Aren’t schools, by their very nature, pro-education? That makes intuitive sense given that they are supposed to be places created to promote learning. However, there are a number of well-intentioned practices that, while implemented to improve education, also have a way of subtly shifting the culture of the school toward one that is anti-educational.

1. Standardized Tests – These are often used to more accurately measure student progress and/or performance. However, once the tests are implemented, it sometimes occurs that teachers and schools are measured by the numbers on the test. Over time, what happens in some schools is that they carry out strategies to improve test scores. Notice the subtle change. The focus is on improving test scores, not more broadly improving the overall education. Test scores may well increase while creating a culture that is more concerned with test performance than student learning and the traits that nurture young people who are curious, disciplined, and increasingly self-directed learners.

2. Honor Roll – I’m not necessarily suggesting that honor roll is fundamentally anti-educational, but here is my concern. In many schools, honor roll is mainly about honoring students with a 3.5 GPA or above. It becomes a goal for some students. The only challenge is that it can place the emphasis upon attainment of a grade-point average instead of something like being deeply engaged in learning. While the person with the 3.5 GPA may be the same person as the deep learner, I’ve seen no sign that this is the case. Instead, for some learners, a practice like honor roll becomes about learning to play the school game, choosing the right classes, playing it safe, and keeping your GPA as high as possible. As I’ve illustrated elsewhere, grades (and thus GPAs) are not simply a measure of what students have or have not learned.

3. Diplomas – “I’m just here to get that piece of paper so that I can get the job I want.” Have you heard something like that before? That is a mindset that is focused upon school as a hoop that one must jump through instead of a place for growth, learning, and maybe even some transformational experiences. It can be about seeing the diploma as a ticket that provides entrance into the desired workplace, instead of a symbol of one’s learning.

4. Letter Grades – I’ve written a bit about this elsewhere, but the basic idea is that, if we are not careful, we create a culture of earning grades instead of a culture of learning new things. This happens quickly when we try to use grades as carrot and stick motivational tools. When we do that, we diminish the notion that school is primarily about learning.

5. Seat Time, Hours and Days – Whenever we try to reduce our concept of quality education to measuring the number of hours that students are in classes or the number of days that schools is in session, we are starting to play a dangerous game of schooling. We are losing sight of our first calling which is student learning, and we all know that learning happens at different rates for different people. So, a 180-day school year may be great for one student but not for another. There is no magic number of hours or days in school that is ideal for all students.

6. Key Performance Indicators – This is business language for measures that we are tracking well, that we are on the way to reach certain school goals or critical targets. There is nothing inherently anti-educational about this. In fact, it can be quite helpful. Yet, we often come up with things to measure that are easy and accessible, but that do not really get at the heart of what we are about. I give one such example here.

7. Keeping Up With the Technological Jonses – This is when we track and adopt the latest educational technology trends because they are trendy, or because the school down the road is doing it. The problem is that we are not thinking about the educational benefit. How will it help or hinder our educational goals? How will it amplify or mute or core values and mission? Who will be the educational winners and losers? What do we gain and give up with it? These are the sorts of questions that we want to ask if we want to maintain a pro-educational school amid technological innovation.

8. Dismiss Reading and Writing as Outdated – I’m one of the first to champion things like project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and game-based learning. Yet, reading and writing remain fundamental parts of cultivating a disciplined mind. Show me a school that minimizes these and you almost always see a school that is dabbling in anti-educational sentiment.

9. Design By Teacher Preference and Comfort – I’ve seen many University faculty and K-12 educators argue for something in the name of academic rigor, when it actually comes down to personal comfort and preference. There is nothing more academic about such a mindset. Making something harder is not the same as keeping high academic standards, nor is being less flexible or accessible. Pro-educational schools keep such claims in check by demanding that the conversation come back to what best supports student learning. There is still plenty of room for disagreement, but at least the debates are keeping first things first.

