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Education in the age of information surplus

June 14, 2011 1 comment

I am not sponsored by TED, I promise. However, I really enjoy embedding videos in posts and TED makes it easy to do so. Today I typed in “education” into the TED search box and after a little browsing I found this talk about teaching.  My favorite theme of knowledge transmission versus transformation appears as Laufenberg gives us her brief family history of educational experiences and while many have responded to this shift with efforts to improve 21st century skills and put more technology in the classroom, I think the question proposed by Laufenberg hits the nail on the head.

“What do you do when the information is all around you? Why do you have kids come to school if they no longer have to come there to get the information?”

Of course, this would presuppose two things. The first being that the kids are already literate and the second is that they have consistent access to the “surplus of information.” Provided these two conditions exist, what is the reason for having kids come to school?

Is it to…

  • pass on cultural heritage?
  • babysit?
  • socialize?
  • educate?
  • stratify?
  • prepare?
  • cultivate lifelong learners?
  • promote progress?
  • maintain the status quo?

I don’t know, but I do think the new landscape of information and technology demands that we reconsider our old answers.

High Tech High: A model that works…

June 13, 2011 2 comments

Back in January, I was interested in creating a tool that would replace textbooks in the classroom and develop students’ skills of media consumption and production. Not surprisingly, I have found that this work is already being done and that the roadblock is not in designing the tool itself but in changing the “traditional” standards based model of schools. How can such a change in culture be accomplished and what examples will lead us there? I cannot say enough good things about the work of High Tech High. Particularly their efforts to link projects to the community (local and international) and their radically different approach to assessment (presentations of learning vs. end of quarter tests). Can the rest of our schools be “transformed by technology” or is there something else we must do?

Looking for innovation?

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a great talk on “new” resources for educational innovation. I am wondering how others feel about his statement that our system of education “stratifies society as much as it liberates it” and his suggestion to look to the slums for examples of creative solutions to our educational dilemma.

iPads for kindergartners?

May 5, 2011 4 comments

I subscribe to Edweek.org’s “Digital Directions” newsletter and read an article about the use of iPads with kindergarnters. A school district in Maine is advocating for more iPads in kindergarten classrooms. Critics point out that there is little research to demonstrate the effects of such technology (positive or negative) on early childhood learning. Also, some fear that valuable social experiences will decrease as technology increases its presence in the classroom. On the other hand, advocates claim that it is a tool for expression and creation, like a marker and many other items found in kindergarten classrooms.

I must admit that when I saw the title, my first reaction was kindergartners? It does seem like a young age to be using iPads, but when viewed as another resource in the toolkit of an early childhood educator it begins to make more sense. Also, because it utilizes a touch screen it seems like it would be perfect for young children! I guess it depends on how you perceive the role of technology in the classroom. Is it just another tool, or is it replacing teaching and social learning?

Read the original article here iPad Use Among Kindergartners Sparks Debate.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Technology

Can you make your education “future proof”?

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Future-Proof Your Education on Prezi

A friend of mine sent me this link. I really like the platform, it is much more engaging and interesting than a powerpoint. I didn’t enjoy all of the embedded videos, especially the one about the creative commons and the college promotion video. But I thought the three TED talks about visualizing data were wonderful. What a great example of the blend between art, science, and technology. My first thought was, I want to learn how to do that! Then I thought I bet students would want to create their own pictures with data about their own lives. Maybe teaching students how to ‘compress knowledge’ would be a valuable skill in the age of information. It would give them an opportunity to tell their own story. Does this “future proof” your education? Not necessarily. I think a more important question is, does your education serve you now? Are we meeting that benchmark? I am afraid not.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Technology

Passion-Based Learning for the 21st Century

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Passion-Based Learning for the 21st Century.

My friend just sent me this interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and “passion based” learning. I like her approach for several reasons. The first because it echoes my own ideas about what changes must occur, and secondly because she is not advocating for something so radical that it cannot be practiced in today’s educational system. I have read a lot of teacher bashing reports lately, and I am not wanting to add to them. But maybe teachers act as their own worst enemy by not willing to change their own beliefs about teaching and learning. I myself have been guilty of blaming students, administrators, parents, and the standards for my own inability to try something new. And sometimes, this could be the reality, but I do believe it is less about trying one new thing then it is about changing your philosophy. What will it take to cause such a shift?

Traditional vs. Progressive Education

April 10, 2011 1 comment

Below is a draft of my curriculum rationale. At the beginning of the semester I had an idea to design a “do it yourself” textbook for students: a virtual textbook that blends the features of EndNote, Facebook, Blackboard, Wiki, Digg, and other applications for the students to find, manage, create, and share their own resources/understanding. There are many researchers out there working on computer supported collaborative learning environments, but I do not think that the tool is as important as the vision and the educational theory behind it. My intent in this blog is to work on my emerging understanding of the history and philosophy of educational reform that have led me to this point. Also, by involving classmates and other contributors, I am attempting to model the process of open collaboration and knowledge building with my own project. Whether you agree with what I have written or not, I am sure that you can agree that working together is better than working alone. If you have any ideas, videos or links, to contribute please post them as comments. Questions, constructive criticism, destructive criticism are welcomed as well. I am much more interested in the process of this project rather than the final result.

