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.

eBook: Epic eBook of Web Tools & Apps

Name: Chambers, Louise

Main Topic: TE

APA Citation: Epic EBook of Web Tools & Apps Writers and Kristina A. Holzweiss. (2020). Epic ebook of web tools & apps: A free, crowdsourced guide by educators for educators! [eBook]. Book Creator.

Summary: A crowdsourced living document created during Spring 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic that is meant to support collaboration between librarians and teachers. More sections on web tools and apps are being added, making this a valuable resource to grow with in a teacher librarian’s practice.

Evaluation: This source of free professional development include many tips and tricks as well as case studies. I found the section on Nearpod far more informative that my district-provided hour-long class.

eBook: The Digital Librarian’s Survival Toolkit

Name: Chambers, Louise

Main Topic: TE

APA Citation: The Digital Librarian’s Survival Toolkit Authors and Kristina A. Holzweiss. (2020). The digital librarian’s survival toolkit: Crowdsourced by librarians for librarians [eBook]. Book Creator.

Summary: Crowdsourced during Spring 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, this ebook created through the app, Book Creator, is meant for implementation in library settings. The apps, software, and tools presented contain interactive links, videos, audio, and more. Many tips and tricks, as well as case studies, are included in this source of free professional development for librarians.

Evaluation: This is an excellent resource that is also a living document. Contributions are on-going and interested parties continue to be able to apply for participation. The sections on the Destiny Discover catalog system and Virtual Field Trips are particularly helpful.

Technology that Boosts Teaching and Learning

Name: Villena, Justin

Topic: TE

Citation: Leeder, Kim. “Learning to Teach Through Video.” The Library with The Lead Pipe, Oct. 2009. Accessed 10 Sept. 2019.

Summary: This article provides a demonstration of what teaching would be like if teachers or professors were to teach through videos. Kim Leeder describes how these video instructions must be short and concise, as putting too much information in one short video can overwhelm a student. Whereas, having to focus on one topic at a time, can help a student focus more and retain more.

Opinion: I think this article is helpful because it demonstrates how technology can be beneficial to students, and how it can help enhance the instruction of teachers for their classroom sessions.

4 stages of edtech integration from a student perspective

Britten, Shannon


Bibliographic Citation: Heick, T. (2018). 4 stages of edtech integration from a student perspective. Teach Thought. Retrieved from:

Summary: This article talks about the 4 stages of integrating technology into learning, and how to best design learning experiences too take advantage of the available technology.

Evaluation/Opinion: I like how this article moves through and explores the 4 stages of technology integration, but also stresses that these are not a linear framework to take students through each school year. Rather, Heick stresses that teachers should evaluate the  proficiency of their students and the level of technological integration that the learning experience calls for. The goal is to leverage the technology and the users abilities into a self directed learning experiences. The article also interprets the main points in an infographic, which I really appreciate as a visual learner.

Tech Leaders

Koppenhaver, Chelsie

Topic: Technology

Summary: In this article, School Library Journal highlights the efforts of 6 library professionals who are using technology in innovative ways in their schools. These librarians are working with kids using technology like podcasts, 3-D printers, video cameras and more, but most importantly, they recognize that the tech itself is secondary to how students use it, emphasizing creation, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration in their schools.

Evaluation: While it is a short article, I believe it is important for us as library students to see that there are librarians out there who are putting the ideas we are studying into practice in innovative and effective ways. Each of the librarians highlighted here also shows a dedication to putting their students’s voices, opinions, and learning first in their library’s design and instruction.

Citation: Snelling, J. (2019, May 3). Tech leaders: Amplifying reading and research. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

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.

8 Examples of Transforming Lessons through the SAMR Cycle

Kinsella, Jason

(ET) Educational Theory and Practice

Walsh, K. (2015). 8 examples of transforming lessons through the SAMR cycle. EmergingEdTech. Retrieved from

Educational theory can seem abstract. In order to implement innovative ideas in the classroom, it is important to provide educators with concrete examples showing what a theory looks like in practice. This article does just that. It explains what the SAMR model is and isn’t, and provides eight concrete examples showing what an assignment would look like at each stage of the SAMR model: substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. The SAMR model examples include writing a short paper, geography and travel, understanding Shakespeare, assessments, art and painting, email etiquette, learning fractions and  physical education–learning to hit a baseball well.

This is a helpful introduction to the concept of blended learning and the SAMR model. It provides content that teachers can take right back to their classrooms tomorrow. The practical focus on implementation will be useful to anyone who is looking to further integrate technology into their classroom.

Alan November’s Observation Suggestions for Administrators

Gould, Molly




November, A. (N.D.) Observation suggestions for administrators. November Learning.

Retrieved from:



Alan November, a thinker on the vanguard of technology in education, created this document for administrators implementing technology in schools and classrooms. A fairly straightforward checklist for evaluating the efficacy of technology in schools and classrooms, this document from the November Learning website is also useful for educators as they navigate the selection of technology for learning.



A wonderful synthesis of constructivist thought, this document reminds us that tech tools shouldn’t just become, in November’s words, the “$1000 pencil,” expensive without boosting learning; technology should also enhance learning, student voice, collaboration within the classroom and out into the larger world, and this list provides a very useful framework for assessing if we are using tech to its fullest potential.



Inna Levine

Creating our future: Students speak up about their vision for 21st century learning. speak up 2009 national findings: K-12 students & parents. (2010). ().Project Tomorrow. 15707 Rockfield Boulevard Suite 250, Irvine, CA 92618. Retrieved from


For the past 7 years, the Speak Up National Research Project has provided the nation with a unique window into classrooms and homes all across America and given us a realistic view on how technology is currently being used (or not) to drive student achievement, teacher effectiveness and overall educational productivity. Most notably, the Speak Up data first documented and continues to reveal each year the increasingly significant digital disconnect between the values and aspirations of the nation’s students about how the use of technology can improve the learning process and student outcomes, and the values and aspirations of their less technology-comfortable teachers and administrators. Students, regardless of community demographics, socio-economic backgrounds, gender and grade, tell year after year that the lack of sophisticated use of emerging technology tools in school is, in fact, holding back their education and in many ways, disengaging them from learning.  The Speak Up 2009 national findings paints a vivid picture of this continuing digital disconnect and also, advances the premise introduced with the data the previous year that by listening to and leveraging the ideas of students we can start to build a new vision for 21st century education that is more reflective of the needs and desires of today’s learners. With the 2009 year’s findings, the researchers give voice to a new genuine “student vision” for learning and in particular, the student’s experience-based blueprint for the role of incorporating emerging technologies in 21st century education, both in and out of the classroom.