, but how it’s used.

Check everything out linked below:

🛍 Walmart wants to see how kids will shop in the metaverse

✏️ How will student writing be impacted by AI?

🏫 Universities continue to explore decentralized models

📄 Major report from McKinsey on web3


Major Retailer Looks into Shopping in the Metaverse

Walmart has experimented with TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube to draw in a new generation of shoppers. It looks like the metaverse is next.

This article from CNBC outlines Walmart’s strategy to use the metaverse platform Roblox to target spenders. In addition, Walmart has also been pursuing a number of metaverse-related trademarks as well. How this all plays out will be very impactful on how retail and consumerism merge in the immersive internet, especially for our kids.


AI in Our Classrooms

Advancements in AI technology have pushed conversations on plagiarism to the edge. I have heard from a number of educators who just don’t know how to square the idea that AI can compose essays that are indistinguishable from student-produced work.

This medium article by an international learning designer examines this topic from a number of angles. Investor/podcaster/Web3 writer Packy McCormick tackles this issue as well when thinking about the future of learning for his own kids.

How Web3 Communities are Being Used for Academic Research

For all the challenges that new technology is presenting to educators, there are some bright spots out there. One of these is how universities are leveraging decentralized systems for research. This summary provides some insights into cases involving Stanford University and the University of Arizona.


Report on the Potential of Web3

McKinsey & Company is a well-known global consultancy. Their reports are widely read and considered a reliable resource for data and trends. The fact that they dedicated an eleven-page report to web3 is telling.

There are always those “we have arrived” moments, and this report is one of them. There is a lot covered in the report. Most of it is finance and crypto-related, but there is coverage of a diverse range of topics as well. It covers blockchain and dapps, as well as a nice summary of a potential web3 “endgame.”


Thank you for stopping by for another issue of my web3🤝education newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here or if you’re on LinkedIn go check out a version of this newsletter on my LinkedIn page and give me a follow.

Link to all my work by checking out my website.

Ed3 Weekly: Let’s Tie This Together

Ed3 Educators NFT mock-up by Ed3DAO

Hello educator and web3 frens,

While I have just recently started posting these newsletters to my blog, this is actually my 25th issue, wow! Every milestone, every subscriber, and every new issue reminds me how exciting this adventure has been and continues to be. So thank you for being here as I hit another marker on this journey.

In this newsletter, I am always trying to identify connections. My purpose is to create ties between emerging web3 technology and the learning we are curating in our classrooms. I look at information as a big puzzle. My goal is to put the pieces together so a bigger picture appears.

As a curious educator, the picture is getting clearer through the fog of hype. There are a number of components to this mosaic. One of these is the democratization of learning institutions through DAOs. Another is accessing learning about crypto and finance from non-traditional sources. A third piece is how NFTs will be used in our classrooms. Finally, what will the impact be of large NFT projects in funding the creator ecosystem?

The resources for this week speak to those four pieces. Check out the resources linked below:

🏢 Ed3DAO co-founders write about the impact of DAOs in our schools

🧠 Interview with the BFFs NFT project BFFs about crypto education

🧑‍🏫 A short summary of the different use cases for NFTs in our classroom

🚀 Major funding announcement that values Doodles NFT at $700M


Decentralized Organizations for Educational Institutions

Have you been searching for a detailed, well-researched, and comprehensive summary of DAOs in schools? This feature article written by two co-founders of the Ed3 DAO provides all of this in this article from Getting Smart.

Learn about democratizing learning organizations, models for living, earning, and learning, and why human-centered systems are the goal.

NFT Project BFF Supports Crypto Education

“We are building the basics of Web3 like we built the internet back in the ‘90s.”

It’s statements like this from a recent interview with NFT project founders that inspire me as an educator. Imagine having the level of access that we enjoy now that we did at the start of the internet revolution of the 1990s?

The irony is that we didn’t know any better back then because we hadn’t yet created the very thing that has democratized information. This project is a great example of the resources that we can connect our students to in order to learn more about web3, crypto, and NFTs.

NFTs in our K-12 Schools

This short article is another example of how the web3 conversation continues to move into mainstream discussions at our schools. In fact, this article was emailed to me by our school’s educational technologist as she knows I have an interest in NFTs.

Little did she know that I m actually the community growth manager for the Ed3DAO that is mentioned in the article. It was a humorous reminder that I might be so far down the rabbit hole that others can’t even see where I’m at.

Huge Valuation for Doodles, a Popular NFT Project

There are a couple NFT projects that transcend pop culture. Bored Ape Yacht Club is one, and Doodles might be the only other. With recent announcements like this one, Doodles might be positioning itself to take over the top spot.

Things like this are important events for our young people. We live in a brand-driven world. The potential for an NFT project to become a major brand alongside Nike, Lululemon, or Disney will have a major impact on this next generation.

We have yet to see if an NFT project can make this jump from web3 to the world, but if any project is positioned to do it, Doodles would be the one.


Thank you for stopping by for another issue of my web3🤝education newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here or if you’re on LinkedIn go check out a version of this newsletter on my LinkedIn page and give me a follow.

Link to all my work by checking out my website.

Ed3 Weekly: Survival

[Photos: PM Images/Getty Images; Tara Moore/Getty Images]

Hello educator and web3 frens,

In past issues, I’ve used somewhat provocative titles like “Time for Tangible”, “NFTs Going Mainstream”, and “Getting Hyped.” I am not choosing these titles to arouse a false sense of hope. They are honest surveys of the web3 landscape based on my own investigations of the space.

For all my hopes that we are about to “turn the corner” of a wider adoption of web3, I remain skeptical that we are ready to implement many of these changes. In thinking about the long turn survival of web3 I have also learned about the value of regeneration. I have to give particular credit to how it is described by my friend Vriti Saraf in her newsletter titled “Intro to Regenerative Systems.”

“This is where regeneration comes into play. Inspired by living ecosystems, regenerative economics and regenerative learning are being memed into a movement in web3.”

This week’s newsletter was inspired not only by Vriti’s newsletter but the idea of women in web3. This article from Fast Company reinforced this idea for me, that the regenerative capacity of web3 relies on its ability to bring more women into the industry.

A good place to start to learn more about the women making an impact in web3 is to familiarize yourself with the names on Misha DaVinci’s list of names to know in web3. Particularly of note is the section on “educators, researchers, and analysts.”

I also share an article about the founder of a marketplace for fine art NFTs.

And the last resource for the week is a link to a popular YouTube and podcast channel covering crypto news and events.