10. Dismiss Educational Research and Theory – Yes, this happens. I’ve seen it in K-12 schools as well as higher education institutions. They treat the study of education as having little true value, instead arguing that experience and personal opinions about good practices are adequate. There are tons of great teachers with no formal training in education, as they have discovered and applied solid teaching and learning principles. However, not every teacher gets there. In such instances, we can greatly enhance their teaching effectiveness and student learning if we embrace what educational theory and research has to say about good and promising practices.

There are plenty of other practices that could also lead to an anti-educational culture in a school, but these are some of the ones that appear to be more common. Some of them are actually good or promising practices. It is just that they can be used for ill as well. So, how do we create a pro-educational school culture? Simply put, that comes from persistently and relentlessly making student learning the top priority and using that value as a funnel through which we sift everything else.

A recent #Edchat was focused on the topic of homework. Should we use it? What is good homework? What are the benefits and drawbacks? What does the research say about it? Some even wondered what a teacher can do when the school requires that they give a certain amount of homework. My response to that last question was simple. If you are required to give homework, then hack it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that hacking homework is a good standard practice.

Homework is simply defined as work that a student is supposed to do at home (or beyond the class session). With that broad of a definition, it is hard to make too many definitive statements about it. For me, that is an invitation to play and experiment with the term. So what does it mean to hack homework? Hacking is about experimentation, exploration, using things in unexpected or even unintended ways. So, if we add hacking to homework, we get the idea of playful, experimental, experiential, exploratory learning. In other words, we get an idea of homework that sets aside the worksheets, drill and practice exercises, and similar activities. We let go of the idea of that performance on homework assignments adds up to be part of a letter grade. Instead, what if we made homework exploratory, playful, and formative. With that in mind, here are ten ways to get you started on your homework hacking journey.

1. Life Experiments

This is can be done prior to or after a lesson. It is where you invite learners to conduct simple experiments related to what they are exploring in class, and then to report their findings back to the class.

2. Find It in the Real World

These are assignments that challenge students to try or test something from class beyond the walls of the school. If it is a math class, have students find examples of where the math is being used, or how it can be used to explain something.

3. Interviews and Observations

This may not work as well for every content area, but having students observe or talk to people can be a rich and powerful learning experience. It doesn’t need to be complex. Even simple conversations with parents or guardians can be enlightening.

4. Don’t Grade It

Think about it. Homework is typically about helping students practice. Practice is not the game. It helps get ready for the game. So, why would we make the practice part of what goes into the final grade for the class? That is confusing formative and summative assessment, and it simply rewards those who need the least amount of practice or help. If grades about what students have or have not learned by the end of the class, why grade homework, which is just progress toward that final goal?

5. Make their Non-Homework Homework

Tell them not to do any homework, but then to make connections between what they learned in class and what happening in the rest of their lives.

6. Mini Service Learning

How about the “Pay it Forward” approach to homework. Give them the challenge of using something they learned in the class to help someone. Then have them report back. This is a great way to help students make the connection between the life of learning and service.

7. Artistic Expressions

Most students have cell phones, iPods or something they can use to snap pictures. Have students take one or more pictures that helps teach or illustrate a concept that was studied or will be studied in class. Once they take the picture, you can have it send to you, ready for a fun and interesting slide show the next day in class. In essence, your students are creating part of the hook for the lesson.

8. Self-Directed and Self-Generated Homework

Your assignment is to give yourself an assignment that will help you learn, reinforce, or refine your understanding of ___________ (a topic learned about in class). You will be amazed at some of the interesting and creative ideas that students develop. This will also help you learn about them as learners, an it helps them learn about themselves. People say that homework teaches responsibility, but this really helps students move toward self-directed learning and the nurturing of human agency, which is hopefully what we want to see in graduates.

9. Homework Games

Your task is to create a game that could be used to help people learn about ________. Then, when you get to class, play some of the games.

10. Lesson Planning

Yes, why not invite students into the lesson planning process. Share all your lessons with students in advance using a Google Doc. Let them use the comment feature to review, revise, suggest alternatives, etc. In other words, invite them into the process of planning their own learning activities.

