7 Reasons Why the Best Education Books Are Rarely the Bestsellers

The more I scan the Amazon bestsellers in the education section as well as some of the other major lists, the more I come to believe that the best education books are rarely bestsellers. There are exceptions to this. Some incredible books about education absolutely become bestsellers, and that is encouraging. However, they do so despite some of the trends, not because of them. Here are seven reasons why.

Bestsellers tend to stretch but not break the system.

We want to be stretched, but only so far. If there is a central truth that risks disrupting the system altogether, we would usually rather ignore it. Exceptions are often education books that get a readership outside the normal audience. They are books that connect with and reach a group that knows or lives the brokenness of the system. I put books like Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in this category.

Bestsellers keep it concrete.

Even though some of the most important issues call for an examination of the theoretical and philosophical, many of us would rather settle for a simple 10-step guide or at least something straightforward and concrete. The issue might be complex, but we still want and hope for a simple solution. In the absense of that, we will settle for a reciple. There are exceptions, books that draw from theory and reserach to highlight a very practical and lived experience, but those are also the books where the authors come back in five to ten years to talk about all the ways that educators are misusing or misunderstanding their intentions. We see that with Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind as well as Dweck’s Mindset.

Bestsellers use or create buzz words.

We love buzz words in education, and we buy the books that use the latest ones. In fact, it sometimes seems like a recipe for success is choose a few buzz words, add some inspirational stories, include a list of tips, and you have a bestseller.

Bestsellers are about the celebrity educator as much as what they wrote.

There are many wonderful exceptions to this, but oftentimes it is just a matter of people who have a great following, they write a people, and those followers take if from there.

Bestsellers bow to the sacred cows.

There are some things that you can challenge in education and others that you cannot. There is only so much openness to full and candid discourse. Any challenge to certain existing power structures will immediately put you on the “do not buy” list, although this sometimes works out too. When there are enough people outside of the system who resonate, that can be enough to start a movement.

Bestsellers do not bother with too much research.

Again, I am thankful that there are some great exceptions to this, but many of us in education do not want to bother with the hard stuff. We are all about following your instincts even if the research, sometimes even when the research, indicates otherwise.

Bestsellers get their by great marketing.

There are wonderful education books that do not release through top publishers with larger budgets, or they are not written by well-known personalities who have a large pre-existing audience. As such, they just don’t reach a large audience. That does not mean, however, that they couldn’t reach a larger audience with the right marketing strategy.

I realize that these are broad generalizations and, like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are some encouraging and wonderful exceptions to this. However, that is not my main reason for writing this. Instead, I write this article because I have been incredibly blessed to discover lesser known education books that have changed the way that I think about teaching, learning, and education as a whole. Some of them were bestsellers of a different era. Others never reached large audience. That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that they are insightful, even important, books about education. As such, I invite others to join me in doing the extra work to seek out books that might not be praised at education conferences, highlighted in bestseller lists, promoted among colleagues, or even known by others. The majority is sometimes wrong, maybe even the majority of the time. How will this influence your reading habits?

Toward Digital Collaboration Fluency

As I reflect upon some of my recent experiences in MOOCs (most recently #ETMOOC and #EDCMOOC) and online communities (especially my recent participation in #COOPLIT), I find myself thinking about the notion of digital collaboration and the pursuit of digital collaboration fluency.

Learning about positive and effective communication is a lifelong task, an area where I know that I want and need to grow.  I am especially fascinated by how this looks and evolves in digital spaces. Regardless of the context, there is ample research to support the idea that high impact groups/teams develop clear and positive methods of communication.

From the positive psychology research, we know that the positivity ratio in group interaction is a key to success, even to the overall success of businesses.  When there are more negative comments than positive ones, that is a danger sign for the organization.  On the flip side, if there is 100% positivity, that lead to ineffective teams as well.  The important part, it seems, is to have more positive comments than negative, building a culture of trust and openness where people are generally positive but they can also disagree.  They can even battle some things out while keeping the co-worker / co-learner relationships healthy and intact (many of the ideas in this paragraph were informed by Seligman’s book Flourish).

Howard Rheingold just drew my attention to this blog post where the author reviews and highlights parts of Sarah Miller Caldicott new book Midnight Lunch: the 4 phases of team collaboration success from Thomas Edison’s LabTwo ideas captured my attention from this blog post and book:

  1. “Collaboration begins with collegiality. Unless people feel they can roll up their sleeves and work together, innovation is much tougher.”
  2. “Collaboration is reinforced through casual dialogue rather than stiff agendas. Every member of a collaboration team engages in dialogue with other team members, and is not able to shrink to the background.”

