PARTNER PODCAST 8-3-17: Connectivism in Practice at Trinity Valley School (TX)

August 3, 2017

1204710Featured guest Larry Kahn, chief technology officer at Trinity Valley School (coed, day, 980 students, grades K–12), speaks with host Peter Gow about ongoing work to engage students at the Ft. Worth, Texas, school more deeply in their own learning experiences and about his own observations as a thought and practice leader in the independent school community.

Larry has had a long career in independent schools and has seen his own work evolve from infrastructure maintenance to oversight of every aspect, including the academic component, of Trinity Valley’s comprehensive technology wing. In the second half of the podcast he and Peter discuss the phenomenon that has many original school “techies” now in positions of strategic and academic leadership.

Trinity Valley School itself was founded in 1959 to offer the members of the Tvs_sealTexas Boys Choir an academic program explicitly steeped in the liberal arts in order to round out what had previously been a primarily music-centered education. Now coeducational and non-sectarian, the school has maintained its founders’ “liberal arts” credo and has in many ways used the broad construct of the liberal arts as inquiry-based and non-dogmatic to frame the more recent work of which Larry has recently become a part.

Trinity Valley School offers several signature programs that provide a cultural and thematic frame for the student experience and that are also aimed, at their large area of intersection, at preparing students in a unique and intentional way for life in a changing world: the Global Initiatives program, which sees upwards of 80% of TVS graduates having completed school-related international travel; the Trojan Outdoor Experience, which brings every student into wide and frequent contact with the natural world; and a growing coding program that is building across all disciplines at all grade levels from the elementary grades forward. The union of these programs is both innovative in concept—though the global and outdoor programs have long histories at the school—and “connectivist” in nature. Connectivism is a compelling theory promoted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes and others based on the idea that learning must emphasize “the role of social and cultural context in how and where learning occurs” (Wikipedia), bringing ideas, people, resources, and perspectives across artificial, often culturally imposed boundaries.

Larry describes his various roles and involvements within the school in a list that is as long as it is representative of two of Larry’s passions: student voice in learning and eliminating barriers between functions, departments, and age groups at Trinity Valley. He is especially excited about the ways in which he has called upon “student voice” and purposeful student participation to provide substantive input to and support of evolving program elements.

Peter Gow was particularly keen to query Larry about the ways in which technology officers in schools have evolved to become high-level academic administrators holding bulging portfolios that often include leading strategic change. They discussed the general evolution of tech-related work in schools from an era of bedazzlement-by-gadgetry and automation of mundane tasks to the present climate in which educators are seeking to leverage technology as one major tool: “It’s about the learning,” says Larry.

Larry was also a part of the now-ended National Association of Independent Schools Innovation Task Force for many years, and the discussion mused on the way NAIS became a cheerleader for curricular and pedagogical change under former president Pat Bassett and has now established a wing (see Resources section below for details) devoted to providing specific guidance to its member schools. As Larry says, “Innovation is not really an option—you have to do it for the kids!”

Lastly Peter and Larry talk about the ways in which schools and organizations like the ICG might create new and more effective avenues for the exchange of ideas.

Email Larry Kahn

Resources referenced by Larry Kahn:


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