The sharp end

Last year's #pencilchat hashtag was probably the best Twitter discussion I have seen or participated in. It tore into the age-old resistance to technology and all things new that we continually encounter in schools and other traditional institutions and it lampooned the laggards, change resistors and other stick-in-the-muds we all know and love. Several of us were inspired enough by the dialogue to write our own blogposts, pushing the metaphor to its limits. My own offering was entitled A Headteacher Writes. The very best thing about #pencilchat though, was its capability to focus our minds (in a fun, enjoyable way) on the serious issues we all face when we try to introduce innovative practices into conservative environments. I have written extensively on this, and I won't elaborate, but there are many causes for resistance to change. Some are more defensible than others, but any resistance to progress is merely that - resistance. Progress does not slow down to pick up stragglers. Progress does not respect barriers. It bulldozes its way through them, drives roughshod over all objections and ultimately achieves its goal. Then it makes way for even more progress, because education in this respect has the characteristic of a shark. The shark has to keep moving, swimming forwards, otherwise it dies. Education also has to move forward because if it stands still and doesn't incorporate constant progress, clear vision, innovative practices, it soon becomes irrelevant to society.

I stumbled upon this graphic earlier in the week. It comes courtesy of the Positive DV8R blog, and I wanted to share it with you. It's another simple and humorous, and yet all too painfully true pencil metaphor. Our old friend the pencil points us to definitions of six types of people you can find in any given organisation, and their various responses to innovation. The graphic is adapted from a short piece by Lindy McKeown who elaborates better than I could and is certainly worth a quick read. I wonder if you are able to identify the different responses with people you work with?

Creative Commons Licence
The sharp end by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Simon Ensor said…
Straiight to the point Mr Wheeler. Grear post.
David Hopkins said…
Cheers Steve, great post, great graphic too (even better hashtag).

I'm finding that the use of technology is becoming all too pervasive for some people and places - the need to implement it in any shape or form for the sake of being seen to progress. This is wrong. I'd much rather use pen and paper if it is quicker and easier than a smartboard or tablet, but will modify action and responses as appropriate to include a tech solution ... if it offers something new (interaction, speed, response, etc) that the 'old' way does not.

There is (still) a place for everything, including the humble pencil.

All the best, David
Robin said…
Great visualization of how technology is integrated by different people. With the exponential growth in technology tools in both general and special education, your post comes at a very opportune time to SHOW your point (no pun intended)
Anonymous said…
Cracking post Steve, simple, straight forward and succinct enough to be able to be shown on a fag packet. Robin beat me to the 'point' pun though!
Grumpy said…
Great post, excellent graphic Steve. I can identify all those responses with the people I work with. It's a painful experience in most cases but a battle that will contiune for some time.
Juan Domingo said…
David, Steve...el lápiz también es una tecnología, claro que si, pero también es cierto que "lo digital" está impregnando nuestra vida y por supuesto, la educación...y qué? si podemos utilizarla para hacer una sociedad mejor, pues mejor que mejor..
Tengo algunos posts al respecto:

...pero al fin y al cabo esta sociedad, es una sociedad de las Tecnologías digitales y no nos queda otra que apropiarnos de ellas, son nuestra segunda piel...

StevieBoy said…
Really good 'hook'to get interest in the pencil metaphor, Steve - although I think education is more conservative than the 'forward movement' of your shark analogy suggests - the continued dominance of the tiered lecture theatre as a shrine to transmissive pedagogy is an example of this.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Steve. I agree that education is a conservative field, and that is exactly the point I make in my post. The reason education is in such trouble is because institutions are *not* moving forward. I hope the irony of the shark analogy was not lost. :)
Gingerburn said…
The idea is interesting, but you commit a significant fallacy, which is to conflate 'change' and 'progress'. Change is something which happens, always and everywhere, whereas progress is only possible in terms of evaluation. Your view of what is progress can only be determined by the end product you desire, and the point at which we are along the line which you have drawn linking 'where we are' and 'where we ought to be.'

And secondly, I'm not sure I want to be part of the 'progress' you describe, one which 'drives roughshod over all objections'. What if those objections are valid? What if the 'goal' which your progress reaches is one which is damaging, or unjustified by good evidence?

The 'progress' I find in this blog post reminds me not a little of the 'progress' of 5 Year Plans, or of the 'progress' found in a Sixties tower-block or the one child policy in China.
Steve Wheeler said…
@Gingerburn: I agree change and progress are not always synonymous. However, the change I refer to here is unprecedented, and we have already witnessed progress and resistance in equal measure as a result of that change. It's not as clear cut as you portray. Sometimes the cause and effect can be difficult to separate.

My statement that progress drives roughshod over all objections stands, even if some of the objections are valid. Those working in any large institution will attest to this. I don't have to agree with it, but I will say it as I see it.

The reference to China, and '5 year plans' - which I assume refers to Soviet policies - is interesting if not a little bizarre. You are of course free to make connections you wish between my blog post and any ideology, but ultimately, it's just your confection.
chs said…
Thanks for sharing this visual and your accompanying thoughts. As one who literally leaped from my chair cheering with excitement as I watched #pencilchat unfold, I appreciate your summary of the event and especially this visualization. You "connect the dots" especially well. The dialog raised by the #pencilchat phenomenon and the many resulting posts and comments give voice and impetus to many Thinking Teachers.
José Picardo said…
Hi Steve,

I agree the pencil illustration provides an accurate analogy for what many of us experience and perceive in our own places of work. However, I worry (perhaps I shouldn't) that categorising in this manner (although I have been guilty of that myself) only leads to an opposite, adverse reaction that entrenches reactionary and largely unsubstantiated views. The Physics of educational technology, one could say.

An example of this is the lampooning of the Pencil Metaphor illustration in this post by Gingerburn, which can be seen here. Although, in my opinion, he is wrong on all counts and does nothing but make evident his own lack of understanding, from his perspective his allegory also holds true.

The problem then facing those promoting change followed by progress - for the former is the genesis of the latter (Gingerburn got mired in the semantics of his own rhetoric and did not follow through his own thinking in his earlier comment) - is how to promote pedagogically sound innovation in teaching and learning (I believe technology plays a key role in said innovation) without engendering the sort of adverse reactions exemplified above.

To the best of my knowledge and after years of academic research and classroom teaching, having taken an interest in educational technology early on in my teaching career, I hold my views to be the correct, pedagogically sound and academically substantiated ones. However, it's difficult to promote them without causing the skeptics to throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to educational technology.

This is, in my view, when the healthy skepticism needed to truly understand the potential effectiveness and drawbacks of technology in the educational context turns into extreme views without any firm basis on actual evidence drawn from practice or peer reviewed academic research.
Helen Burbidge said…
just discussed this graphic in my MA class. I am the sharp tip of the pencil in a large institution, although I have legs and am wading through tar. There are lots of 'wood' be triers with time and support being the major hurdle.Good to see a range of viewpoints!
Hi Steve, I stumbled upon your post because this infographic led me here! I am currently taking an online course about technology in education and I love how this graphic does really represent the different people within a school and how they approach tech integration.

Technology is a fast moving world and I think that this is where the main resistance comes from. Education has never had to try to move this fast before just to keep up! It's definitely a learning curve for many, even for those who usually do adapt and change, they just haven't had to do so at this speed before.

I love technology and try my best to find meaningful ways to integrate it into my classroom. Thanks for introducing me to #pencilchat! Is this a regular chat if so, when does it meet? I would love to participate!

Thanks again for the great post!

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