An Appraisal of Recent Technology Enabled Trends in Education

As published in the article, The Classroom Is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New, for edweek.org, Prakash Nair opines,

… the classroom has been obsolete for several decades. That’s not just my opinion. It’s established science.

A bold statement. One that much of current research and writing supports. A reference to some here would have made this piece a little more powerful, however. Another quote stood out for me:

…the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning.

The flipped classroom, based on reverse instruction whereby students access content online at home and then have more effective opportunities for experience with co-learners and mentors (an important function of future teachers) in the classroom, seems to me to be the most “efficient” content delivery system strengthened then by the social constructivist and other independent experiences made possible in a local environment.

The author then goes onto outline an idyllic fusion of the desires from all stakeholders from business to parents. Sadly, it is often the case that parents are stalwarts of upholding the 3 R’s (Reading, wRiting and ‘Rithmatic). This is oversimplified greatly. The point is addressed but seemingly downplayed:

Perhaps some would define “success” as students’ ability to perform well on a standardized test, rather than their developing skills to navigate a fast-changing world.

As one of my Master’s instructors, Rebekah Madrid recently put to us (paraphrasing here):

It seems like the schools where real change happens are always where there are huge problems already. Schools of more affluent families know their children will get into universities in the current system so the is no sense of need for change.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree with much of this piece. I myself, am an avowed zealot of the need for change. Change is needed and it is coming. As the article suggests however, it isn’t coming fast enough. If Rebekah is right, however, maybe the change will have the added impact of rebalancing the scales a bit as well.

Now for the meat and potatoes. Let’s review some emerging theory and look under the hood.

Connectivism
As my blog header states,

…the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.
George Siemens

Connectivism is the learning theory that knowledge can reside outside of us. It can be found in the environment, in books, databases, stored digitally and even in others. In this situation the ability to efficiently access information becomes the paramount skill. As trends indicate, the one-job-for-life era is over. Preparation for success in the future will mean the ability to work collaboratively with diverse groups in a variety of capacities. Those who adapt, thrive.

Mr. Siemens informs us further that he sees significant trends in learning:

  • Many learners will move into a variety of different, possibly unrelated fields over the course of their lifetime.
  • Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.
  • Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.
  • Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking.
  • Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories (especially in cognitive information processing) can now be off-loaded to, or supported by, technology.
  • Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)
    citation

“Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains.” If this is so, and I believe it likely is (I can actually feel it happening. Be honest, have you never felt yourself wishing for the undo edit function in your life or multi-tasked when you didn’t really have to?), then the so-long argued for re-creation of learning and thinking about learning must be needed more now than ever before. Thankfully, new media also serves to enable change.

MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
Open. Free. Accessible from anywhere (wired). I love the entire idea of these courses. There is an ever-expanding list of institutions offering free courses online (often with a short processing fee). In fact, the use of online courses may see professors who fail to communicate and engage their students properly with emptier and emptier classrooms as students can find better instruction available online for free.

It seems to me that traditional certification and graduation with “regular” degrees is not about to go anywhere but that these courses are empowering people all the same. Professional Learning Networks feed them and are in turn created and expanded by them in this increasingly connected (see george Siemens above) world.

See an overview video here:

Global Collaboration
Dan Pink has done some interesting research into motivation in the workplace that strongly suggests that, more than financial rewards, people really want Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose in order to become more productive. Or, as he puts it, “You probably wanna do something interesting. Just let me get out of your way.”

This is what project based learning is all about and a large part of what drives global collaboration or so-called flat classrooms.

By setting students to the task of working with one or more classes elsewhere in the world and enabling them to do so with web 2.0 tools, integration is achieved organically as students familiarize themselves with new media in order to redefine their outcomes.

Kim Cofino has shared a fantastic overview of pitfalls and other important aspects to consider for executing successful globally collaborative projects. The skills, attitudes and understandings engendered through such experiences give students a glimpse of the adult world they will soon be inheriting and further empower them to take the responsibility for their learning Dan Pink’s research suggests will make it more meaningful and rewarding for them.

Badges
Meant as a way to gain “credit” for certain competencies, it does not appear that traditional degrees yet have much to fear from badges earned online. It is early, things may change. For the time being however, badges seem, to me at least, like continual professional development or evidence of commitment to developing skills which should carry some weight as well.

I recently completed a course for a Moodle Administrator Certificate with much the same thinking behind it. I liken this pdf certificate to a badge. Badges try to offer more, however, as the idea is often to unify different course material from different sources in order to make their collection worth more as a unified whole than some other collection of qualifications not worked into such a system.

Other ways of employing the badges idea, such as Badges for Vets, seek to transfer skills from one area of expertise/experience to other fields or types of qualifications. The amount of significance assigned to Badges will vary widely depending on the organizations asked. Still in infancy, however, it is likely many have yet to even know what they are.

As always, only time will tell.
citation

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About Sean Thompson

Sean has accepted a position as the Director of Technology at The Early Learning Centre, City School, in Bangkok. He is excited to be working with Giovanni Piazza and the rest of the staff to raise awareness of digital-age teaching and learning practice in this Reggio Emilia inspired environment. Sean is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, an International Baccalaureate Educator Network Workshop Leader and a Google Educator available for professional development at your school.
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3 Responses to An Appraisal of Recent Technology Enabled Trends in Education

  1. I looked into Prakash Nair’s school designs and found some very interesting, well-designed schools. One that particularly fascinated me was a high school built near the Minnesota Zoo close to my hometown called the School of Environmental Studies. (http://www.district196.org/ses/) The school makes frequent and intentional use of its environment and its proximity to the zoo to expand the walls of the classroom.
    I was fortunate enough to grow up next to a hundred-acre wood that provided me with an excellent education in botany and zoology. I remember thinking that it would be wonderful to bring the classes outside, but was not encouraged by my teachers on the occasions when I attempted to bring the outside in (apparently some teachers are alarmingly frightened of snakes).
    The idea that school can be closely connected to its environment seems intuitive, but it means letting the students step outside the box of the traditional classroom… which could be as risky as letting snakes into the classroom. So much learning occurs when there is a bit of risk, adventure and even danger.
    Last weekend, I was able to chaperone on a 5th grade field trip. Students explored steep paths, found bear tracks, stood under pounding waterfalls, swam in icy rapids, and went on a night hike without flashlights. The experiential learning of those two days will probably stay with them longer than anything else that they learned this year. While most schools can connect students with countless sources of information which they can experience second-hand, there are too few opportunities for first-hand adventurous discoveries. Information is available online, but experience is not.

    • Sean says:

      Sounds absolutely ideal. I would love to have my daughter be part of such an experience. Thank you for sharing your research and insight. Always a pleasure Ruth.

  2. Great reading as usual, Sean. I am interested to see how quickly international schools move to accept these changes or work towards something new (outdoor education, flipped, etc). Thanks for the ideas and resources.

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