This is just the beginning. By simply giving ourselves permission to define homework more broadly and combining with the spirit of the hacker, we can come up with some wonderfully rich, engaging, and beneficial “homework” for learners. What are your ideas? Feel free to suggest other ways to hack homework in the comment area.

What is progressive credentialing? It is pretty much what it sounds like. Instead of just getting one massive credential at the end of an extended degree program, this is about issuing smaller credentials along the way. Each credential represents acquisition of new knowledge or skill, building up to that final degree or completion of an overall program. How much this help improve upon the current educational system? Here are ten possibilities.

1. More Immediate Job Opportunities

You go to college, graduate from college, and use the diploma/credential to see if it will open some doors for employment. At least that is how some people think about it. Yet, that is not what happens for most college students. As I’ve referenced elsewhere, 85% of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree don’t follow this recipe. They are post-traditional learners who are already in the workforce, or they are looking for employment before or during pursuit of a college degree. As such, the current academic credentialing system is less helpful. What we need instead is a system that gives out credentials as people make progress in a program. The moment someone demonstrates a new skill or new knowledge, a credential in the form of a digital badge is issued, and the person can update a résumé with the new credential and a new skill.

2. Documented Skills for Potential Promotions or a Chance to Work on a New Project

Similarly, even if someone already has a job, what if we could build a system where that person can share evidence of new knowledge and skills gained to the boss. Perhaps this could be enough for the boss to trust that person with a new project, or it might even be enough to give that person a chance at a promotion in the business.

3. Help Employers in Areas Where There are Employment Shortages

From the employer side, what about jobs where there is a shortage of qualified employees. In some cases, perhaps that is because there is a minimum degree requirement. Instead, what if the employer could increase the type of work that an employee could do once that person demonstrates a new skill as shown by a progressive credentialing system. This is sometimes done with medical interns, allowing them to earn credentials to take on more tasks as they demonstrate competence. In fact, this might even lead employers to consider hiring people without the previously required bachelor’s degree under the condition that the employee earn progressive credentials in a college degree program, eventually culminating in the full degree. This model might even decrease the unemployment rate in specific contexts while giving employers the needed skilled workforce.

4. It Helps to Address Motivation

By using progressive credentials, each new visual symbol becomes a milestone. It breaks mastery or competency into manageable sizes. This provides short and quick wins as one progresses toward a larger and more cumulative credential. These progressive credentials become a sort of progress bar. Each new credential becomes evidence that the learner has what it takes to finish the entire program.

5. It Helps the Learner See and Understand the Big Picture

By providing small and discrete progressive credentials, it can become easier for a learner to understand how knowledge and skills build up to broader levels of competence. Detailing the learning with these micro-credentials may be an effective way for the learner to see how parts of a course or program lead to the entire degree. These can show how everything fits together. This can be enhanced if the progressive credentialing system uses a series of small competency-based badges to lead to a larger badge. Those larger badges lead to yet another level of competence or the entire degree.

6. It Allows Drop Outs to Walk Away With More Than Debt

Yes, our goal is for people to complete a degree, but we know that life doesn’t always play out that way. In such instances, a progressive credentialing system still leaves the drop out with an updated resume, with a set of credentials that did not exist before. This might just be enough to gain new employment and pay off debt that was incurred from the college coursework.

7. It Allows for Individualized Programming

If a college degree program were divided into a progressive credentialing system, it would create new opportunities for personalized or individualized learning plans. Suppose a person arrived with knowledge or skill equal to one of the micro-credentials. Why not let them test out of that credential, earn it, and move on? This could speed up a person’s study or allow that person to focus on those areas that truly need to be mastered instead of “jumping through the hoops” with aspects of the learning that person doesn’t need.

8. It Creates New Opportunities for Nano-Degrees

The Udacity nano-degree experiment involves mastery a set of skills that lead to something like a 1-year certificate, but it also connects directly to the needs of a given employer. Several nano-degrees could potentially lead up to a traditional bachelor’s or master’s degree.

