Write a reflection about what you learned about analyzing education/learning systems from the in-class activities and readings. How do you feel about the complexity? Are you starting to see a different picture of your own and other systems and what makes them up? Are you seeing any inherent challenges to understanding even small systems like those of an individual student?
I hired an experienced computer programmer in 2005, when I was a manager at American Airlines. This guy was amazing. He had run his own software company (prior to September 11, 2001) and had held a variety of management and executive positions during his career. But he really just loved to code and create software that he knew would be used and, lucky for me, was in a position to work for the salary I could offer.
And work he did… it was tremendous.
He brought years of experience to the otherwise young team and served as a mentor and technical leader. One of the things that was most interesting about this guy was how much of an impact he had on the entire department in just a few short months, winning several employee-of-the-whatever awards and gaining a good deal of notoriety in the department. The surprising thing, to everyone but me, was that prior to joining my team from outside the company, he had absolutely zero experience in the airline business (except as a passenger). But given his years of work experience, and phenomenally analytical mind, he and I talked about it and we realized that if I fed him the right instructions, he would write the code. He said “the specifics of this company or industry might be different, but I understand complexity.”
Much of the work my team and I did revolved around automating functions that used to be done manually. For example, certain international airports had a requirement that the airline send in a daily report of the nationalities of departing passengers. For years this meant printing out a paper passenger manifest that included the passport issuing country and tallying, by hand, the figures for this mandatory report. This programmer wrote a relatively simple program to pull up the manifests on a screen, instead of paper, parsed the information on the screen and put it into a database, and created a report that was emailed to the station manager. This took him about ten hours, including testing, and now, instead of a human employee spending up to an hour per flight per city per day doing this mind-numbingly boring task, they were free to do other, more meaningful, things.
Was there anything complex or even noteworthy about this achievement? I submit there was not. But in all the years of this mandate, no one else had thought to write this program.
In this case, it was not the solving of the problem that was challenging but rather it was the identification, codification, and change management aspects (“But this is the way we’ve always done it”) that were the challenges. And I think that is also the case for many of the problems with the education systems that are the subject of this course.
In the case of our nationality report, no one with the skills to write the computer program was ever aware of the need. And the folks doing the report were just doing what they were told. And the managers giving the directive to do the report were doing the best they could under the circumstances. No one in this company was doing anything “wrong” per se but neither were they doing it right, until we wrote this program and saved the company 40 man-hours per week. My programmer“created” the productivity equivalent of one full-time employee, out of thin air, with ten hours of work and a bit of direction. His program was used, alright, and saved the company thousands of dollars annually.
Taken in isolation, it might be easy, perhaps even trivial, to solve any single problem faced by a given educational activity system (Banathy’s EAS). But that’s not the real world and therein lies the problem. What problem(s) to solve? In what order? With what impact on other parts of the system or the whole? At what cost (human, financial or opportunity)?
You asked: Are you seeing any inherent challenges to understanding even small systems like those of an individual student?
Sheesh! I’m seeing nothing BUT challenges!!
So what’s the next step? I believe it’s that we proceed with caution. We take time to observe and absorb what we can about the system (not forgetting that we’re seeing the equivalent of the theatrical release of Donnie Darko and thus not getting the whole picture). But it’s especially important that we be realistic and not delude ourselves into thinking we’re having an impact when it might be something else entirely.
Sometimes I get the feeling that as a teacher, I am like the character Skip played by Gene Wilder in this short clip from Stir Crazy: https://youtu.be/WrJ8iEeq3EY (I can’t do anything about the watermark/advertisement….)
As the scene goes on, Skip is under the impression that he is solving the problem and creating a dialog between the two combatants, much like I sometimes feel like I might be teaching my students something. But, as the longer clip clearly (and painfully) indicates, there are other, ummm…. “factors” at play in the timely resolution to this particular dispute. https://youtu.be/pP2n3szu7O0
Skip leaves the scene under the mistaken impression that he has made a difference. I wonder what percentage of my teaching effort is similarly mistaken.