This week’s issue is not meant as a one-and-done “shout out” to all the women creators and builders in web3. It is an acknowledgment of the following–amazing work is being done, more work can be done, and I am going to make a concerted effort to showcase more of the amazing work being done.

Regan Oelze, the founder of Minted Mojito, provided a number of valuable insights in her Fast Company article that opened my eyes to the value of inclusive spaces in web3. As I look to guide my students and peer educators in the web3 space I need to realize this value. I’ll leave you with this quote.

“If the exclusive culture of Web3 persists as it is today, it will not succeed. A diverse community of users and workforce is crucial for mass adoption, but you cannot have one without the other.”

Click through the resources for the week to learn more about how the web3 space can survive.

🗣 Female web3 founder provides insights on inclusivity

💯 Misha names her web3 one hundred

🖼 Founder creates a marketplace for fine art NFTs

🦊 “Financial Fox” with Stefania Barbaglio

Female Web3 Founder Provides Insights on Inclusivity

It’s always valuable to hear directly from founders who are working in the industry. Regan’s insights are simple and direct. There are two main points she makes in the article:

Make sure educational resources are geared toward everyone and build teams women actually want to join.

I highly recommend you take a read of what she has to say about how we can make the web3 space more inclusive of women. But more importantly how the very survival of web3 depends on it.

Misha Names Her WEB3 ONE HUNDRED

This entire thread is an impressive list of “must-know” individuals in web3. One particular section jumped out at me. First, because it lists the educators, researchers, and analysts to know in web3, but also because it lists a number of women.

Misha Da Vinci is an important voice in web3. She is doing a lot of work to create that inclusivity that is crucial for the regenerative capacity of web3.

Founder Creates a Marketplace for Fine Art NFTs

The tone of this article feels a little outdated as it was released last April at the height of “NFT mania.” However, it is still an important share because it features the work of a young female of color in the web3 space.

Also of note is that the $3.3M funding is from Harlem Capital. Harlem Capital describes itself as “a venture capital firm on a mission to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in 1,000 diverse founders over 20 years.”

“Financial Fox” with Stefania Barbaglio

The Financial Fox is a popular YouTube and podcast series offering insights into topics of crypto and finance. Stefania is also a writer who has covered the topic of fashion and NFTs in detail.

Her most recent video focuses on the upcoming crypto event happening in the UK.

Thank you for stopping by for another issue of my web3🤝education newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here or if you’re on LinkedIn go check out a version of this newsletter on my LinkedIn page and give me a follow.

Link to all my work by checking out my website.

Ed3 Weekly: It’s Coming and It’s Coming Fast

Hello educator and web3 frens,

Have you heard the phrase “Be quick, but don’t hurry”? This is one of my favorite lines from famed college basketball coach John Wooden. I interpret this to mean thinking expeditiously, but not doing so at a rate that will increase errors. Sometimes I feel like there is a connection between those words and the metaverse.

For every timeline I lay out that says the metaverse is 10, 15, or even 20 years away, I’ll read about a metaverse implementation that is happening right now. In this week’s newsletter, I am laying out some of those present-day fulfillments of web3.

Most of these focus on higher ed. One could argue that innovation in education often starts in the high ed sector and moves down to the lower levels. I am not here to enter into that debate. What the post-pandemic world is showing us is that higher ed may not have a choice. In addition, the last couple of years has also shown us that higher ed is very capable of implementing these changes.

Click through the resources for the week to learn more about some trends happening in higher ed in the web3 space.

🏫 Metaversities are here and they are open for business

👾 Virtual reality can facilitate valuable soft skills

💻 Programmers for web3 are for hire

🧑‍🏫 College classes in web3 are filling up

Transforming Classrooms in Higher Ed

Metaversities are spreading across higher ed. This article about transformation in the college classroom discusses some trends across the ten metaversities that are launching this fall.

There are a number of interesting applications of AI, VR/AR, and metaverse happening right now in higher ed. In reading these descriptions it felt like we are much closer to this future than some have been predicting. The article includes a video linked below discussing some of the data around learning in these environments.

Does learning on a metaversity campus work? See the data from the global leaders, Morehouse College by watching the video below.👇

A Study in Virtual Reality and Skills Training

We often talk about the skills needed to succeed in a VR environment. Or what skills will VR help us to foster? What about using VR to foster skills? This is a whole new discussion I hadn’t thought about until I came across this report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

There are a number of helpful data points around how VR is being used for soft skills training in our workforce. It touches on the impact of remote work, efficient ways to upskill employees, and the need for leadership and resilience in the workforce.

Got Programmers?

Facebook, Google, and Amazon all have more programmers working for them than the total number of web3 programmers in the entire world. You could say this means those tech mega companies have a lot of programmers, or that there is a severe lack of programmers to make this web3 dream a reality.

Let’s look at some numbers, there are about 31.1 million programmers currently working across the entire globe today. Compared to about 18,500 web3 programmers. Maybe we are still early, but to me, it feels like the ratio is way out of whack.

This article lays out the specific needs companies have when hiring for their blockchain applications. It also outlines the mindsets and skills an aspiring web3 programmer should be coming with to entire this emerging job market.

Help is On the Way

This Tweet is a great way to wrap up this newsletter’s focus on metaversities, being trained using VR, and the need for programmers in web3. Our institutions of higher ed often break through to new frontiers that trickle down to the K-12 levels. In addition, we often see these innovations happening at the more prestigious and selective universities.

The news about the new selection of web3 and blockchain-related courses at Stanford University is an excellent example of that. We would like to see these offerings spread across a more diverse and accessible range of institutions of high ed, but this is a good start. Much like the computing and internet revolutions of 50 and 20 years ago, we need to rely on these larger universities with large amounts of expendable cash and autonomy to implement these changes first.

Let’s keep a close eye on how closely behind our smaller community and public universities will be able to follow.

Thank you for stopping by for another issue of my web3🤝education newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here or if you’re on LinkedIn go check out a version of this newsletter on my LinkedIn page and give me a follow.

Link to all my work by checking out my website.

Ed3 Weekly: Exploring the Nooks and Crannies

Welcome

Aloha to the first issue of my newsletter blog post, although if I were to be technical it is actually issue number 22. I’m excited to welcome all of you as I cross-pollinate this newsletter onto this platform from my original newsletter on Revue. The idea behind the newsletter began in March as a way to share and document my learning in web3 as it relates to education. As I continue to explore ways to share my learning publically, adding these posts to my blog seemed appropriate. Come join me as I share resources for educators about how web3 can help shape the future of education.