9. It Allows for Easier Revision and Updates to Curricula

I’ve written elsewhere about competency-based badges as curricular building blocks, and this would work well in a progressive credentialing system. Especially in more applied fields, there are new skill sets and there is new knowledge that becomes valuable over time in a given domain. By having the program broken into distinct competency-based badges in a progressive credentialing system, it becomes easier to see where updates and revisions need to take place. Updates are often just a matter of revising one or two competency-based badges or adding a couple more layers/levels of competency-based badges.

Consider how this also helps with analyzing learning progressions. Most educators recognize the importance of scaffolded learning. Some skills are better mastered after other skills are learned. Breaking up a program into a progressive credentialing system allows one to explore and experiment with such scaffolding. While one option would be to establish a set and required sequence of micro-credentials, another option would be to leave some flexibility, but to analyze the results from students. Over time, this data could drive important advising or revisions to the curricula (like suggesting that certain credentials be pursued and earned before others. This would not be based on hunches, but real data about past learner success).

10. It keeps everyone focused on progress.

Each new credential is a step in the right direction. As noted in some of the previous points, this provides understanding and potential motivation for some learners, but it also keeps the instructors/advisors/facilitators focused on student progress.

Progressive credentialing is a largely unfamiliar term among most, but as noted in these ten points, it has some promise to help learners, instructors, learning organizations and current/future employers. This requires significant groundwork in many contexts, but given the building of an adequate trust network and a carefully planned system, it has promise to offer interesting improvements to many current systems leading to an academic credential.

Imagine if learning organizations around the globe started to nurture thought and practice related innovation and social entrepreneurship. In Creating Innovators (2012), Tony Wagner proposed “Seven Survival Skills” to emphasize in our learning organizations. They include “critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, along with curiosity and imagination.” Few of these typically show up as distinct titles of classes, but it doesn’t take much convincing to recognizes that these are valuable traits in the contemporary world, traits can can help people: affect positive change in the world, benefit others, increase one’s employability and value in the workplace, that serve one well as an active citizen, and that help people develop high levels of human agency and self-direction. What if learning organizations were known less for tests and homework, and more for being places that empower difference making and positive change agents?

Are you ready to get started? If so, here are ten ideas. Most of these are simple projects and strategies that any willing school (K-12 or University) could add. I left out the efforts that require larger financial investments, instead suggesting strategies that most willing learning organizations could launch in the 1-12 months.

1. The President’s (or Principal’s) Challenge – Harvard does this annually. The President identifies a global or social challenge and invites groups of students across the campus to engage in entrepreneurial efforts to address that challenge throughout the year. There is a launch event, mentors to work with interested students (yes, we might not all have a staffed Innovation center for such a project, but we can improvise), times to share and celebrate the work of students, along with an annual winner. This could be replicated in elementary schools, high schools, flagship state students, or smaller liberal arts colleges.

2. Missions over Majors – Sarah Stein Greenberg vast a vision for a future University where students declared missions to solve problems in the world instead of declaring traditional majors. That would not be a quick or easy change, but we could still include the spirit of the idea. Colleges could allow students to declare a mission instead of a minor, allowing them to create a personalized learning plan that helps them pursue that mission. Or, what if students or groups of students in K-12 education had an annual challenge of identifying a personally meaningful mission and pursuing it throughout the year, keeping a portfolio of their learning and progress. This could even be included as a “course” on their transcript.

3 . Tell the stories – There are so many amazing stories to tell and innovation in service of society, about social entrepreneurship. Find them and invite those people into your school to share their story with the students. If they can’t make it in person, bring them in via Skype and Google Hangouts. Simply being a place that values social impact storytelling is a great way to ignite the passions and interests of many young people.

4. Make Why a Top Priority Across the Curriculum – Start framing “Why do we need to learn this?” answers around how knowledge and skill in each discipline can benefit society. How have people in the past used math, history, or biology to benefit the world? How can our knowledge and skill help? This is in contrast to answers that are more about schooling than society. We don’t learn math so we can be ready for the math in college. We learn math so that we can use mathematical thinking to solve real and important problems in our lives, the workplace, and the world. Give examples. Challenge students to find these examples.

