PARTNER PODCAST 8-3-17: Connectivism in Practice at Trinity Valley School (TX)
(LISTEN TO THIS PODCAST HERE)
Featured 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 Texas 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:
- The work of Gary Stager, creator of the Constructing Modern Knowledge Institute and an endless sources of great ideas on teaching and learning. Gary is also an iconoclast who often asks important questions about where the bandwagon of the moment seems to be headed. His Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom (2013; with Sylvia Libow Martinez) makes a great case for truly thoughtful “maker” learning.
- Trinity Valley School is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, whose annual Tech Conference (held last year at TVS) is highly regarded.
- TVS hosted a showing of the 2016 film Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age by Delaney Ruston.
- The annual New York Maker Faire is referenced as a past venue for a TVS student presentation.
- David Thornburg, futurist and author of the influential From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments (2013).
- John Medina’s best-selling Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (2008).
- Trinity Valley School’s head, Ian Craig, solicited suggestions this year from faculty for a curated summer professional reading list. A link to the list, which covers the spectrum from Brené Brown to Beverly Daniel Tatum to Alfie Kohn, can be found HERE.
- Like “progressive education,” Connectivism has spawned a certain amount of confusion as to its definition. In the episode Larry Kahn obliquely references the famous Hybrid Pedagogy MOOC MOOC, a massively open online course of 2012 that explored the MOOC phenomenon from a connectivist perspective and created by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Though many descriptions focus on connectivism as an internet-related concept, it can be extended to include all aspects of complex human interaction.
- The Economist magazine cover story from July 22, 2017, “Together, technology and teachers can revamp schools: How the science of learning can get the best out of edtech,” speaks of research that shows that “modern”—in particular, personalized—educational methods are effective. #MustRead
- The National Association of Independent Schools innovation group includes chief innovation officer Tim Fish, senior vice-president for Education Innovation Jefferson Burnett, and vice-president for Innovation Initiatives Kawai Lai.