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November 10, 2016

Leaders in Learning: Antero Garcia

To help celebrate our 20th birthday, Mouse has asked a dozen leaders in learning, technology, youth development and design to share their thoughts. For our next post of this series, we are thrilled to welcome Antero Garcia, assistant professor at Colorado State University.

Mouse celebrates its 20th year this coming spring.  How would you characterize  -- in education & youth development generally -- the changes in theories of learning and to practiced pedagogy in the past two decades?

Wow, where to start? On the one hand, I am struck by how much hasn’t changed in the past decades. Despite the fact that online social networks weren’t even a thing yet, mobile phones were living side-by-side with pagers, and the idea of home thermostats connecting to the internet was far from a feasible reality, the classrooms that we taught in looked pretty much just as they do today. Educational researcher Larry Cuban has written about the pervasiveness of traditional classroom practices and I think we’ve seen that: schools, teaching, and pedagogy have been pretty inelastic when it comes to the changes in technology. That being said, despite this fact schools and researchers have been praising the possibilities of digital technology in pretty much the same ways over the past 20 years. Just like in 1996, researchers today are pointing to the promise of the latest digital innovations as what will “fix” inequitable conditions in classrooms. [sigh]

 I do think the connected learning framework developed by Mimi Ito and colleagues is a particularly useful set of guidelines for significantly transforming in-school and out-of-school learning. That seems like an area that will help push beyond a conversation of “tools” in classrooms to contexts of engagement, participation, and learning.

What do you imagine we'll see in the coming two decades, likewise in terms of both learning theory and what learners actually experience?  What factors do you believe will be the key drivers of what's coming?

No to be overly pessimistic but, without a significant shift in the perspectives of educational researchers and policy makers, I suspect we are setting a course for more of the same. Just like 20 years ago, I can imagine the next 20 years being filled with the continued echo that the latest iGadget will fix everything that’s ever happened in schooling contexts. There are economic forces at work that shape this cycle of expectations and I imagine it is a hard pathway to deviate from. If, however, we do move in a new direction, I imagine it is one that is built around reimagining the possibilities of learners and facilitators in classrooms. If we look at the trajectory of flipped classrooms, MOOCs, microcredentialing, and other “stuff” around technology, we are seeing trends that are reshaping what schools and educational programs mean and how they can operate. I would actually look to libraries and online youth organizing as where to see potential for transforming pedagogy.

How should we best define success in public education and in the less formal settings where young people also learn -- especially since learning outcomes may take years to manifest and since attribution of cause & effect can be difficult in social endeavors?  

Success should be thought about along a few different lines of consideration. Though things like the Common Core State Standards and Every Student Succeeds Act offer narrow definitions of success, I would add to the traditionally academic definitions a dimension of civic success and interpersonal growth. In recent work in Colorado, a group of teachers and researchers that I have been working with have been looking at how to integrate authentic contexts of project-based learning into English classrooms alongside an emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL). This has been a useful reminder of how individuals grow (including teachers!) and this is a useful area to emphasize. Finally, what learners do both within a learning environment and in the real world is a particularly important aspect of success: if we are not equipping students to thrive, lead, and reshape society as a result of the work in classrooms and informal settings, what’s the point?

Research and common sense strongly support the centrality of effective educators for learning outcomes, yet support for professionals is too often lacking.  What might you recommend we do to bolster professional education and day-to-day support?

This is tricky: my experience as a teacher was largely that the PD I was required to attend was procedural, out-of-date, and not very useful within the contexts of my classroom. And yet, as a researcher I am continually looking to PD as a place to reimagine the possibilities of schooling. I think support for teachers is often either too abstract from what happens in classrooms or—when emphasizing a specific classroom context—feels primarily evaluative. I’ve been building on sustaining professional communities of practice by linking teachers with similar interests into online, distributed networks. That could be one pathway. Likewise, I think support needs to be more respectful of the expertise of educators and more directly engaging their interests and needs. I’ve been looking at immersive learning environments like escape rooms as possible models for both classroom learning and teacher PD – maybe that could be a playful area to explore? Finally, I think this is a key question that needs to be collaboratively answered alongside teachers.

How best can we deploy digital technologies across the learning landscape, and digital tools/concepts/languages in our curricula?

I think we need to deploy slowly (contrary to Silicon Valley mantras of executing fast) and deliberately. We need to do so in ways that reinforce a foundation of student and teacher relationships. That’s where things need to start. We probably need more educators at the helm when developing the technologies in classrooms if we want them to be better taken up.

Equity in educational access has remained elusive.  How might we close the opportunity divide once and for all?

The emphasis on teachers and their growth across a career is probably the key place to invest within schools. I think that’s probably the main way to address what Gloria Ladson-Billings has called an educational “debt.” I’ll add that I don’t think investing in technology or expecting technology to “fix” inequities is a useful way to spend our energy; digital tools can augment and support but won’t pave the path.

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Antero Garcia is an assistant professor in the department of English at Colorado State University and will be joining the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University as an assistant professor in 2017.  Prior to completing his Ph.D., Antero was an English teacher at a public high school in South Central Los Angeles.  Antero co-designed the Critical Design and Gaming School - a public high school currently open in South Central Los Angeles. Further, in 2008 Antero co-developed the Black Cloud Game, a Digital Media and Learning Competition award recipient. Antero’s research has appeared in numerous journals including The Harvard Educational Review, Teachers College Record, and Reading and Writing Quarterly. He has written several book chapters and authored five books. Antero received his Ph.D. in the Urban Schooling division of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Antero's blog can be found at www.theamericancrawl.com and he tweets as @anterobot.

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