5. Create Dedicated Community-based Learning Courses – I first learned about this one at a conference presentation from someone at Dominican University. Faculty can identify certain sections of a course as a community-based learning course. It has the same course-level outcomes as other sections of the same course, but this designation means that part of the learning will take place in and through community-based service learning. In other words, you can take some art, psychology, history, or science classes that not only teach you about those subjects, but they do so, in part, by having you use that budding knowledge to help with a community issue. Students can opt to sign up for these courses or more traditional versions of the course.

6. Turn a Course Project into Engines for Addressing Social Needs – Maybe a school isn’t ready to create full community-based learning courses, so why not try it on the assignment level? Create an assignment in a class where students propose or seek to create proposed solutions to real-world social issues. You can even launch the event with a quick field trip to see the problem in person, or by having a community representative explain the problem. Help students learn how to ask good questions, research and investigate, and then use what they are learning in the class to solve the problem.

7. Use Case Studies and/or CaseQuests – Students are challenged use their knowledge in a subject by analyzing real-world case studies. This helps students see the relevance of what they are learning, but case-based learning also focuses on helping them be able apply to use that knowledge in contexts that they are likely to experience beyond the classroom and school. This is one of those methods that be used in kindergarten through graduate school.

8. Internships and Shadowing – Many colleges and Universities have opportunities like this, but why not make an effort to build partnerships and create opportunities with groups and people working on social issues in the world, whether this be non-profits or for-profits with a for-benefit mindset?

9. Teach Social Entrepreneurship Skills – This might entail an elective course on social entrepreneurship for interested students, or even a commitment to teach about social entrepreneurship and related skills across a major or the curriculum. Regardless, if we are serious about this idea, we might want to find a way to include it into the formal curriculum. Here is a great collection of resources to get started.

10. Build Connections with Outside Groups – There are a growing number of events and groups dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Connect with and learn from them. Participate in social entrepreneurship challenges that are open to the public and schools. Connect with groups like the social venture network, Changemakers, The Social Enterprise Alliance, the Social Enterprise Association (focused on Singapore but great resources), or the countless social entrepreneurship groups, programs, and efforts in colleges and Universities. While we are talking about entrepreneurship, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Network, collaborate, and building meaningful connections with other groups who might have people or resources to help your local efforts.

“What if students declare missions, not majors?” This is a question posed by Sarah Stein Greenberg during her talk at Wired by Design.  A summary of her comments are included in this short article entitled,  “4 Radical Ideas for Reinventing College.” A colleague shared this article with me today, and the fourth point resonated with me instantly. It is an idea that matters, the type of concept that tempts me to drop everything else that I am doing and invest the next few years trying to make it a reality. It closely aligns with my own research and musings about a possible future of some learning organizations and the impact of methods like project-based learning, passion-based learning, inquiry-based learning, service learning, and even Kieren Egan’s work on Learning in Depth.

The following reflection is not intended to be a summary of Greenberg’s comments as much as a personal reflection about this general concept of mission over major. I did not hear Sarah Stein Greenberg’s remarks at the conference, but even the short synopsis is enough to conjure visions of what is possible in higher education, if we are willing to consider that academic excellence is not limited to the higher education practices of the past. Instead of starting with a pre-developed course of study, Greenberg’s concept invites us to consider an alternative, one where young (and older, given that 85% of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree are not traditional undergraduates), begin with a mission, a personal desire to effect change in a particular area, to address a real-world problem, to allow themselves to ignite their learning by something that is personally meaningful and practically significant in the world. In my years of visiting and learning from innovative and high-impact learning organizations, the most inspiring ones always seem to tap into the passions, sense of purpose and/or mission of the individual learners. A compelling why behind one’s learning is not to be underestimated.

