Change

One of my favorite lines from a song I liked in high school, courtesy of Rage Against the Machine: It has to start somewhere/ It has to start sometime/ What better place than here? / What better time than now?

I came across 2 non-education related articles about change this week that really got me thinking about the changes many of us in the edublogosphere are trying to make: changes in the way technology is perceived and the ways classrooms are organized.

The first item I came across was an article from Fast Company Magazine. The article talks about cognitive and psychological explanations for resistance to change. While it concentrates on the buisness world, many of the articles findings and analysis are directly related to learning. Some highlights:

Questions about resistance to change:

The conventional wisdom says that crisis is a powerful motivator for change. But severe heart disease is among the most serious of personal crises, and it doesn’t motivate — at least not nearly enough. Nor does giving people accurate analyses and factual information about their situations. What works? Why, in general, is change so incredibly difficult for people? What is it about how our brains are wired that resists change so tenaciously? Why do we fight even what we know to be in our own vital interests?

Adding more dimensions to arguments for change:

Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute, in Sausalito, California. Ornish, like Kotter, realizes the importance of going beyond the facts. “Providing health information is important but not always sufficient,” he says. “We also need to bring in the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions that are so often ignored.”

More change is better than less:

Reframing alone isn’t enough, of course. That’s where Dr. Ornish’s other astonishing insight comes in. Paradoxically, he found that radical, sweeping, comprehensive changes are often easier for people than small, incremental ones.

The importance of life-long learning:

How, then, to overcome these factors? Merzenich says the key is keeping up the brain’s machinery for learning. “When you’re young, almost everything you do is behavior-based learning — it’s an incredibly powerful, plastic period,” he says. “What happens that becomes stultifying is you stop learning and you stop the machinery, so it starts dying.” Unless you work on it, brain fitness often begins declining at around age 30 for men, a bit later for women. “People mistake being active for continuous learning,” Merzenich says. “The machinery is only activated by learning. People think they’re leading an interesting life when they haven’t learned anything in 20 or 30 years. My suggestion is learn Spanish or the oboe.”

The other article came from Jeff Jarvis’ media blog – Buzz Machine. He posted about the need for old media to open a dialogue with its customers in order to learn and change:

You don’t have to be young to use RSS or an iPod or mobile digital networks or wi-fi. You don’t have to be young to appreciate the conversation the internet enables. You don’t have to be young to question authority or distrust the press.

When we hear research about how young people treat news differently it could just be that they are the generation freed to think differently, unencumbered by our old-fart habits. If we old farts would free ourselves, we’d think differently, too.

I think there are many lessons to be learned in both these articles. More than anything, they force me to remember that change is not only not inevitable, but it is unlikely unless we are making a constant, intentional, and well thought out effort to change the minds of students, administrators, and the community. But of course, that the easy part. The next step – how do we do this?

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