ICT skills and schools

Visions for education

Some notes, marking writers/blog postings/books I need to follow up soon.

Last October, I read John Hagel's post, Halloween Goblins, and homed in on what he had to say there about education:

Education (and let’s throw in training while we are at it) is bankrupt – we don’t need to fix it; we need to start from scratch and re-think it, starting with the terminology. It represents a huge drain on resources at best and, at worst, takes bright and inquiring minds and slowly but inevitably extinguishes passion for learning. … education starts with a push mindset. What we really need are more effective pull platforms to foster learning. … We need … to develop new institutional learning architectures recognizing that learning is a life-long requirement and that push approaches play an increasingly marginal role in successful learning.

There's more by John about pull/push at the link he gives above. For example:

Push approaches are typified by "programs" - tightly scripted specifications of activities designed to be invoked by known parties in pre-determined contexts. … [But now] broader deployment of more flexible technologies, tools and infrastructures makes it more viable to design and manage pull models. As a result, pull models will increasingly displace or marginalize push models in broader arenas of human activity.

From the same place: 'In education, we design standard curricula to expose students to codified information in a pre-determined sequence of experiences'. Good to know John is co-authoring a new book with John Seely Brown. (NB: Judy Breck's and JSB's 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning: How Open Content Will Help Close the Digital Divide.)

John's most recent post looks at Gaming and Learning:

Educational institutions are becoming progressively marginalized as it becomes apparent that learning is a life-long undertaking and that the success of all of our institutions hinges on the ability to support learning activity.  As the working paper [by JSB and Douglas at USC, entitled The Play of Imagination: Extending the Literary Mind – pdf] makes clear, the most valuable learning is certainly not at the level of compartmentalized skills; it is much more about developing and evolving appropriate dispositions and the ability to integrate in new ways, as suggested by the notion of conceptual blending.

(There's a stub-posting on Wikipedia about conceptual blending and Amazon UK stock Mark Turner's The Literary Mind.)

Significant connections with Henry Jenkins' work (see Gaming and Learning) — eg,

If we were to start from scratch and design an educational system to meet the needs of the culture we have just described, it would look very little like the current school system. Our schools doubly fail kids -- offering them neither the insights they need to avoid the risks nor the opportunity to exploit the potentials of this new participatory culture. Indeed, the skills kids need to function in the new media landscape are skills which are often read as dysfunctional and disruptive in the context of formal education. Kids are, for the most part, learning these skills on their own, outside of school, with the consequence that they are unevenly distributed across the population.

Optimism about technology in education isn't exactly widespread yet, and Howard Rheingold's answer to the Edge World Question Center 2007 ('What Are You Optimistic About? Why?'), The tools for cultural production and distribution are in the pockets of 14 year olds, is some statement of faith and hope. But educators who work without hope for the future and faith in the young are in the wrong job (and will be harming those in their charge): if we perceive grounds for hope in technological developments then it's also our job to do all we can to help the young use technology to good ends — and this (of course) involves us being challenged, too. (Thank God for the young.)

These nuanced comments of John Seely Brown at a conference at MIT late last year (as reported by CNET here) point to a lot of what's afoot here:

Seely Brown argued that education is going through a large-scale transformation toward a more participatory form of learning. Rather than treat pedagogy as the transfer of knowledge from teachers who are experts to students who are receptacles, educators should consider more hands-on and informal types of learning. These methods are closer to an apprenticeship, a farther-reaching, more multilayered approach than traditional formal education, he said. In particular, he praised situations where students who are passionate about specific topics study in groups and participate in online communities.

"We are learning in and through our interactions with others while doing real things," Seely Brown said. "I'm not saying that knowledge is socially constructed, but our understanding of that knowledge is socially constructed." In one example, architecture students work on group design projects in a public setting. A professor's critique of a project is instructive to others. Collaboration is valued and encouraged along with individual achievement. Perhaps most meaningful is the students' process in completing the project, he said. "As you work shoulder to shoulder with other kids, all the work you do and work in progress is done in public. So others understand what you're thinking," Seely Brown said. The evolution of the Internet can facilitate this approach, he said. Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and blogs, make information sharing and content creation easier.

In 'Stolen Knowledge' (pdf, 1992), JSB and Paul Duguid wrote: 'In the workplace, learners can, when they need, steal their knowledge from the social periphery made up of other, more experienced workers and ongoing, socially shared practice. The classroom, unfortunately, tends to be too well secured against theft'.

The CNET article continues:

The Internet is also helping drive a transformation from a mass media model--where information is delivered from experts to consumers--to a situation that allows people to create content online, often by using existing content, he said. Seely Brown showed off a remixed video that took the soundtrack of a Matrix movie trailer and superimposed it on a Japanese comic story. This sort of activity encourages individuals of all ages to learn a topic--in this case the Japanese comics story Naruto--and "tinker" with the material, which is essential to learning, he argued. "There is a rise of an amateur class of kids and adults that love (the Internet) as builders, as researchers, as scholars and as inventors," he said.

Using these practices in the classroom, however, poses some challenges. One MIT class, for example, scrapped the large lecture setup in favor of several smaller groups working together with computers, aided by roaming teachers. The experiment has been favorable, but the instructors had to modify several practices, such as grading students to encourage collaboration. "With every new piece of technology, to make this technology work, you have to change your teaching practices," Seely Brown said. "Part of it is (thinking about) how to go from sage on the stage to being a real mentor." He suggested a "hybrid" learning approach. Schools can teach essential knowledge and critical thinking through somewhat traditional means. But they should complement that teaching with what Seely Brown called "passion-based learning" that focuses on getting students more engaged with topic experts.

Incidentally, I was struck when reading this recently on PILOTed

With a daughter applying to university, we’re wondering why we should be spending $40,000 a year for four years, when great learning materials are available free online.

The Open University in Great Britain has just started OpenLearn, which will provide free university level online learning to anyone. This month’s PILOTed interviews Patrick McAndrew, Director of Research and Evaluation for Open Content Initiative at The Open University. 

The OpenLearn initiative could have a huge impact on how universities operate. And maybe, my daughter’s daughter will have very different options.

If you haven't been watching what the OU's up to, do go and read Mitchell Weisburgh's post at PILOTed. I have no trouble imagining the growth of academically accredited courses, at secondary and tertiary levels, along with significant changes in patterns of social behaviour (eg, the rise of home schooling and new extra-curricular opportunities), in response both to the expense of education and the failure of institutions to develop courses that offer what students are looking for. And much more besides.