Systemic Change
Eric Spielvogel

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Systemic Change is, more than anything else, an approach or philosophy about how changes should occur within society, and though certainly not exclusive to the realm of education, it is become something of a rallying cry for many involved in the mission of education, as well as many from other facets of society. One of the most central principles in systemic change is the notion that the current educational system has reached obsolescence, a notion articulated by Robert K. Branson in an article titled "Why the Schools Can't Improve: The Upper Limit Hypothesis". In this article he states that....
....the traditional educational model has attained about 97% of its possible performance...."
which historically, sociologically, and statisticly, is a figure representing the peak efficiency of any system.

This kind of thinking is influenced by many fields, but draws most heavily from System Theory as articulated by Bela Banathy and others, and Open Sytems theory, which sees social organizations as interconnected, interacting components in a perpetual stimulus/feedback loop, where all parts of the system transact with, exchange information with, and influence each other constantly. A closed system, in contrast, is one where communication occurs primarily one way, from one part of a system to the other parts, then back in the form of the responses, reactions, or behaviors. Examples of closed systems are the military and TV advertising, where there are limited channels of communication between message initiators and message receivers.

These two systems perspectives, coupled with the identification of broad paradigmatic changes is society by respected national and international leaders in business, politics, organizational management, and education, among others, provide strong impetus for looking beyond the current school system to newer models for education. This is, at the core, what Systemic Change is about. Some examples of these paradigmatic shifts mentioned before include:
Industrial to Information age 
Competitive to Collaborative enterprise 
Regional to Global economics 
A Teaching and Administration focus to a Learning and Design focus. 
Essentially, then, the Systemic Change orientation suggests that improvement to the educational system can not come from improving existing parts but from systemwide re-design. With the two primary facets of society, the family and the workplace, both experiencing dramatic changes as we approach the coming millenium, it seems only natural that the institution responsible for the transition from home to workplace would also require comprehensive, sweeping changes to be able to adequately serve society's changing needs.

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Links related to Systemic Change

Reinventing Schools - The Technology is Now!: This site, created by the National Academy of Sciences, is the most comprehensive, well thought out, and well articulated sites on Systemic Change and Technology that I've encountered.

EdWeb, a site dedicated to "Exploring Technology and School Reform", is another well researched and well put together site serving as a practical guide and information source on Systemic Change and Reform.

Systemic Reform - Perspectives on Personalizing Education a study by Ronald J. Anson of the U.S. Department of Education focused on systemic educational reform. This hypertext is a more theoretical approach to the subject than the previous links.

Education, Cyberspace and Change is a highly theoretical, highly stimulating discussion by J.L. Lemke on systemic change as it relates to biological system evolution, semiotics (the study of signals - semantics, icons, etc.) and societal/global change. It comes from an excellent index of papers and presentations relating to Teaching and Learning on the Internet, compiled and maintained by Martin Ryder from the University of Colorado at Denver. If you enjoy broad perspectives and deep thinking this site's for you.

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Systemic Change questions for Designers of Web-based Instruction


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