Self driving car as a metaphor for the future of education

I’m a bit slow. I only just made this connection. The guy who invented the self driving car is now trying to create the self driving car for education.

His name is Sebastian Thrun and he’s CEO of a kind of online university offering free and subscription-based via their online platform. I need to unpack their business model a bit more, but that will have to wait for another post.

Back to the self-driving car though… This is possibly the metaphor for education at the moment.

There’s a fantastic article here on what it’s likely to do to the transport industry. Innovation and unemployment in other words. Read the article is a brilliant piece of analysis and I wish I’d written it.

This is now my mission: create a self driving car for my education niche… How do I start?




“Weaving” versus “tools for your toolbox” as metaphors for embedding literacy and numeracy

embedding = weaving

I’ve talked about metaphors before here. But I just wanted to add a few thoughts. My thinking behind this is that when I working with tutors, I often want to describe what we do in terms of something else that I think they already understand.

Since starting this work in 2007 the main metaphor that I’ve used is the “tools for your toolbox” approach. This metaphor works for trades because trades people use physical tools and they get it when I talk about teaching approaches, strategies, and activities as literacy and numeracy “tools” that go in their bigger “toolbox” of education and training tools.

But we also talk about embedding literacy and numeracy in terms of weaving. This metaphor comes from the world of Maori education. I wish it was original to me but it’s totally not. I’ve heard it used by many different Maori educators in different contexts and I’ve started using it myself.

It works really well. For one thing, it feels kind of organic. This is important, especially for educators who are looking for meaning outside of the more academically focused western intellectual model of mainstream education.

Another thing about the weaving metaphor is that it allows people to think of their teaching and training as a kind of real object with these mixed threads woven through it. On the one hand there are the the threads relating to content and context. And on the other, there are another set of threads relating to literacy and numeracy.

This thinking also underlies the Maori early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki which takes the woven flax mat as a metaphor.

Finally, by thinking of the embedding process, educators can see how they are also weaving other things through their training – often in addition to the literacy and numeracy which should now be business as usual. And here I’m thinking specifically of the Kaupapa Maori value system that really drives Maori and other educators working in this space.

For those new to this kind of thinking, if you see these values (wellbeing, contribution, belonging, language, exploration, for e.g.) as a further thread running though your training and interactions, you can do what we do with the literacy and numeracy. This is to make it explicit to your learners, have great conversations with them about it, and explicitly embed the value system.

I’m not saying that learners can’t learn these values or thrive in this kind of environment when they are more implicit, but our foundations-focused learners really need these values and given the chance can learn them explicitly. Just like with literacy and numeracy.

So there you go. Get the value system out of stealth mode as well and onto the radar.

Image 18-06-13 at 8.43 AM


Practice and practitioners: How would Bruce Lee do literacy and numeracy?

I’m still thinking about metaphors for training and for literacy numeracy professionals. One that is stuck in my head at the moment is the idea that we are in the business of trying to create and enable practitioners.


Here’s a definition from the Wikipedia:

practitioner is someone who engages in an occupation, profession, religion, or way of life.

My work with ALEC is all of these things. It’s all consuming and ticks all these boxes. And that means that the doing of this work around strengthening literacy and numeracy is my practice. 

What interests me is this:

  • What are some of the other vocations and professionals that talk about their people as practitioners and what they do as a practice?
  • How would it change our teaching practice if we adopted some of these other vocations as metaphors for what we do as educators?

Here’s some food for thought then:

  1. Educator as health professional: We actually borrow other language from medicine in education… Diagnostic is one word that comes to mind. Intervention is another. Health and wellness are intimately linked with literacy and numeracy. It’s important not to push these metaphors too far, but figuring out what the problem is (e.g the gap between the demands of a task or text versus the actual ability of a learner) and then working out an appropriate intervention (to bridge the learning gap) does describe the kind of approach to embedding literacy and numeracy that we advocate.
  2. Teaching as meditation: This is a bit like the idea of becoming a reflective practitioner. It’s about increased self awareness and deliberately focusing attention on certain aspects of what we’re doing. Perhaps, this is a bit of a stretch… but if the purpose of meditation is to train our minds and realise some benefit to ourselves and others then it fits, particularly as we deliberately bring our attention to what we do in our teaching practice and reflect on whether it’s making a difference or not. When we do it right, embedding literacy and numeracy is just like meditation. There are all kinds of benefits… some of which may not be immediately obvious.
  3. Educator as martial artist: Martial arts is something that you practice, and a proponent is a practitioner. It’s also a discipline like meditation. And it’s about combat… here perhaps against social injustices and learners’ negative past experiences in education. Literacy and numeracy are some powerful kung fu. Could you be the Bruce Lee of literacy and numeracy?

Let me know in the comments…

I know what a hammer’s for, but what’s a metaphor?

Working with trades and vocational tutors a lot of the time, means I need ways of communicating concepts and ideas from the world of literacy and numeracy that are easy to understand and don’t sound overly academic. One of the ways I do this is by using metaphors.

metaphor-simileMetaphors are great because they paint a picture. They’re visual in other words. What this means is that people instantly grasp them. What this also means is that it’s an opportunity for me to have a discussion about some of the words we use to talk about language.

So recently, when I was about to embark on one these discussions, I asked my group: “What’s a metaphor?” One of the group, who had been pretty quiet for most of the training, suddenly piped up and said, “I know what a hammer’s for, but what’s a metaphor? Turns out he was a builder…

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about these metaphors and how I use them. I wrote about them previously here. If you can’t be bothered with the link, I’ve revised my original list and added a couple of new ones as well as an attempt at some categories.

I realise that some of these are actually similes rather than metaphors, but hopefully you get the picture (pun intended).

  1. The embedded literacy and numeracy approach
    • It’s like building a house. Hey, they don’t call it foundation learning for nothing.
    • It’s like weaving or raranga. You weave together the various threads of content, literacy, numeracy and possibly other strands such as tikanga or kaupapa values.
    • It’s a system. Each step in the process informs the one that follows. You can do all the steps separately and in isolation to each other, but it works so much better when you make the whole system work.
    • It’s a practice. That’s why they talk about “teaching practice” and call you a literacy and numeracy practitioner. Other vocations that have practices include martial arts, medicine, law, and meditation.
    • It’s a sniper rifle, instead of a shotgun approach.
  2. The process of gaining literacy and numeracy professional development and credentials
    • It’s your toolbox… or at least some new teaching tools to go in your existing toolbox.
    • It’s your kete or basket of knowledge… and the training is like gaining new knowledge or skills to add.
    • It’s like having a new eyes or a different coloured lens that you can use to see the world including your training. In other words, it’s a kind of literacy and numeracy filter on your perception.
    • It gives you superpowers… kind of like Neo in the movie, The Matrix. Neo develops the ability to see beyond the surface layers of the world of the Matrix to the code that lies underneath. This deeper layer (the code) is the literacy and numeracy that underpins your training. Once you can see the code, you can manipulate your environment.
    • It’s like starting a mini-apprenticeship. You have to go through all the stages to get from apprentice, to practitioner, to master.
  3. Dealing with the compliance and bureaucracy that always comes with funding:
    • It’s a game… like chess or draughts. What’s your next move? What’s strategic here?
    • It’s a business… what are your key performance indicators? How will you achieve your outcomes?
    • It’s a team sport. How are you going to play? And with whom?

What do you think? What metaphors do you use? Let me know in the comments…