The “Adjacent Possible” in Education

Bodine, Tobias


Warwick, I. (2019, May 13). What teachers can learn from Leonardo da Vinci. The Times Educational Supplement.

In a recent episode of the educational podcast #EduDuctTape, the host mentioned several times “the adjacent possible” as the space where teachers could expand their learning as they dabbled in new technologies for teaching and learning. This concept of the adjacent possible was made popular first by biologist and systems theorist Stuart Kauffmann in the early 2000s, and subsequently expanded by others in business, technology, and education since then.

Kauffmann stated in a 2003 article in Edge magazine:

“It just may be the case that biospheres on average keep expanding into the adjacent possible. By doing so they increase the diversity of what can happen next. It may be that biospheres, as a secular trend, maximize the rate of exploration of the adjacent possible. If they did it too fast [though], they would destroy their own internal organization…”

What this means is that systems stay healthy by expanding outward, but not too fast. And so it is with learning: To use a Goldilocks metaphor, our learning is most sustained when we take on new things neither too quickly nor too slowly. Of course, the world can be unpredictable and challenging to the personal habits that make us comfortable with “the way things are.” To wit, the global COVID-19 pandemic has thrown most everyone’s routines for a loop, and the old ways of doing things just don’t work any more. For educators and learners used to in-person education, stay-at-home orders are a shock to the system. Yet everyone is adapting to this new reality by taking what they thought worked in education and grafting new innovations onto this “pre-2020 knowledge.” Bye-bye confirmation bias!

The expansion of personal and collective knowledge is nothing new: It’s what we do as humans. And a poster child for the expansion of knowledge is Leonardo da Vinci — pick any field of study, and someone could probably connect this 15th century polymath to it. Leonardo has a special fan in British educationalist Ian Warwick, who posits in this article that Leonardo was never satisfied and thus constantly expanded himself into the adjacent possible to create imaginative ideas that impress us to this day. Warwick states, “Leonardo’s notebooks and the ideas and drawings they contain open doors to reveal a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.”

Unfortunately, Warwick fails to address the flipside of Kauffmann’s notion of the adjacent possible: It is possible to go too fast or too far into unknown spaces, such that we are thrown into a disequilibrium we may not recover from easily. To bring this analogy back to the learning process, we can say that it is good to encourage learners (including ourselves) to have a growth mindset and to look for opportunities for continuous improvement. Yet, it is possible to become so disregulated in learning new technologies and processes that we actually become less efficient in our learning. Diving into an adjacent pool of water might seem like a great way to force one’s self to learn how to swim, but will likely be better off starting by wading in at the shallow end of the pool. Equally, trying to embrace all the different educational technologies that have been made widely available to us — particularly since the COVID-19 shutdowns — might seem tempting, but we educators and learners are better off by relating these new technologies to what we already know, then expanding one step at a time into greater possibilities.

How AR and VR Can Make Students Laugh and Cry Out Loud – and Embed Them in Their Learning

Michelle Furtado


McMahon, W. (2018). How AR and VR Can Make Students Laugh and Cry Out Loud-and Embed Them in Their Learning. EdSurge, 28.

This article discusses a teacher’s experience using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) hardware and software to teach English lessons in a College class. The teacher purchased forty AR headsets and used them to create lessons in which students could experience literature in innovative ways. As an example, for a study of poetry and lyrics he had them visit a U2 site which demonstrated interaction with a worldwide community in song creation and performance. Students were then asked to share their experiences and reflect on them. Students reported a higher level of emotional engagement in their learning than they had without the technology. After the lessons, the students were challenged to create products that would be useful using the software and hardware. They had to write up their proposals and present them to a panel of venture capitalists.

The article is a useful one, given the movement toward AR and VR technology. Students are already interacting with the world through technology with such games as Minecraft and Fortnite. This article discusses the value of incorporating immersive technology into teaching. The problematic portion is, of course, the current cost of such technology. While this may not be a viable option today in most k-12 public schools, the cost will probably come down in the years to come. AR and VR will no doubt allow more lessons to achieve the Redefinition level of SAMR technology integration.

Very helpful starter kit for becoming a "connected educator"

Ramos, Tara


Powerful Learning Practice.  (2015).  Connected educator starter kit.  Retrieved from

Summary: This tool kit was designed to accompany the activities surrounding Connected Educators Month in 2015.  It provides an introduction to what a connected educator is and gives about thirty tools and ideas (one for each day os the month) that teachers can engage with to become more connected.  Examples include tips on using Twitter, building your Personal Learning Network, collaborating online, blogging, Wikis and more!  A favorite quote: “To become a connected educator, you must first become a connected learner.”

Evaluation:  I found this kit to be extremely useful as a budding teacher librarian.  It is exactly the introduction I needed to many tools and ideas that I have heard about surrounding 21st century learning and Web 2.0, but that have yet to become instrumental to my practice as an educator.  Just reading through the suggested activities and engaging with several of them, I am seeing a whole new world open to me before my eyes.  I highly recommend this kit to anyone who considers themselves to be at the beginning stages of becoming a 21st century educator.

New Media Literacy Education (NMLE): A Developmental Approach

Amy Unger

Media Literacy Ed.

Graber, D. (2012) New Media Literacy Education (NMLE): A developmental approach. The National Association for Media Literacy Education’s Journal of Media Literacy Education, 4(1), 82-92.


In response to computer-technology usage by digital natives, the author of this article, Diana Graber, has developed and implemented a media-literacy curriculum called Cyberwise.  Her basis for its development was in response to a growing awareness of the immensity of internet and social media usage by digital natives, and scholars such as Prensky (2010), pointing towards a justified need for meeting young people “in whatever way they [educators, mentors] meet them” (this, increasingly meaning through technology) with opportunities that “best configure students’ brains so that they can constantly learn, create, program, adopt, adapt, and relate positively to whatever and whomever they meet …”, along with James, et al., (2008) stating that, “… the responsibility lies with the adults (educators, policymakers, parents, etc.) to provide young people with optimal supports for good play and citizenship.”