The wonderful world of web3 is complex, varied, and full of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. Curious about 3-D renderings generated by AI? How about digital pictures created using written prompts? Fascinated by teenage coders? Check out a business acquisition by a major web3 developer. Does the rise of a multi-million dollar artist enterprise interest you? Take a look at how a Canadian civil engineer started one of the biggest NFT projects in the world.

Choosing to learn about web3 is choosing to learn about art and artificial intelligence, business and blockchain, cryptocurrencies and cybersecurity. You know the normal ABCs (insert lol here).

This is what makes this field so interesting to me as an educator. It is also what inspired me to create this newsletter. With so much to learn about, and so much information being thrown at you at once, it’s helpful to have someone finding the signal through the noise.

As I continue to explore web3 and education, I am hopeful that I am helping people to improve their understanding of this topic. Yet I still ask myself daily, “why web3?”.

Each time that I reflect on this question the thoughtful words of people I respect in the education space who are committed to learning about web3 come to mind. People like The Tech Rabbi. This newsletter closes with a link to a video in which he addresses the question of why teachers should care about web3.
Click through the resources for the week about web3 and education.

🤖 Deep dive into 3-D renderings generated by AI
🤝 News story on a huge acquisition in the coding space
👀 Long form article on the state of NFTs
🗣 Interview with a teacher on why you should care about web3

AI Is Getting good, Like Really Good

Every so often I come across an article that I would call “mindblowing.” This is one of those. It’s an article you bookmark, save, email to friends, post on Twitter, etc…

While the metaverse gets a lot of press (thanks Zuck), it’s really the world of AI that I find the most fascinating. I believe that before we get to these fully immersive digital environments, we are going to need the digital components to interact with.

This article provides an expansive look at the state of AI-generated art and what is possible with this amazing technology.

Coding Platform Purchased By Major Web3 Developer

The purchase and investment in education startups exploded during the post-pandemic edtech money grab. It is estimated that there was $20bn raised by edtech companies globally in 2021. Out of this, there has been much less investment in web3 education companies. I predict we will start to see this change in the next few years.

One first major acquisition was recently announced when web3 developer Alchemy purchased education startup ChainShot. What does this mean for the web3 and education space? It may signal an increase in web3 apps designed and built by younger coders in our schools.

The post-Netscape world saw a boom in young coders that eventually became the app designers for the first smartphones. The post-NFT world may see a similar thing, this time for app designers in web3.

Resetting the State of NFTs

Speaking of NFTs…

I know that it’s not even cool anymore to talk about an NFT project that is minting or that you “aped” into. With prices dropping rapidly and the overall dollars being invested in the space trending further and further downward, the entire NFT space is losing some of its appeal.

So what does this mean? That it really was just a trend? Or are we trending towards the post-internet bust of 2000 that we all said was coming?

Regardless of what you may think, check out this article on the state of NFTs. It covers the trends in sales and volume, updates on some of the biggest NFTs projects, and some insightful thoughts on what may be coming up ahead.

Final Word by the Rabbi

I’d like to leave you with this interview with The Tech Rabbi from the ISTE 22 conference in New Orleans. There’s a lot that he covers in this conversation, and a lot I’d love to discuss in more detail. But I’ll let his words do the ‘splaining.

Thanks for reading. You can go to my LinkedIn page here or give me a follow on Twitter. You can also find these resources and more in my weekly Get Revue newsletter. We’ll see you next week!

Pedagogy > Technology: Anyone, Anyone

Preface

This is part 3 of a series of articles on the emerging concept of ed3. As a curious and creative educator, my goal is to thoughtfully examine how web3 technologies will impact education in our changing world. Before I dig into this final piece of the ed3 puzzle I encourage you to read my first two articles on this topic. The first article introduces the idea of ed3. The second article lays out why ownership of student identity is important in this emerging ecosystem. This final article will speak to pedagogy and equity. 

Link to my previous articles here:

Ugh, the Metaverse

If you have spent any time in a classroom over the past one or two years you have invariably heard students talk about one of the following topics: Roblox, Fortnite, or Minecraft. If not, then I don’t think you’re listening close enough.

So what is it about these games that get students so excited? It’s actually pretty simple. They offer three things that school doesn’t: play, imagination, and fun. I know, as a former Algebra teacher I am shocked as you are. Do you mean they’d rather play Roblox than factor a quadratic equation? What’s wrong with these kids?!

Instead of feeling concerned about this, it actually puts us on the precipice to enact the most transformative educational change for our children since the printing press.

Teachers Teach

Having spent the last 5 months (a lifetime in web time) down the blockchain rabbit hole. I have read countless articles, listened to hours of Twitter spaces, and joined a number of discord servers. Through these experiences one thing has come clear to me–there is a major misconception of what is actually involved in the craft of teaching.

Rather than go through each of these misconceptions one by one, the important thing to point out is where this misalignment comes from. What I have heard is that teachers are halfhearted, simple, unimaginative, and superficial. Yet, the educators I talk to every day are the most dynamic, complex, creative, and thoughtful people I know. So why this disconnect?

People in the web3 space are talking about their teachers. They are projecting a bias that they have about their experiences in school. This doesn’t put a blanket over their experiences. It also doesn’t say that every teacher is this amazing dynamo of inspirational amazingness. But during my engagement in the web3 space teachers are spoken about like we are either the “​​Wah wah woh wah wah” from the Peanuts cartoon or the “anyone, anyone” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (thank you pop culture).

The question I ask myself is how can we get the amazing thinking of people in the web3 space to collaborate with the educators doing the innovative work in our schools? This question has led me to the following realization if we can execute on this collaboration. Teachers are about to enter an age in which they partner with researchers and designers to implement a pedagogy that can ensure equity and access for all of our learners.

In this final piece of my trilogy of articles, I will apply the ownership of learning identities from my last article to how it can support innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.

Ownership as the Rocketship

In my previous article, I outlined how decentralized technology allows learners to own their education. The main points I argued are that there are four parts to ownership: trustless environment, data reconciliation, reducing points of weakness, and optimizing resource distribution.

The next step is to answer the question of how this will support pedagogy and equity. I bring up pedagogy and equity because of the insights shared by ed-tech pioneer Justin Reich. In his book Failure to Disrupt(1) he said the following when speaking about the important shifts in how technology can improve education:

“Change won’t come from heroic developers or even technology firms, but from communities of educators, researchers, and designers oriented toward innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.”