In some ways, this is in contrast with certain trends in K-12 and higher education, with a persistent push for teaching to a set of common standards, ensuring that we have consist results in student learning as it relates to subjects like language arts and mathematics. That is part of what prompted my article about the Common Core Versus the Unique Potential of Each Child, not that it necessarily has to be one or the other. However, there are two contrasting philosophies of education. There is one where the focus is upon carefully identifying what students need to know in a given domain. This clearly has a role. Most want medical doctors who have a common base of knowledge and other professional who have a foundation in the discipline that informs their work. Yet, there is another philosophy that is driven by a desire to help each learner build upon strengths, gifts and abilities, with the goal of using one’s unique profile in service to something of importance. A mission over major approach doesn’t necessarily challenge the importance of mastering bodies of knowledge in preparation for certain career and life paths. It does challenge where we start.

Do we start with a faculty prescribed path, or one that is derived from missions that are motivating and personally meaningful to learners? What would this look like, a University (or high school for that matter) full of learners who are passionately pursuing a mission, opting for a personalized course of study that best helps them to embark on that mission? I could see this giving new life to the liberal arts in some schools while also clearly addressing questions about the worth of a college degree. A college degree isn’t worth anything, not unless it represents learning that matters to the that person and others in the world. As I noted in my post about college as a great place to start a business, it is also a great place to discover and pursue a meaningful mission. This has the potential to help students experience a truly transformative learning experience, to cultivate the important life skill of learning how to learn, and to discover the power and possibility of tackling important problems and issues in the world with a keen intellect and a disciplined mind.

The reality is that life is a series of problems, but also a series of possibilities. Why not envision a future of education that intentionally prepares young people for thriving and surviving in such a world? We can do this by inviting them to already start addressing some of those problems and pursuing some of those possibilities during their time in college. College is often a vibrant community full of resources, mentors, and other learners. What better place to learn how to find and pursue a mission?

I don’t expect to see countless Universities embracing this tomorrow, at least not in the classroom. Yet, there does seem to be something in the collective conscious that is driving more people to imagine such a possibility. Perhaps that is part of what is informing University efforts around startup incubators, centers for social entrepreneurship, service learning programs, and learning by doing. Yet, I would not be surprised to see some Universities experimenting with an idea like missions over majors, reimagining college as a place that is about personal growth and social impact as much as earning a credential. The credentials remain a helpful shorthand used by future employers, but we already know that it isn’t just the diploma that gets a person the job or helps that person get ahead in life. That takes character, knowledge, skill, and an ability to set and achieve important goals. In other words, that comes from people who know what it means to have a mission, not just a major.

College is a great place to start a business. Think about it. It is a vibrant community of diverse people who want to change the world. They gather in places called classrooms to talk about amazing ideas, explore some of the worlds biggest problems, experiment, and to develop some of the mental tools needed to address needs in the world. Add to that a group of scholars who are there to mentor and guide you, great spaces to network and collaborate, and countless experiences to spark your creative side.

While many people go to college with the goal of getting a job upon graduation, that is starting to change. Now some go to college to create a job, and it doesn’t have to wait until graduation. In fact, I expect to see this trend expand. I see a possible future of higher education where college isn’t just the place you go to get an education, but also a place where you go to create, innovate, launch a business, or start a social movement. While this already happens for some, a growing number of Universities have caught such a vision. We see student groups, University/business partnerships, college-initiated efforts, and even some cross-University partnerships. Below are examples of such initiatives. You will see examples from regional state schools, flagship state Universities, élite Universities, and even liberal arts colleges.

In this recent Washington Post article, the journalist tells the story of Clay Shirky’s decision to ban devices from his NYU class. Shirky explains that he previously left the choice up to students. He considered it a challenge to be more interesting than the devices, and thought it appropriate to leave the responsibility of managing the devices to the students. The following quote introduces part of his reason for the change.

Despite these rationales, the practical effects of my decision to allow technology use in class grew worse over time. The level of distraction in my classes seemed to grow, even though it was the same professor and largely the same set of topics, taught to a group of students selected using roughly the same criteria every year. The change seemed to correlate more with the rising ubiquity and utility of the devices themselves, rather than any change in me, the students, or the rest of the classroom encounter.