When education is viewed solely as preparation for a higher degree or a future career it becomes the means to an end. Subsequently, the experiences that occur before the end result, lose their value because the focus remains on the end goal rather than the process. Such a view also implies that without acquiring the right kind of knowledge during the prescribed period of preparation, one cannot become educated and will end up underachieving in work and school. “Traditional education” operates on this kind of knowledge deficit model: fix the deficits so that students are prepared for the rest of their lives.

Alternatively, if education is truly seen as one’s life (as Dewey and others have proposed) the means, or the educational processes, have more value. An individual’s experiences and interests form the backdrop against which investigations are carried out, questions are asked, observations are made, conclusions are drawn, and knowledge is generated. Over time, this “continuity of experiences” adds up to be both one’s life and education (Dewey, from Experience and Education). Knowledge generation and improvement are more in line with what is called “progressive” education. Instead of focusing on deficits the educational process is centered around improving understanding and supporting the collective knowledge building of students.

Unfortunately, the model of education that we have today is still very traditional despite more than a century of educational reform. It assumes that the role of school is to prepare students for their futures both inside and outside of the classroom by filling the deficits of knowledge in each student via the transmission of a standardized and fixed curriculum. The latest effort in educational reform, the Common Core State Standards claims to contain a body of knowledge and skills that, if learned and practiced by students, will better prepare them for college and careers than previous standards of knowledge and skills. Again, we see the end goal idealized, with little consideration given to how the process is carried out.

This sounds eerily similar to the Committee of Ten Report from 1893. Charles W. Eliot, the President of Harvard, and his colleagues drafted a report that contained a hierarchy of subject matter deemed necessary in preparing students for college. The report also stated that whatever preparation was appropriate for college was also appropriate for life. As a result, secondary education was centered around the study of subject matter required for college admission. In this case, it was the Classics: Greek, Latin, Grammar, and such. Today, the subject matter has changed but the overall philosophy has not. Four years of mathematics, science, English, and history are required for college admissions. The same is expected for students who are not applying to college because it is assumed that knowledge of this subject matter will best prepare them for any future vocation and civic participation as voters.

The method of learning the predetermined material has also not varied much in the last century. Textbooks (often written by college professors and subject matter experts) contain all of the material a student needs to know about a subject while teachers deliver the content to students who are asked to follow along. The knowledge is static, predetermined and itemized in a body of standards to which students must conform or they will not graduate. The students’ degrees are proof they have learned the “right” content and without the degree college admissions and certain professions are unattainable. The process of learning the material was not examined or re-evaluated because the end result, graduation, was achieved.

In the late 19th and early 20th century this method made sense. Distribution of knowledge was not as equitable as it is today because access to printed material or knowledgeable persons was limited. The level of access determined how much formal education one could receive. In today’s internet based society there is no restricted access to knowledge. It is not necessary or practical to wait for information to trickle down from above when it is literally at your fingertips. To use Piaget’s terms, a disequilibrium exists between the representations of knowledge in the traditional classroom and real life created by the new media of the 21st century.

I firmly believe that this disequilibrium is so “structurally disturbing” that an “intellectual restructuring” of our educational philosophies must occur (Piaget’s theories as cited in Doll pg. 83). In fact, I believe it is beginning to do so already.

Dr. Wesch is a cultural anthropologist who studies new media’s effects on society. The contrasts of life in the classroom versus life online are striking.

Sir Ken Robinson and the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts collaborate on this animated video to communicate the need for a new educational paradigm.

While it is easy to abandon the traditional model of education in favor of a new, “transformative” curriculum, it is not helpful to embrace a new theory without giving any though as to how it will be practiced.  The utility of an idea can limit or promote its value in society. What good is a new educational philosophy if it is not practical in its real time application? Was this the case with Dewey?  Too much theory and not enough practicality? I don’t believe so. Dewey’s laboratory school demonstrated how to practice his educational philosophy. However, in the broader context of the contemporary sociocultural climate, his beliefs did not have enough currency to change educational practices. The ingrained practices and subsequent value of knowledge transmission versus collective knowledge building presented a hostile environment compared to today’s drastically different sociocultural landscape.

What does such a curriculum look like?

When should we start infusing a technology driven curriculum? Is five years old too young?

I would add, however, using digital tools in place of the older, traditional ones to fix the “deficits” of knowledge in students is not the answer. We need a curriculum that is intentional and purposeful in creating educational experiences that begin with students’ prior knowledge and extend understanding by involving them in solving real world problems with real tools. Thank goodness I have just the curriculum in mind!

Eventual link to my curriculum here.