Category Archives: The Big Questions
Why has it been so hard to ‘get technology in the classroom” for the last 40 years? Because it’s a round peg in a square hole. Technology is of a different world, where information is free-flowing and flat and wide, liquid networks prevail; where inquiry can always find fuel and sustenance at the moment of spark and grow with iterative input from others.
Technology will become an obvious extension of teaching when our century-plus old model of education shifts its paradigm to be about learning instead of sorting and conditioning; when schools put learning first and college hoop jumping gets retrofitted in, instead of other way around (at least until colleges get on board with using more meaningful metrics for admission).
Joel Rose does a nice job addressing this issue in his recent Atlantic article, How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System:
”…our collective charge in K-12 innovation today should go beyond merely designing and producing new tools. Rather, our focus should primarily be to design new classroom models that take advantage of what these tools can do.”
If you replace “classroom” with “learning” in Rose’s quote, I think it’s spot on. I say that because the new model may in fact preclude the idea of the classroom in any sense of how we currently know it.
And what will these new learning models look like? Here is a quote from MacArthur Foundation Director Connie Yowell on the foundation’s shift in focus from traditional school reform to learning:
“A shift from institutions to networks. In the digital age, the fundamental operating and delivery systems are networks, not institutions such as schools, which are a node on a young person’s network of learning opportunities. People learn across institutions, so an entire learning network must be supported.
A shift from consumption of information to participatory learning. A new system of learning must be peer-based and organized around learners’ interests, enabling them to create as well as consume information.”
It’s about networks, it’s peer and inquiry driven, and here is a key point: we can’t build it and then hand it to the kids; they have to co-create it with us.
In closing, I offer a small example below of the power of this technology to network, to facilitate iteration of ideas between peers, and to catalyze inquiry. Thanks to the wonderful Kat Haber whom I met in Doha, Qatar (and thanks TEDx) and with whom I share a connection to many others around the world on this and many other subjects. Exchanges like the one below, involving multiple people in many cases, have helped me iterate my thinking on the points above in ways that could not have been possible in such a quick time without today’s technology.
Here’s hoping for faster iteration and evolution in education.
A couple of items in the news recently have combined with a local tidbit to raise an eyebrow about what higher ed will look like in 10 or 20 years:
1) A local graduate school (I will withhold the name) has a team looking into whether tuition-driven universities will even exist in the near future, and how to evolve fast enough to stay relevant
2) Take it with a grain of salt since this article is from MIT news, but this is actually creating a pretty big stir.
“MIT and Harvard launch a ‘revolution in education’”
3) Offering scholarships in exchange for a stake in student start-ups (Clarkson University)
Flash in the pan or the beginning of a big shift….?
From my own viewpoint I will say that I think any school of any level not looking hard at how to become nimble enough to iterate and evolve quickly in response to our changing environment – in all aspects – risks becoming irrelevant.
My crystal ball leaves me to think that in the not-too-distant future an obviously superior paradigm of education will break through, and the exodus from the current system to the new system will mimic the flow from MySpace to Facebook in scope and timeline.
This is a pretty important point, given that education seems to be the slowest field to innovate. Or more accurately, schools seem to be inordinately slow at innovating their cultures and structures to adjust to what we know about teaching and learning . To help answer that question, albeit in very general terms, I offer this quote recently encountered in one of the books I am volleying between at the moment: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson.
“What kind of environment creates good ideas? The simplest way to answer it is this: innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wise and diverse sample of spare parts – mechanical or conceptual – and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts. Environments that block or limit those new combinations – by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges – will, on average, generate and circulate fewer innovations than environments that encourage exploration.”
So what specifically is it about schools that limit their ability to innovate? Please share with the rest of the class…..
A recent post by Clay Shirky – Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis – got me thinking about schools as institutions, and how they handle change. Here’s a quote form the post:
“The ability of institutions to adapt slowly while preserving continuity of mission and process is exactly what lets them last longer than a single leader or lifespan. When change in the outside world outstrips an institution’s adaptive capabilities, though, the ability to defend the internal organization from outside pressures can become a liability. Stability can tun into rigidity and even institutional blindness.”
Now, Shirky is talking about the news industry here, but the idea applies to all industries. So for schools too, institutional history and momentum are important. But change is inevitable and necessary, and it is how the organization changes that determines how well momentum and continuity of mission are carried through. A key notion here in how change is met – and it is a notion that needs to be made clear – is that being adaptive is different than being reactive. In other words, all change is not healthy. An organization is adaptive that changes its long term goals based on a changing world, and acts accordingly to meet those goals. A reactive organization changes according to immediate environmental pressures and, if it survives, becomes a product of those pressures instead of a product of its own intention and mission.
These questions come to me:
- What are the changes that schools are currently undertaking (private and public), and are they being reactive or adaptive?
- Shirky speaks of institutions as needing continuity of mission and process. How much of what we do is up for discussion while still retaining continuity of mission, and is continuity of process a requirement for stability, or is process potentially one of the things that might need to change in adaptation?
- Is it perhaps the preserving of schools as institutions in their current form that keeps us from making the changes needed to actually fulfill our mission in education?
Your thoughts appreciated.
Also look for more on these questions in future posts…