I am pretty sure I have quoted this line in every article I have written about web3 and blockchain. All of these technologies are meaningless if we lose focus on pedagogy and equity. Let’s look at the current state of pedagogy and equity before we examine how blockchain and web3 technology will shape the future of teaching and learning.

Pedagogy Schmedagogy

The fictional economics teacher played by Ben Stein in the classic 1980s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has become the archetype of the disengaged drab teacher of yesteryear. Using his nasally monotone, the teacher stands at the chalkboard delivering a lecture on early 20th-century economic theory to a class of bored high school students. What has become part of the pop-culture lexicon, he calls out “anyone, anyone?” as he posits fact-based questions to the class.

As a teacher firmly entrenched in progressive pedagogy I watch this and cringe. I imagine the possibilities of implementing a learning experience rich with creation and interaction that would require just a smidgen of modern teaching pedagogy attached to it.

To the uninitiated, they may look at that scene and think, “wow, how boring is early 20th-century economic theory?!” 

But that’s not the whole picture. Progressive educational theory would say the problem is that the students are passively engaged–they are absorbing facts and they are not leading the learning. Those of us grounded in this student-centered teaching know that the answer is to get the students to be active by placing them in the driver’s seat of the learning experience. It is not the content that is the problem, but the context of the learning.

The Elephant in the Room

The most pressing challenge for us in education is how we can ensure equity for our students as we design these engaging learning experiences. The clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off also serves as a great example of where we’ve gone wrong in this area as well. This fictional suburban high school in Chicago is mostly devoid of any people of color. The well-to-do students that play hooky to steal their father’s rare sports car and go joyriding are the perfect fodder of white privilege.

Our initial reaction is to feel sorry for the kids in the economics class who are the “victims” of a disengaging learning experience. But by all appearances, the school appears safe, well-staffed, facilities-rich, and led by a dean of students that actually has the time and freedom to leave the school for the entire day to track down the absent students.

I am not concerned that the learning experience with our economics teacher will negatively impact their ability to access higher education, a well-paying job, and other tools of financial independence. In fact, the very high school that the movie was filmed at, Glenbrook North High School, is ranked in the top 50 in the country with a 13-1 student-to-teacher ratio and has received the nation’s top distinction as a Blue Ribbon School.

We can also point to the premise of the movie which is based on Ferris’ chronic absenteeism. He gains social status and acclaim and sets him up to be the hero character by his efforts to not attend school, illegal ones at that. I have yet to see that premise applied to a student of color in any Hollywood movie I’ve seen.

Short of dissecting the racist foundation this entire plot was built upon, it does give a window into what inequity in our schools looks like. Both absenteeism and disengaging instruction have much broader impacts in schools with a predominantly non-white student population.

Inequities are amplified when we add a layer of technology to this broken system. Access to computers, WiFi, and trained educators that can teach using these tools decrease in school districts with a high population of students of color.There is an entire infrastructure that is required to ensure the effective implementation of these tools. A clear problem emerges when we understand that our school systems are already built upon a foundation of unequal access to this robust infrastructure.

I will come back to this issue later as there is no easy answer to this problem.

Where Do We Go Wrong?

To return to Justin Reich’s argument, this is where most technology tools of the last ten years have gone wrong. We have thrown apps at this learning paradigm hoping it would do all the work for us. School districts have spent millions of dollars on puzzles and games whose primary learning outcome is the memorization of facts. A thorough summary of this era can be found in an article titled “Putting Education in ‘Educational’ Apps: Lessons From the Science of Learning.”(2) 

In this article there is one key quote that addresses what I am describing:

“The majority of apps in today’s marketplace can be considered part of the “first wave” of the digital revolution. In this wave, apps are simply digital worksheets, games, and puzzles that have been reproduced in an e-format without any explicit consideration of how children learn or how the unique affordances of electronic media can be harnessed to support learning.”

Fortunately, educational pedagogy and practice have evolved since this last wave of education technology apps. From the same article, the authors outline four principles that are drawn from consensus on the science of how children learn. These are the following: learning should be active, engaging, meaningful, and socially interactive. Recently these four principles have been amended to include iterative and joyful.(3)

It is a little bit of the chicken and the egg theory. But maybe it wasn’t the technology that was at fault after all, but the pedagogy.

Doo-doo, Meet Fan

And then there was coronavirus.

You would figure with all the developments in teaching pedagogy and practice along with the proliferation of educational apps that we would have been well prepared for the shift to remote learning that took place in the spring of 2020. However, recent research has demonstrated we were actually a lot farther off than we anticipated.

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Children and Media(4) found that 50 percent of the most downloaded paid educational apps for young children in the app store were scored in the low-quality range. Out of all the apps reviewed only 7 were found to be in the range of the highest quality. In this study, the same four pillars of learning mentioned above (active, engaging, meaningful, and socially interactive) were used.

This clearly signals we are falling well short of delivering on the promises of technological innovation by using these tools. Unfortunately, they were woefully inadequate at providing the engaging learning experiences that we hoped they would.

In fact, they had the opposite effect, especially for students of color.(5) With the social engagement of the live in-person classroom removed, students were now showing signs of increased depression and detachment from their learning. So now we had really screwed up. It’s one thing to not achieve high levels of engagement and meaning while students are still physically proximate to each other, it’s a whole other thing to do that when they are forced into the isolation of their own homes.

Everybody Get Together, Try to Love One Another Right Now

Back to the metaverse. At the start of this article, I mentioned the three most engaging, playful, and collaborative tools being used by students right now: Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft. If we were to use the four pillars of learning along with the two amendments, we would find that these games hit all of these. That they are active, engaging, meaningful, socially interactive, iterative, and joyful. (I would like to say that more work can be done in the meaningful part.)

This is what draws the through-line back to what Reich says about educational change, that it will come from “communities of educators, researchers, and designers.”

If we were to take the current research by groups such as the Brookings Institution, leading child psychologists, and design groups like the LEGO Foundation we can evolve the next generation of technology tools.

The question is then, what do these next-generation tools look like?

The Missing Piece

As I’ve outlined in this series of articles, the technology available in blockchain, decentralization, and the metaverse will play an important role in the evolution of learning. I can point to an article published by the Brookings Institution titled “A whole new world: Education meets the metaverse”(6) which provides a concrete example of how this technology can be implemented in a classroom.

I’d recommend reading the entire article closely as it makes clear connections between the most recent research in how students learn, emerging metaverse technology, and where technology companies have gone wrong. This quote summarizes the main point of the article: “Educational spaces within the metaverse can align with the science of how children learn. Now is the time to design educational spaces with children at the center.” 