These two points remind me of the importance of cultivating a culture of collaboration and not simply trying to apply collaboration principles to standard meetings, classes, and environments.  It also reminds me of Jay Cross’s important work about the power and importance of Informal Learning in the workplace over traditional training programs, workshops, and seminars.

All of this brings me back to the title of this article, “Toward Digital Collaboration Fluency.”  Literacy, as I am thinking about it now is not as much about memorizing rules, grammar, and punctuation as it is about socially negotiated meaning.  As I write about digital collaboration literacy and fluency, it is more than simply applying principles from a manual on how to collaborate effectively in digital spaces.  Instead, it is about negotiating over and over.

The more that I think about it, the more that I believe that the most powerful digital collaboration comes when those involved take time to build community and trust, and then they persevere through imperfect attempts at digital communication and collaboration. Given this trust relationship, they are willing to explore and experiment with new modes of digital age communication and collaboration.  They experiment with the affordances and limitations of text versus audio versus video, synchronous versus asynchronous versus nearly now communication like what we see in texting and Twitter. They explore new ways of thinking about roles and responsibilities.  They try out various tools in search of new affordances and not simply leaning on a couple of preferred tools that are personally comfortable.  In the end, they negotiate mash-ups of collaborative tools for a given context, project, or team; and then the do it all over again with the next project or team.  This is certainly a messier way of thinking about digital collaboration fluency, but it may be one of the only ways to make significant progress toward true fluency rather than plateauing at moderate levels of competence.

The pursuit of fluency also requires lots and lots of time. I’ve yet to see any shortcuts.  It demands a willingness to immerse oneself in the environment and lean on others so much that, if they were move, you would fall over.  With that will come frustration, more messiness, and uncertainty.  It will drive us to want to revert back to our comfort zones, but doing so may inhibit us from the joy of that next digital collaboration aha moment.  This is why that informal and collegial community of trust is such an important foundation.  It is much easier to take risks when you are among trusted friends, collaborators and/or colleagues; people who pay more attention to your strengths and contributions than your weaknesses or shortcomings.

Utopian & Dystopian Literature – Toward a New Type of Digital Litearcy

Anthem, Utopia, The Republic, Out of the Silent Planet, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, The Running Man, Ender’s Game, The Giver, The Diamond Age, Hunger Games

Utopian and especially dystopian literature is fascinating!

I cut my teeth on thinking about life in a technological world by comparing and contrasting visions of 1984 and A Brave New World.  Such literature continues to inform my thinking about emerging and future models of life and learning in an increasingly technological world.  So, I felt quite at home when I started reviewing the resources for Week 1 of the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (#EDCMOOC).  Among other things, the designers of the MOOC invited participants to reflect upon both utopian and dystopian perspectives on digital culture.

I see great value in starting such a course with this broad perspective.  Dystpoian literature is  good at provoking thought and discussion about the future.  From a pedagogical perspective, I am interested in the potential of using such literature as a way to help us think about the affordances and limitations of current and emerging technologies in education.

There is the danger of applying a purely dystopian or utopian perspective on a given technology. In reality, I suspect that Neil Postman is correct when he notes that there is always a Faustian bargain at play with technology-related decisions. If this is true, it calls for educational leaders and individual learners to develop a different type of technology literacy.  I am not referring to a technology literacy that is measured by one’s ability to use technology as much as a growing ability to understand how technology uses and influences us, our communities and relationships, and our learning organizations.  This calls for a relentless commitment to ask and seek answers to difficult and diverse questions.  As one place to start, I turn back to some of the questions posed by Neil Postman in various books over the years. I’ve also added some of my own.  Feel free to add additional questions in the comment section.

“What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?” – NP

“Whose problem is it actually?” – NP

“If there is a legitimate problem that is solved by the technology?” – NP

“What is the Faustian bargain?” – NP Who wins? Who loses? What do we gain? What do we lose?

To what extent are we actively shaping or passively being shaped by this technology?

What are the affordances?

What are the limitations?

Are there ethical implications?

Is it fashion, comfort, fear, data, research, or something else that is informing my/our decisions about a given technology or digital tool?

Given the distinct personal values or core values of our organization, how can we shape or influence the use of this technology?