Furthermore, Graber’s Cyberwise curriculum responds to the long-revered developmental theories of Piaget and Kohlberg, summed up as sharing the belief that

” … children spend the first 12 years of life developing the cognitive structures that enable them to grasp the abstract, metaphoric, and symbolic types of information that lead to ethical thinking.  This understanding of cognitive and moral development requires us to at least consider how and when the youngest members of our society should be turned loose in a digital environment” (Graber, 2012).

Moreover, it is this capacity for ethical thinking that drives the Cyberwise curriculum.  Graber calls for our teaching of students to be wise users of the tools at their disposal, as a prerequisite to teaching media literacy.  Citing Ohler (2010), she notes the suggestion of a “whole school approach to behavior that sets the entirety of being digitally active within an overall ethical and behavioral context — character education for the Digital Age.”  Monke (2004) refers to this challenge with this:

“It seems that we are faced with a remarkable irony: that in an age of increasing artificiality, children first need to sink their hands deeply into what is real; that in an age of light-speed communication, it is crucial that children take the time to develop their own inner voice; that in an age of incredibly powerful machines we must first teach our children how to use the incredible powers that lie deep within themselves.”

In searching for evidence of schooling that is currently meeting any portions of this demand, Graber found one approach to be notably successful at developing moral reasoning, i.e., the Waldorf® school approach.  In a cited dissertation (Hether, 2001), about high school seniors from diverse educational settings, the Waldorf® school approach was found–through a quantitative survey tool about moral reasoning, known as the DIT (Defining Issues Test)–to result in graduates scoring significantly higher in moral reasoning than students from religiously affiliated or public high schools.  Waldorf educated students scored in a range more commonly associated with college graduates (Graber, 2012, p. 87).

Perhaps even more importantly, the second phase of that same dissertation identified five aspects of Waldorf® education that might contribute to higher moral reasoning:

  1. an emphasis on educating the whole person
  2. sensitivity to developmental appropriateness
  3. the practice of storytelling
  4. the integral place of the arts in the curriculum
  5. preservation of a sense of wonder towards the natural world

Sometime later, Jenkins, et al. (2006), (as in the Jenkins, et al.: Henry Jenkins of USC, and his team) identified “the media literacies”, which have significant overlap with the aspects of Waldorf® education:

  1.  networking, negotiation, collective intelligence and distributed cognition, such as occurs while students are working together to build a small structure (one of the many hands-on, collaborative projects in the Waldorf® curriculum)
  2. visualization, judgement, and appropriation, such as the proficiencies cultivated through the Waldorf® empahasis on art
  3. performance and simulation skills, such as developed by the dramatic storytelling practiced in Waldorf®, and 
  4. play, considered a hallmark of Waldorf® education (Graber, 2012, p. 88).

While the article goes further to explain the middle school years as the right time for ethical media literacy instruction, through Harvard University’s GoodPlay Project that identifies what ethical issues young people encounter in the digital world, it also makes mention of a three-year case study, through classroom action study, using Cyberwise (this being a Waldorf-inspired charter school in Orange County, CA) (Graber, 2012).

In conclusion, this article helps us stop and think about what we are doing while immersed in the beginnings of the digital age, with its “world full of both possibility and peril – rules of engagement being hashed out as we go” (Graber, 2012, p. 89).


I find this article to be indispensable, unique, and on the list of “why is this not required reading”?  Thank you for (hopefully) bearing with its length.

Citations referred to in the Graber Article (found to be in citation other than APA):

Hether, C.A. 2001. “The Moral Reasoning of High School Seniors from  Diverse Educational  Settings.” Ph.D. dissertation, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text (Publication No. AAT 3044032).

James, C., K. Davis, A. Flores, J.M. Francis, L. Pettinghill, M. Rundel, and H. Gardner. 2008. “Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the Good Play Project.” GoodWork® Project Report Series, Number 54. Project Zero, Harvard School of Education.

Jenkins, H., R. Purushotma, K. Clinton, M. Weigel and A.J. Robinson, 2006. Confronting the  Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.

Monke, L. 2004. “The Human Touch.” Education Next 4(4).

Ohler, J.B. 2009. “Orchestrating the Media Collage.” Educational Leadership 66(6): 8-13. Collage.aspx

Divide with innovation

Shibrie Wilson


Matthews, K. (2016, January 27). Are we creating an innovation divide? Retrieved from 21st Century Library Blog website:

Summary: When imagining the word “innovation” we typically have a colossal perspective at to what it consist of. Innovation in technology contains many distinct facets. Innovation is not based on a particular concept, being that individuals and organizations have different notions. Kimberly Matthews, reviews grants and noticed commonality of how organizations stat their contributions to expounding upon innovative technology in their communities. There is often a variety of candidates, unfortunately some libraries do not receive funding because their idea is perceived as not “innovative enough.” There needs to be a balance in funding because libraries are at different stages of innovation in which adhere to their communities. In field of librarianship we are dedicated to providing equal services, Matthews states that persons approve grants should have that same approach to innovation grants. Assuring each community and library has opportunity to receive funding and support is vital so that there is not a subset of libraries in which lack. 

Review: Intriguing article to read and learn about division within technology. As librarians and perspective candidates of officials to decided if organizations receive grants we need to be thoughtful. We are suppose to provide support to all communities, but such is not occurring when we choose to compare libraries on different spectrums. Hopefully, Matthews vocalizing here opinion will reset current ramifications for grant approvals.