This does not mean that the metaverse will solve all of our educational ills. It is faulty logic to think this way. It means that it is an open space to bring together educators, researchers, and designers together, just as Reich recommended! It is a missing piece that needs to be brought into the conversation. Another quote from the article to emphasize this point:

It is clear that games or activities in the metaverse hold the promise of being active rather than passive. Children can explore in this space “physically” and mentally. Whether the activity is engaging or not will be in the hands of the developer. As with apps, there are many products that capture the attention of children, but that interrupt the experience in ways that thwart engagement. Children do not learn when we interrupt a narrative or give too many choices. Thus, designers must be purposeful in creating a story board and having a flow through that board that does not divert a child’s attention to a new and irrelevant task or place.

I have concerns, and you should too, that bringing learning experiences into the metaverse will remove students from the social interactions the research identifies as being important to facilitate learning. This is the exact reason we need these partnerships between researchers, educators, and designers in creating this next iteration of our learning spaces. If we leave the implementation of this technology to the designers we will be repeating the problems that were created in the app-based learning models of the 2010s.

An additional quote from the Brookings Institution addresses this point, “social interaction could be preserved if the virtual environment served as a prompt for interactions between real people in either the real or virtual setting rather than as a substitute for interaction.”

These are key insights that tell me that the metaverse isn’t THE answer, but part of it. To simply ignore it because we are leaning on biases that say it is simply a “gamification” of learning is short-sighted and naive. As they mention in the article “the metaverse offers a hybrid world of enormous potential if it is done right.” (emphasis theirs)

What Next?

My argument here is not “this is so simple, just plug every student into the metaverse and voila, problem solved!” In fact, it is much much more complicated than that. I would argue that access to equitable and effective learning is the single most pressing human rights issue in our country right now. I ask myself, how do we effectively educate our students in a system that is built upon inequity and pedagogical fallacies?

There are many challenges to overcome issues of equity of access. It is painfully obvious that any level of implementation of metaverse technology will require expensive hardware and software. Cloud computing, 5G, AR/VR hardware, high-powered GPUs, photorealistic 3D engines, and artificial intelligence will all be required to operate this architecture.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this other than we need to figure this out. My hope is that both a rapid exponential change in the reduction of cost of these technologies along with an emerging awareness of the consequences of our past failings to design for equity will push us over this hurdle. This may be wishful thinking, but I am hopeful that because this is being placed at the center of these discussions we can enact changes in how we design this next generation of learning.

Then the pedagogical challenges. It is time for us to put into action the research-based models of teaching and learning based upon the six pillars of learning. We need learning experiences that are active, engaging, meaningful, socially interactive, iterative, and joyful. It is time that we bring in the leading researchers on child learning theory into our school designs. In order to break down silos in our schools, this is one bridge that must be built.

We must apply changes based on the valuable insights we gained from the great distance learning experiment of 2020-21. In my view, these align with the suggestions by the Brookings Institute on how to best implement virtual worlds into our teaching and learning. I’ll close by briefly walking through each one.

Avoid distractions: Students can’t learn when there are too many things going on around them. Whether learning from home or in school, students are distracted by things that subtract from their focus on learning. This is impacted by each individuals’ social, economic, and family status. While school should be the grand equalizer, distractions remain. We as educators are not focusing enough on reducing them. A similar mindset needs to be applied as we look to build virtual worlds for our students to learn in.

Ensure real agency: Over the past few years of educational design, the parameters of how to create an effective student-centered classroom have been shaped by the smokescreen of non-research-based information sharing on social media by edu-fluencers. We need to apply the research that outlines the most effective way to ensure student agency. No more searching in the dark about how to actually implement this in practice. Studies like one conducted by the American Institute for Research are a good place to start.(7) 

Be culturally diverse and culturally inclusive: This is the most dangerous part of a potential metaverse associated learning space. Researcher Breigha Adeyemo who focuses on the intersections of race, technology, and democracy speaks to this in her Fast Company article titled “The metaverse is shaping up to be a racist hellscape. It doesn’t have to be that way.”(8) We have the opportunity to design these systems so they are more culturally diverse and inclusive, let’s do it.

Conclusion

These last three articles that I have published have been a challenge to write. They have pushed my biases and understandings of what teaching and learning can look like to the edges. There were a number of times where I thought to myself, “I’m taking this too far, step away from the ledge.”

Rather than recoil in fear, I’ve leaned into these challenging questions. No one wants to design a future in which our children will be strapped into virtual reality headsets jetting through the metaverse from their desks a la Ready Player One. That couldn’t be further away from a reality I would like to see in our learning spaces.

But to say that these technologies won’t or can’t exist in some form in our classrooms is just being blind to the inevitable evolution of how humans interact with technology. In fact, as I mentioned at the top of this article, it is already here in the form of Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft.

Let’s not bury our heads because the metaverse and the blockchain are things that seem weird and difficult to understand. A similar thing happened in the 1990s as the internet transitioned from the backrooms of niche computer programmers to the broader population. Look where that got us–systems built upon exploiting the users for financial gain.

We have an opportunity to embrace this technology and work together to build a system that can offer transformative learning opportunities for students. I am raising my hand and joining the rooms where these discussions are happening. I hope is that you are open to peeking your head in and taking a listen to what is being discussed.

I am open to any and all feedback, ideas, or suggestions. The best place to do that is on my Twitter account at Dagan | dagan.eth (📚,🌐) (@DaganBernstein) / Twitter.

You are also welcome to join other educators interested in ed3 by checking out the DAO for educators, by educators at Ed3DAO (@Ed3DAO) / Twitter or check out a project of generative NFTs celebrating the MAGIC of educators at Ed3 Educators (@Ed3educators) / Twitter.


1https://failuretodisrupt.com

2https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1529100615569721

3https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01124/full

4https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17482798.2021.1882516

5https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2783714

6https://www.brookings.edu/research/a-whole-new-world-education-meets-the-metaverse/?utm_source=pocket_mylist

7https://www.air.org/sites/default/files/Maximizing-Student-Agency-NICs-Report-Oct-2018.pdf

8https://www.fastcompany.com/90706466/the-metaverse-is-shaping-up-to-be-a-racist-hellscape-it-doesnt-have-to-be-that-way

Fight the Power: Decentralization and Ownership

Preface

This is part 2 of a series of articles on the emerging concept of ed3.1 As a curious and creative educator my goal is to thoughtfully examine how web3 technologies will impact education in our changing world.

