Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Missing Link: eReaders

An eReader that will seamlessly integrate with students' lifestyles is the missing link in the Education: On Demand model. It needs to be:

  • portable
  • wireless
  • media-rich
  • impact-resistant
  • intuitively accessible
Kids these days seem to always have a cellphone/ mp3 /dvd player/video game console in their hands. Combine all of those things into one handheld device that wirelessly connects classmates, teachers and parents with each other, and simultaneously provides access to educational media on demand, and our education systems will be transformed. At one stroke, the factory model of schooling will become obsolete, and will fade away like the teacher's strap. It will become an embarrassing reminder of primitive man's inhumanity to man.

How so, you ask? Think about it...
  • Education:On Demand means that students will have more options. Students who can get extra help, or review a lesson directly from their handheld can progress at their own rates. They need not be locked into a one-size-fits-all pace of instruction.
  • Education: On Demand means that teachers will be released from some of the drudgery traditionally associated with the profession - scrounging for resources? photocopying? marking? teaching the same lesson over and over? These can be reduced to almost zero with digital systems that automatically track student performance and deliver On Demand access to media-rich, interactive instructional modules.
  • Education:On Demand means that parents will be able to participate as full partners in educational planning and decision-making. Parents may be able to set their own timetables for schooling - ski vacation? no problem - all the lessons are available wirelessly on demand from your child's handheld - all the planning and sequencing has already been done. The extra help is available - so are enrichment activities to challenge the high achievers.
A bit vague? Yes, but we are dealing with possibility. The details will sort themselves out when possibility becomes reality.

Education: On Demand

I keep thinking of Buckminster Fuller's admonition:

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Our current education system is essentially an industrial model. Think of school as a factory - students as raw materials - graduates as finished products. We 'warehouse' students and force them to adhere to strict schedules - Language Arts at 9:05, Math at 10:00. It just doesn't work for most students, and the consequence is usually disengagement.

I believe the new model will feature what could be called Education: On Demand. We have the technology to create and deliver mini lesson modules on any conceivable topic, wirelessly and on demand. It makes no sense to me to have a million teachers individually writing lesson plans to teach addition of one digit numbers, or order of operations, when we could have beautifully crafted and professionally-produced video lessons available on demand.

Students don't need Math at 10:00AM - they need Math when they have an authentic problem to solve. How many chairs do we have to set up for the assembly? If two people do the work how long will it take? What if ten people do it? Then Math becomes purposeful and real to students. No one asks, "Why do we need to learn this?" The need to know creates the motivation to learn, and engagement becomes intrinsic.

To my knowledge, no one is pursuing the notion of Education: On Demand as a new model for public education. Private business interests and dedicated individuals are leading the way in creating an "On Demand" infrastructure and producing digital instructional media. When this connects with a handheld device, I predict the new model will shatter the old "Education: On Schedule" approach and the schoolhouse walls will come tumbling down.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Student Success - a broader definition.

What really constitutes success in life? Is it wealth? Power? Fame? What about happiness, or freedom, having useful occupation, or fulfilling personal relationships? There are many possible answers. In the end, it must be answered by each of us individually. Too many students reach the end of high school and have no idea what success means to them, or have someone else’s idea and think it their own. This is a poor foundation on which to build a life. A broader definition of student success must include insights obtained through a reflective process of self-discovery.

Here are three principles from which we can construct a framework for student success:

1. Diversity must be recognized as a fundamental principle – each snowflake, each fingerprint, each grain of sand, each student is a unique expression of the universe.

2. Intelligence is diverse. Each child develops an array of intelligences that are expressed in multiple ways of being smart.

3. Students must be supported in a process of self-discovery that enables them to make sense of their world, and helps them to achieve their personal visions of success.

Much work remains to be done in shaping these principles into a tangible vision of student success. Inherent in the principles are the seeds of social justice and transformative design that will situate the student squarely at the center of the educational universe.

One Laptop Per Child

Nicholas Negroponte is a professor, former director of the MIT Media Lab, and founder of the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project. He wants to build the $100 laptop - a sturdy, wireless, Internet-ready, hand-cranked computer and deliver it to millions of children in the developing world.

He believes that:

  • Children are our most precious natural resource.
  • The solution to poverty, peace, environment is education.
  • Teaching is one but not the only way to achieve learning.
Hear Negroponte's 18 minute address to TED 2006 conference attendees.

"Goodbye textbooks, Hello Open Source Learning!" - Richard Baraniuk

Another TED talks inspiration is Richard Baraniuk, electrical engineering professor at Rice University, and founder of Connexions - a free open source online clearinghouse of educational materials.
Baraniuk has developed a digital peer-to-peer sharing system for course materials. Think back to Buckminster Fuller's recipe for change. If the academic publishing industry doesn't put up any roadblocks, and Baraniuk pursues his vision, traditional textbooks may well follow the horse and buggy.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality." R. Buckminster Fuller

One day in the library stacks, I was searching for a book by Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences theory. Coincidentally, the book next to it was a slim volume entitled, R. Buckminster Fuller on Education edited by Wagschal & Kahn (1979). I had read his Operation Manual for Spaceship Earth in the 1970's, and visited one of his geodesic domes in Montreal at Expo '67.
I took it home and read it in one sitting, then reread it and went back to the library for 6 more books by Fuller. His ideas are probably 100 years ahead of his time, and long out of favor in the popular imagination.

But consider this in the context of education reform...

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

This is sound advice. Recall what happened to horses and buggies, iceboxes, vinyl records, 8-track cassettes and slide rules.

Wagschal, P. & Kahn, R. (Eds.). (1979). R. Buckminster Fuller on Education. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press.

"How is it that little children are so intelligent, and men so stupid? It must be education that does it." Alexandre Dumas

I have been on a sabbatical this year studying about Special Education at Acadia University. It has been a great experience! I have spent countless hours reading, thinking and writing about education reform. I thought I'd share with you some of what I consider to be the highlights of my journey...
One is this video presentation of a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson at the 2006 TED conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It is an annual event for 1000 invited guests held in Monterey, California. The registration fee is about $4400.00 US. With travel, accommodation and other expenses on top, it's not cheap, but the event is always sold out a year in advance, and people come from all over the world to be a part of it. Why? To share ideas.

Sir Ken Robinson is author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources. He gives a brilliant talk on creativity and how schools are designed to douse every last spark of it in our students. If you can spare 19 minutes and 29 seconds, you should watch this. Robinson is mesmerizing - hilariously funny, yet poignant. It is one of those rare transformative messages. You will never think about education in quite the same way again.