The wicked problem of educational reform can’t be solved with easy solutions. Policy makers may have made structural changes to the “what of teaching”, but failed to pay attention to the “why.” “This policy focus on the teacher’s characteristics, not the situation in which teachers find themselves, has been a serious mistake. It has led to overestimating the influence of personal traits and underestimating the influence of the context in which teachers find themselves every day” (Cuban, p12). Policy makers see the identity of teachers as a people in complete control of what happens in the classroom, yet this isn’t entirely accurate considering the context of the classroom (e.g. external influences affecting students). Focusing on who teachers are and their credentials/training doesn’t get at the contextual problems. The current policies fail to recognize the impact of teachers’ contexts and the ways in which it isolates teachers and makes teaching a solitary experience. This oversight could be attributed to a failure to view teachers as designers. This changes the discourse because designers do not operate in isolation; they are continually working within systems and in collaboration with others.
If everyone involved, policy makers, students, and teachers, could work towards becoming designers and adopt the process of design inquiry, something like the HCD Toolkit would be helpful to facilitate collaboration and the “open[ing] their minds to new understandings and interpretations” (Nelson & Stolterman p 242). They might collectively “develop deep empathy for people they are designing for, to question assumptions, and to inspire new solutions” and potentially find a better way towards fundamental change in education (HCD Toolkit, p 32). A deeper understanding of what students bring with them to school from home and the mystery of what actually happens in the black box of the classroom might be better understood when you get at it from a human-centered approach.
Teacher Identity Crisis
A remedy to the challenges in education has been a raise in the standards of teachers. Teachers now found themselves being required to take on the identity of scholars, entering classrooms with an advanced degree in hand. For example, when looking for daycare for young children, some parents look favorably on certain daycares over others if they have credentialed personnel, especially if they have master’s degrees. Taken a step further, the spotlight on teachers has taken a turn toward training, identifying, and recruiting “highly-qualified teachers.” The role of the teacher experienced a transformation as well. Teachers that were once “guardians of civility,” wardens of the classroom, evolved into jean-wearing, coffee-drinking teachers that were typically kinder (p. 5). As a result students experienced more agency and the budding of student-teacher relationships. However, Cuban cautions against teachers taking on the identity of therapist or parent as they “cannot carry alone the total responsibility for their students’ well-being and achievement” (p. 12).Technology has also played a role in the changing roles of teachers. “Technological innovations have often been drafted into the task of altering teacher-centered practices” (Cuban, 2013, p. 5). While these innovations were meant to transform teaching practice, they made some teaches feel as though they needed to take on the identity of technology mavens, a pressure some relinquished through abandoning or ignoring technology.
The issue with the continually changing teacher identity is that it can shift as the winds of educational reform blow. The identities thrust upon teachers as a result of educational reform could change with an election or the newest fad. Flipped classrooms, the current rave in many educational communities, place the teacher as a facilitator of learning instead of the proverbial sage on the stage. This comes at the tail end of reforms that focused on teacher lesson scripts and gave teachers little choice in their classrooms. The continually changing roles of teachers confuse them about what is expected of them and how they should function in their classroom. It is possible that these identities teachers are required to adopt make them feel as though they are inadequate likely leading to feelings of defeat. Since, according to Larry Cuban, “teachers are the single most important in-school factor to students’ well-being and achievement,” (p. 11) it would seem wise to support teachers in crafting stable identities and offering authentic professional learning that allows them to “strengthen the weak or missing areas and further refine” their practice (Nelson & Stolterman, 2014, p. 214). At the higher education level, teacher education programs are tasked with preparing prospective teachers in light of these shifting identities.
One of the ideas that Nelson and Stolterman briefly discuss that stood out was the importance of maturity in design. It makes one think about what a mature design would look like compared to an immature design. We can think about this idea in the world of video games. Video games show us a range of design schemas ranging from the formulaic, the dreadful movie tie-in, the groundbreaking indie game, the high profile first person shooter, to video game that is trying to be art. There are successes and failures in each of the examples. The ones that stand out are the ones that really understand the contract they have with players. That contract could be simple, build a solid action game or a truly scary horror title, or dynamic characters in an immersive world.
When game designers are either ignorant of the contract they have with players or are too focused on a release date or are engaged in a cash grab, the games as a product are clearly flawed. The flaws may be repeated game elements (such as level design or repeat of mission types), or bland and generic game play (nothing about the game makes it feel unique) or in some cases the game is released to the public unfinished (missing character animations, large bugs in the game. In contrast, when game designers understand their contract with players, the public gets games that are well constructed, unique, and polished. The difference between a well-designed game and a poorly designed one are evident to even the most novice video game player.
This idea of contract was the foundation to how NGO workers should interact in the HDC toolkit section Hear. At several points the authors instructed workers on qualitative research techniques that allowed for the worker to get the highest degree of access possible but at the same time it sought to maintain a contract (either formal or informal) that the workers would respect the people culture and traditions of the people they are working with in return for access which will allow for a better informed design. The workers were advised against wearing branded NGO clothing, to sit at the same height as the people they are interviewing, and not to sit together but spread out amongst the group. The toolkit also told the workers to be mindful of gender relations and roles and to be respectful when conducting their interviews.