Check out my previous article:

The Question at Hand

At the conclusion of my previous article, I closed with two questions that educators need to consider as we transition into the web3 space. One was about ownership, the other was about pedagogy and equity. In this piece, I will focus on the ownership question. Specifically, how do decentralized technologies allow learners to own their education?

What’s Ownership Got to Do With It?

The concept of ownership can be rather complex. Production, labor, commodities, value, and all their related parts make up the ownership economy. For the scope of this article, I won’t be pulling apart each of these pieces. I can refer you to an extended Twitter thread by writer Li Jin in which she covers the relevant basic ideas.

Or for an extended deep dive check out this piece by Austin Robey, co-founder at Ampled.

First, let’s look at the role of creating in our schools. I’d like to reframe an idea by education thought-leader and originator of the term “ed3” Scott David Meyer. Meyer mapped Chris Dixon’s thoughts on web3 onto education to introduce the idea of ed3 with the following tweet:

Here’s my spin on it.

Creation is the defining characteristic of the second wave of education in our society. There has been a shift away from passive content learning towards active creation. This has been supported by increased access to computers and free creative tools like Canva, Scratch, YouTube, and Anchor. Students have been repositioned as creators in their schools. While equity of access remains a barrier for many students, in general, there has been an exponential rise in how students and teachers use these tools to facilitate learning experiences.

This active environment in which students are creators introduces the question of ownership. Digital products that are student-created commodities are now the output of the learning experience in schools.

If a student creates a podcast in school using microphones, computers, and lesson plans owned by the school, does the student own that piece of digital work? Can a student distribute that creation independent of the school and monetize it for their own financial gain?

The same question applies to teachers. If a teacher creates a YouTube video building a lesson plan from a curriculum that was designed by the school do they still own that piece of media? Are the original creators of that curriculum owed compensation as contributors to the intellectual property?

This evolution of teaching and learning will require us to decide how to best connect a student’s identity to these pieces of digital media that they create. This means that the architecture of our schools needs to be redesigned.

It requires a system of decentralized blockchain technologies that are flexible enough to apply various levels of identity to different pieces of digital media. As knowledgeable professionals in this field, we have a responsibility to familiarize ourselves with the technologies being developed that address issues around ownership and identity.

Let’s Talk Decentralization

If decentralization has such an important role in helping to solve the ownership question then what is it?

First, I want to point out that decentralization is one of three architectures, along with distributed and centralized, that can be used when building a network. When using a blockchain application it isn’t either decentralized or not. There is a spectrum of features of the network that put it on a sliding scale of decentralization.

Here is a definition of decentralization from the Amazon Web Services website:

“In blockchain, decentralization refers to the transfer of control and decision-making from a centralized entity (individual, organization, or group thereof) to a distributed network.”2

AWS identifies four major benefits of decentralization:

  • Provides a trustless environment
  • Improves data reconciliation
  • Reduces points of weakness
  • Optimizes resource distribution

So let’s circle back to the original question I posed at the beginning of this piece: how do decentralized technologies allow learners to own their education? We can use each of the benefits of decentralization identified by AWS to craft some answers.

It provides a trustless environment. A decentralized blockchain doesn’t require a third party to determine who owns what part of a piece of digital media. As students increase their use of digital media to represent their learning, the blockchain can encode all the necessary information needed to identify ownership of these creations.

It improves data reconciliation. Questions of ownership can be resolved by what has been encoded onto the blockchain. There can be clarity about what specific things a student did and didn’t create or learn. True ownership will help facilitate authentic student agency. This extends not only to the output of the learning but the learning as a whole. We have the technology to determine the how, what, and where of a learning experience that can be included in an immutable chain of data.

It reduces points of weakness. Systemic failures that burden students can be eliminated. Inefficient institutional operations and ineffective nodes in the learning ecosystem can be addressed. DAOs within schools or even schools as DAOs can empower members of a learning community, specifically students.

It optimizes resource distribution. By reducing the points of weakness, decentralization can lead to optimizing structures. Learners are no longer passive victims by the limited capabilities of our institutions A trustless system allows everyone to decide what level of control they would like to have around how the resources of the school are allocated.

The Point Is

Are all of my statements above absolutes? Absolutely not (see what I did there?) The outcome I am aiming for is to start some dialogue. I am being transparent in my process of examining how ed3 tools can be used to redesign teaching and learning to support students. My goal is to inspire others to lean into this space. These are complex questions and we could use your help to think through them.

I am open to any and all feedback, ideas, or suggestions. The best place to do that is on my Twitter account at Dagan | dagan.eth (📚,🌐) (@DaganBernstein) / Twitter.

You are also welcome to join other educators interested in ed3 by checking out the DAO for educators, by educators at Ed3DAO (@Ed3DAO) / Twitter or check out a project of generative NFTs celebrating the MAGIC of educators at Ed3 Educators (@Ed3educators) / Twitter.

If you’re not interested, don’t worry, it’s probably nothing.


1https://ed3.mirror.xyz/0U3QG8-4K6CD_ltU6SJyKN3-uBD3x6nEFs-YeShzYmk

2https://aws.amazon.com/blockchain/decentralization-in-blockchain/

At the Turning Point: Web3 and Education

I have recently immersed myself in an emerging concept incorporating blockchain technology with education called ed3. In their Mirror.xyz article From Web3 to Ed3 – Reimagining Education in a Decentralized World educators Atish Mistry, Blair Rorani, Scott David Meyer, and Vriti Saraf define ed3 as a model in which “learners own their education – validating their knowledge with decentralized technology.”1

The authors posit that the future of education is using decentralized technologies owned by its builders and creators. This model of internet technology is now referred to as web3. Gavin Wood, who coined the term “web3”, defines it as “a decentralized and fair internet where users control their own data, identity and destiny.”2 (You can also refer to this article for additional information.)

Here’s a simple model offered by one of the piece’s authors Scott David Meyer in which he connects ed3 to web3 as defined by internet pioneer by Chris Dixon.

Ed3 and web3 emphasize ownership and decentralization. Distributed ledger technology (blockchain), the metaverse, cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are components that make up the web3 ecosystem. These terms can be challenging to conceptualize and explain. This is an emerging technology. Many of them require entirely new mental models.

I decided to write about ed3 in order to build dialogue among educators as we begin the process of maneuvering this new technology. As educators, we need to have a prominent role in shaping its implementation. It is inevitable that the models of education that are deployed over the next 20 years will be influenced by it.

