Schooling for student transformation

 

Beach, K. (1999). Consequential transitions: A sociocultural expedition beyond transfer in education. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 101–139.

 

How can we “prepare individuals to [both] participate in the transformation of society,” as well as to “adapt to existing society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130)?  Helping students find opportunities for consequential transitions may be an important part of the picture (Beach, 1999).  I argue that a strategic and creative application of technology, informed partly by connected learning principles, can facilitate students’ ability to undergo significant personal transformations of identity and skill, and successfully endure or navigate the change of social organizations within which they participate.

 

In an attempt to move beyond “transfer,” King Beach (1999) offers “consequential transitions” as a more robust and pragmatic concept than the metaphor dominant and persistent throughout educational theory and discourse.  Beach argues that transfer’s theoretical flaws stem from the difficulty involved in studying and fostering it.  He writes that transfer, in educational psychology “refers to the appearance of a person carrying the product of learning from one task, problem, situation, or institution to another,” but neglects how (or anything about the context within which) the tasks or situations were generated.  One of transfer’s essential flaws as a practicable theoretical guide is especially apparent when one attempts to bear witness to transfer, or to demonstrate that transfer has occurred.  Consequential transitions, a conceptual alternative, expands our purview on how individuals come to know things, in part through the lens of the sociocultural theoretical framework.  As a “macrocosm of how we learn new tasks and problems” (Beach, 1999, p. 102), a “consequential transition involves a developmental change in the relation between an individual and one or more social activities.  A change in relation can occur though a change in the individual, the activity, or both” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).

 

Beach relieves schools of the (sole) responsibility of providing students (and individuals, more generally) with consequential transitions.  But, it may be in this notion that significant educational innovation can occur.  I am situated just ahead of the launch of a personalized learning program for students in grades 7-12, which, primarily, will be delivered virtually.  Its philosophical underpinnings include connected learning discourse.  Connected learning “advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.  [It] is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion…and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement”(Ito et al., 2013, p. 4).  Connected learning recognizes the value of technology to help “connect” students to areas of inquiry that are exciting and meaningful, and participate in a broad range of networks in service of each individual’s disparate orientations.  Further, the cultivation and maintenance of a strong peer culture is important for grounding students – through the learning process, and, arguably, consequential transitions – and helping them to feel a sense of belonging to a supportive community of practice beyond their own agenda.

 

Buddhist philosophy of dependent origination and Plato’s perspective on individual epistemological continuity (simply, that the “individual and world are separated”[Beach, 1999, p. 102]) are part of the philosophical foundation from which consequential transitions emerges.  Beach explains how American education and psychology also stem from these historical roots on how individuals come to have knowledge, yet experience continuity across time and contexts.  His own approach is sympathetic to the Buddhist outlook, which appreciates interdependency – the dialectical relation between the individual and their context.  He criticizes the typical binary positioning that the concept of transfer legitimizes, and disparages the seeming entrenchment of theorists at their poles on one or another side of the transfer debate.  “That learners and social organizations exist in a recursive and mutually constitutive relation to one another across time” is critical to consequential transitions and should be the premise upon which other transfer alternatives are predicated (Beach, 1999, p. 111).

 

In what ways might an online learning program provide students with opportunities that might lead to consequential transitions?  Beach explains that a “consequential transition is the conscious reflective struggle to reconstruct knowledge, skills, and identity in ways that are consequential to the individual becoming someone or something new, and in ways that contribute to the creation and metamorphosis of social activity and, ultimately, society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130).  Much like the critical reflection Tyrone Howard encourages of teachers for culturally relevant pedagogy, a consequential transition is spawned partly through conscious reflection, struggle, and, ultimately, change in “one’s sense of self and social positioning” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).  Institutionalizing time and space for students to independently and collaboratively “digest,” think critically and expansively, about their experiences within their context is an important component of an educational program.

 

Further, integral to a successful online learning initiative may be helping students understand (and providing the support so) that they can generate and shape their own learning and practice – experiences which at times may be constitutive of consequential transitions.  This emphasis on self-directedness and students taking responsibility for their own learning, within a highly personalized educational framework, is an acknowledgement of students’ transformations.  It promotes students’ agency over their own development, identity representation, and social positioning.

 

Technology may be leveraged for students to gain access to “worlds” they would otherwise be excluded or not imagine entering.  (Their access to relevant technologies is the first step to an education program of the sort referred to here; this consideration of technological access and relevant elements of justice and equity are incredibly important programmatic concerns, but are not dealt with in this post.)  As a tool, technologies may help students find and connect with communities and information relevant to their personal interests, as well as to expansively frame academic areas of inquiry in ways that may be personally relevant.  “Meeting students where they are” and helping them get to where they want, need or can be – in part through students’ ownership and customization of their educational experience, and facilitating opportunities for consequential transitions – is the central objective of my professional agenda.

 

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, C. S. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA, USA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from http://dmlhub.net/

 

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