The article continues by pointing to research about the negative effects of multi-tasking and Shirky’s conclusion that there was more at play than a simple student choice. Instead, he argued that the presence of the devices forced students to struggle between paying attention in class and an “involuntary and emotional reaction.” He goes on to explain that he sees “teaching as a shared struggle…working together to help defend their precious focus against outside distractions.” 

Reading the article, there is plenty with which I can wholeheartedly agree. The growing research about multi-tasking, for example, is increasingly convincing. Multi-tasking has many downsides, including decreasing attention and focus, something that could certainly decrease learning as students grapple with new and complex ideas. More broadly, I welcome the wonderfully critical and reflective thinking about the nature and impact of technology in our lives. This is an important part of learning to thrive and survive in an increasingly technological age. Without taking time to consider the affordances and limitations, we easily succumb to mindless acceptance.

Yet, these very areas of agreement also lead me to think about alternatives to Shirky’s decision. If he held to an educational philosophy like educational essentialism, I would get it. He is the parent/teacher and his students/children need him to set most of the rules in lieu of their underdeveloped frontal lobes. Daddy knows best. Yet, in the article, Shirky points out that he does not hold to such a parent/child philosophy, but instead sees teaching as more of a shared experience, a “shared struggle”, an adventure (at least in part) in co-learning. Given such a philosophy, I wonder about alternative solutions. Consider the following five alternatives:

1. Provide students with access to some of the readings that led to his discovery/epiphany. Set aside some time in class for a robust discussion and exploration of the topic together. It may be that he did this, but it went beyond the scope of the article.

2. Set up a media journal assignment for students, where they logged their use of the devices during class. This would invite students to become more conscious about how the technology is impacting their experience in the class, also potentially leading to self-discoveries and robust c0-learning. It would also provide opportunity to compare different methods and strategies employed by students to leverage the devices in helpful ways.

3. Establish tech-less days and other days that are open. Or, based upon the planned activities for a given class, have students collectively vote on the “class rules”, learning to think through the issues together and make informed decisions.

4. Turn this into a class experiment with four groups. Group 1 uses devices when and however they want. Group 2 uses devices, but specifically focused upon learning strategies and supporting apps (note-taking, etc.). Group 3 uses devices, but they are charged to focus upon identifying strategies that best help them learn and focus, sharing their finding with others in the group (similar to group 2 but less prescribed). Group 4 refrains from any use of the devices in class. See if you can’t discover some patterns. Use the different group experiments to help students think through the issues more fully, and to discover the impact of different practices upon their learning.

5. Have students individually or collectively find existing research about the impact of devices in the classroom, using it to make informed decisions about their own usage.

Each of these five seem to align with Shirky’s stated philosophy of a teaching and learning as a “shared struggle” , and they do so by not banning the use of devices, but inviting students into the exploration and decision-making process. After all, these students will not have a parent to set these rules throughout their lives. Why not use this as a chance to help them learn to self-regulate? I understand that one argument against these might be that such exercises will detract from the main content and purpose of the class, but I contend that it can be done without having any effect on the overall student learning. In fact, by adding these elements of thinking about thinking and learning about learning, he is likely helping them think even more deeply about the course content.

Shirky is a brilliant thinker about new media. I value and learned a great deal from two of his books (Cognitive Surplus, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations). In fact, it would seem to me that his work around collaboration in the digital age might provide alternate insights into how to address the identified problem of attention-distracting practices in the classroom, insights like one or more of the ideas listed above. However, I do not write this as a criticism of the decision in his class. I don’t have all the facts nor do I fully understand the context in which he made this decision. Nonetheless, the article provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the broader conversation about the role of devices in the classroom, considering some of the options available to educators. In doing so, I am compelled to frame the discussion around a question that is larger than how to get students more fully attentive in a single class. Instead, I am asking, “How can we best help prepare young people to thrive as discerning consumers of devices in a digital age?”