Failure to Disrupt

Or will it?

A central thesis to Justin Reich’s book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Can’t Transform Education is that technology by itself cannot disrupt education. His argument is that there are no shortcuts to large-scale institutional change. The scaling effects of technology conflict with the true innovation happening in smaller incremental improvements.

I completely agree with the perspective that Reich lays out. As an educator who considers himself a technologist, I rely heavily on Reich’s position. As the saying goes, there is no free lunch. It is important to be critical when dissecting new technologies that make broad claims about the impact of a new app or software.

So how are ed3/web3 technologies any different?

Reich doesn’t speak directly to web3, but he provides a useful explanation about new technologies in general.

“The rhetorical tropes of disruption and charismatic technologies center around a heroic developer creating new technology that leads to the transformation of educational systems.”3

And then a corollary to the “heroic developer” theory.

“Change won’t come from heroic developers or even technology firms, but from communities of educators, researchers, and designers oriented toward innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.”3

This viewpoint provides a valuable lens to critique web3’s potential for educational transformation. By definition, web3 is an internet technology that operates without a centralized authority. There is no “heroic developer” creating and distributing this new technology. Decentralization offers the potential for all of us (communities of educators, researchers, and designers) to lead the transformation.

We also need to look beyond decentralization and ownership for ways that web3 can support innovation in education. The last part of Reich’s second quote is critical, the orientation needs to be to pedagogy and equity. Any system that promises disruption or transformation that doesn’t support pedagogy and equity has no use in the future of education.

But Wait, There’s More

I invite educators to join the discussion and push the conversation about web3 further. It is important that we examine what could happen if (as ed3 promises) “learners own their education–validating their knowledge with decentralized technology”? How does this orientate communities of educators towards (Reich’s goal of) “innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity”?

To help us start to imagine the possibilities of a web3 driven education ecosystem I created the following conjecture. It combines Reichian theory with the definition of ed3 from the Mirror.xyz article:

Educational change will be propelled by decentralization in which communities drive ownership of their learning identities enabling innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.

I offer this statement as a lens to create conversation around the potential of ed3/web3 in our educational models. To amplify the discussion I will be exploring two questions.

  1. How do decentralized technologies allow learners to own their education?
  2. How does the ownership of learning identities support innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity?

You are all welcome to join me in this dialogue. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DaganBernstein or subscribe to this blog wherever you are reading it. My goal is to get more educators involved in shaping the role of web3 technologies in education. I have a full conviction that this technology is coming. Join in on the conversation and come build with us.


1https://mirror.xyz/ed3.eth/0U3QG8-4K6CD_ltU6SJyKN3-uBD3x6nEFs-YeShzYmk?utm_source=pocket_mylist

2https://web3.foundation/about/

3https://failuretodisrupt.com

On Writing In 2021

At the beginning of 2021, I set a goal to improve my writing. I had started this blog at the very end of 2019 but did limited posting. One barrier was insecurities about my writing abilities.

I decided that the only way I was going to improve my writing was to learn about good writing and to write. There were two books that influenced this decision–On Writing Well by William Zinsser and The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin.

As the calendar year comes to a close I’d like to share some things I learned during this process.

Write Everyday

I set up a system in which I would write for 30 minutes every morning the moment I woke up. I used an online journal program called Penzu. I would make a cup of coffee, open up my page, set a timer for 30 minutes, and just write.

You might have your own time of the day that works best for you. You might have a preferred mode to write in–google docs, pen and paper, legal pad, whatever. The delivery method or time doesnʻt matter. What is important is that you have a scheduled block of time in which you allow yourself to just write.

I tried different opening prompts as I was developing this habit. I have used a gratitude statement, or what can I change for today. Most recently I have settled on starting with “Today I feel…”. And from there I would just write. No thinking, no editing, no judging, just letting my ideas flow.

It is important that you find your own delivery. This book is frequently recommended on this topic. I personally haven’t read it, but there are many podcasts and interviews where people share the general idea behind it. There is also an actual journal that was developed from the book. This blog post by Tim Ferriss is a good resource too.

I learned three main things from implementing this daily writing practice:

  • Allowing your mind to go free uncovers new ideas
  • Daily repetition builds upon new ideas that emerge
  • Capturing interesting ideas is good for later use

Read Good Writing

I have always loved to read. I am constantly consuming books, blogs, and academic journals. By committing to improving my own writing I have become more cognizant of how other people write. This meant moving beyond what they were writing to how they were writing.

Here are three observations I made that I have used for my own writing:

  • Keep it clear–remove the clutter
  • Keep it simple–be direct and to the point
  • Keep it short–don’t overwrite

I still struggle with all of these. My writing can be convoluted. I complicate my ideas. I also tend to write long sentences and paragraphs. Consistently reading other writers has helped me see my own shortcomings and make improvements.

I have learned not to dwell on this. Writing is a process. The quality improves the more that we are aware of what good writing is. This is the same approach I took as a musician. My own playing improved the more I paid attention to the elements of good music.

Post In Public and Share

An authentic audience keeps us accountable. When I post to my blog it can be read by anyone. I have to make sure that I produce the best writing possible at that moment.

I also make sure that I share links to blog posts on my social media accounts. I use different strategies on each social media platform to ensure the widest reach possible. I don’t do this for likes. I want to hold myself accountable by making sure as many people as possible can read it.

Each platform has unique ways to increase visibility. For Instagram I create a custom graphic along with a link to the post in my bio. I also add hashtags to the post that are related to my topic. For Twitter I tag other educators I know and respect. I like their retweets and respond to comments.

All of these actions help me put my full self behind what I am writing. I don’t try to hide my writing in some corner of the internet. By getting my work out to as many people as possible it makes me more mindful about what I am posting.

Write What You Would Read

When I first started the blog I struggled to decide on blog topics. I would never start because I was so caught up in my head. I made the decision to write about topics that I want to read about.

My interests tend to center on education, community, and mindsets, so that’s what I wrote about. This gave me a specific voice to write from. Through this process, an internal editor emerges with me as the audience. As a result, my writing became more direct and to the point.

This approach gave me endless ideas to blog about. I am often reading books about mindsets, whether they are creative, design, or entrepreneurial mindsets. Same for education or community building. I’d make notes of different topics or ideas that I’d come across while reading and turn those into blog posts.

This also goes back to the first point to “write every day.” By getting my ideas out of my head, patterns would emerge that would become topics for posts. This is all grounded in the central idea of writing about things that I would want to read.

Looking to 2022

For the upcoming year my goal is to continue to write. I have a lot more growth to experience and I would like to get better. I will continue to apply the strategies I used in 2021. They have been effective at increasing my production.

I will also challenge myself with new goals. Being a guitar player and singer has taught me that disciplined practice of one’s craft leads to progress.

Here are some things I am looking to for 2022:

  • Read more books about the technique of writing
  • Write about topics that I am less familiar with
  • Post on new platforms–maybe Substack or Medium
  • Seek out opportunities to be published on other blogs

We will see how far I am able to progress on these goals. The point is to continue to challenge myself. I am confident that by setting my intention to write each day it will bring positive results.

Writing has been an exceptionally fulfilling way to express myself and learn new things. As you look to 2022 I hope that you can join me in your new challenge. I have one piece of advice–show yourself some grace, but to also hold yourself accountable.

I think it is possible to hold these two things at one time. In doing so you can allow yourself to thrive in whatever you pursue.

Coming Full Circle On Empowering Student Changemakers

Back in September, I started discussions with educators about empowering student changemakers. One of the first examples we explored on this topic was student council groups in our schools. Initially, I was not that interested in this idea. My intention with starting the conversation on empowering student changemakers was to think beyond the typical systems that we associate with enacting change.

Reflecting on our final session of this series I have come to realize the importance of student governments. These student-led programs are a key touchpoint to develop the skills necessary for students to become effective changemakers.

The problem at hand

International educator Mel started our conversation by sharing why our students struggle when given too much agency. Students have a difficult time engaging with inquiry-based learning without the proper scaffolding. Most students have been in compliance-based learning models for most of their school life. They are not able to just flip a switch and feel comfortable in a model that requires an entirely new set of skills. 

Mel shared two main challenges that students have in being effective problem-solvers. First, they can get overwhelmed when given too much choice. Students are used to clear directions and outcomes. They shut down when they are asked to identify problems and investigate solutions. It is too wide open for them and they struggle with autonomy.

Secondly, students can sometimes feel jaded in school by the time they reach their teenage years. Students will push back when presented with a long-term project and sometimes prefer to just take a test. They have become so used to playing the grading game that the idea of an inquiry-based project is a turnoff. They have figured out how to follow directions and do what the teacher wants. After years of schooling with this approach, they have little interest in doing something that involves sustained inquiry.

The indifferent student council student

I listened to what Mel had shared and made a connection to an experience I had when I asked my students to sign up for the student council. Students were indifferent to the whole idea. This was not what I had initially expected. I had anticipated that at least a few of my homeroom students would be eager to sign up.

When I asked them why they didn’t want to sign up, they shared their experiences in their previous grades. The consensus was that it was a waste of time. That nothing of importance ever got done. They would plan a recess activity or organize a pizza party, but they never had the chance to enact real change. If they proposed a dress code change, or how to improve the lunch service their ideas were dismissed. Students felt their voices weren’t being heard or taken seriously.

I understood their frustration. I flashed back to my own time in middle school when I completely wrote off student government groups. My burgeoning punk rock anti-establishment ethos had already dictated that real change never happens through the system. On the contrary, I also regretted how this attitude carried over to my adulthood. It wasn’t until much later in life that I saw the value of engaging in civic duties in my community. I didn’t want my students to have that same experience.

Changing the narrative

In the middle of our conversation, a new person named Kyle joined in. He shared his experience in how he re-imagined the student council at his school. His perspective really changed the tenor of the conversation. After listening to him describe the model he implemented, my thinking shifted about the role that the student council can play in empowering student changemakers.

The model that Kyle shared was dynamic, engaging, and involved real-world learning. The program was centered around authentic citizenship for the students. They were given real autonomy over the impact the student council could have along with support by teacher coaches. 

To join the student council students were asked to complete an application along with an interview. Each applicant was vetted to ensure that they met certain criteria. This was done on the front end because the students were given the power to be a part of making decisions at their school. They were invited to faculty meetings and space was given for students to provide input on policy.

These experiences were authentic. The expectation of the students was that they would be actively involved in school policy. As a result, the students took the responsibility of their position much more seriously. The teachers trusted the students. They had all gone through a screening process so the teacher knew that their input had merit. By partnering the student council members with a teacher-coach they were given guidance about how to best articulate the changes that they wanted.

Post-covid implications

Our world underwent a rapid change as a result of the COVID pandemic. Major decisions had to be made in real-time–decisions that had major implications on our day-to-day life.  

Unfortunately, the speed at which these decisions were made left out the students’ voices. Most schools didn’t have systems set up that made space for students to provide input on what changes should and shouldn’t be made. Imagine if all schools had a student representative present when decisions were being made. These representatives would have gone through an application process and been screened to fulfill the responsibility for the job. This would allow for input from the students that would be impacted by the decisions being made.

This does not mean that all decisions should have to go through a student channel. But what about those choices that have a direct impact on the lives of the students? There could be collaborative decision-making between the teachers and students. Instead, all those decisions made about how schools should look post-COVID were made in a vacuum. Not all of the stakeholders were involved. Unfortunately, we saw that many of these decisions had a negative impact on the health and wellness of our students.

I don’t think it is too late. We are still navigating our post-covid reality. We still have the opportunity to create a space for these student voices to be heard. In creating this space we can acknowledge their experience. By meeting students where they are at we can create the conditions that will enable them to thrive in our schools.

Coming full circle

I admit that I originally had little hope for student-led governments to be a place where I would see students empowered as changemakers. I had been holding onto the idea that it was an outdated model that had no place in our changing schools. I am grateful for these conversations because they opened up my eyes to the potential of these systems.

In his podcast How to Citizen Baratunde Thurston talks about “Reimaging ʻcitizen’ as a verb and reclaiming our collective power.” I cannot think of a better definition of empowering student changemakers. From these conversations, I will take with me the idea that rethinking our student council and student governments is a place where we can empower student changemakers. As the old biblical proverb states “the stone that builders refuse, will be the head cornerstone.”

As I close out this series of discussions I look forward to the next iteration of this experience. I am grateful for all the educators that joined in and made these conversations the impactful discussions that they were. None of this would have been possible without their gracious contributions. 

And a huge thank you to all the people at Swivl and Skilled.Space for supporting educators to come together to have conversations. As Swivl says on their homepage “relationships are the foundation”. And with Skilled.Space we can “Build relationships with more conversations.” I encourage all educators to have more conversations and to build more relationships. Together, we can.