Saturday, February 20, 2016

How To Change The Education System: Open The Box

'Do not limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time' ~ Rabindranath Tagore

I wonder what my teenage self from the 1970s would make of formal education today? My guess is that he would find little real change - attend lessons and be tested - absorb a lot of information and give answers - cramming and writing essays with pen and paper in the big tests at the end of the term and at the end of the year. The education system is a safe haven for time travellers - nothing changes for people inside the system. The education system today would protect my time travelling teenage self from the culture shock of the 21st century. While people in the 21st century have smartphones. social media, real-time anytime, anyplace on-demand, personal global-local connectivity people inside the education bubble have none of that - students still sit at desks in a classroom to be taught in batches as they always have done.

Why is this?

"It's like déjà vu all over again" ~ Yogi Berra

The education system strives for excellence and does so through rigorous measurement, testing and assessment. This sounds and looks good but the problem is that so much of this is self referential - measured against its own criteria of excellence education spends increasing amounts of its time looking in the mirror and navel gazing. Education may have internal validity but is losing relevance.

Through its quality control cycles the education system achieves homeostasis and the reliability, control and internal validity it so desires - variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant.

"We see the world through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future" ~ Marshall McLuhan

Is this a problem?

“School makes complete fools of our young men, because they see & hear nothing of ordinary life there” ~ Petronius Arbiter  AD 60

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” ~ Albert Einstein

A homeostatic education system wouldn't be a problem if it really was a closed and self contained system but it isn't. While the education system may be (self) satisfied employers and society in general want the education system to help prepare people for the real world in the 21st century and not just for the purposes of the education system. Through its walls and its disconnect with the real world the education system may be internally valid but increasingly lacks external validity - it is facing a crisis of relevance that is only going to get bigger as new technologies automate increasing parts of our future. Repetitive, ordered, routine, analytical, rational, logical and computational jobs will increasingly be replaced by AI and robotics in the future - future generations will have to live in a world full of machines and in a hyper connected technology mediated world life will be more uncertain and fast moving. Being able to continuously learn will be the one vital skill for the future - along with the accompanying skills of critical thinking, problem solving, information handling, communication, collaboration and creativity.

What can be done?

The education system needs to open the box and let the light in - connect wholeheartedly with the outside world by opening its doors, by thinking outside the box about education beyond its walls and by learning from the open source movement.

Open Source Education
The education system is a pretty closed almost "incestious" affair with a wash cycle pouring old wine into new bottles every 5 years or so. The education system needs greater genetic diversity to evolve - and needs to connect and integrate more widely. The open source way is a good model- it promotes open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, peer to peer activity and community development where anyone can create, mix and share. In the same way that evolutionary principles require diversity and the connection, mix and re-mix of genes to adapt to and survive environmental changes so the same can be said of education organisation - education needs a "sex life" to evolve and to survive.

An open source education system would act as an ecosystem for connecting learning and like a platform for catalysing learning. It would have a start up mentality for learning through the interconnection between ideas where anyone can participate to create mix, remix, produce, share, explore and experiment. Everyone would be a learner

inspireNshare projects and events are examples of an open approach to education. Our eAmbassadors projects facilitate learning through teaching where students act as technology consultants to staff and fellow students. Our Thinglab projects are inspired by the Maker Movement and provide true flip and peer learning environments where student "professors" show and teach staff and other students about new technologies. Our Free Education project provides an opportunity for people to share their education stories, ideas, resources, tools and tips and to free our thinking about what education is and how we do it. Our Teach Meet Tech Events can be described as "education fusion" - they mix up all aspects of education into one melting pot by bringing together schools,, AE, FE, HE, charities, tech startups, students, teachers, managers, IT people & the public to talk about education & technology.

With an open source approach teachers act far more as facilitators, connectors and curators. Its well worth watching Chris Pickford talk about his peer learning experiment where, rather than lecture his students on a subject, he asked the students to form groups to research it themselves and prepare a video to present to the the other students for peer comment and assessment - the diversity formats and points of view on the subject was remarkable. The classroom is usually a closed box but it can be opened up and connected to the world using technology. A good example of this is Toby Doncaster talking about social media and his connected classroom - I came across this by chance one day when I dropped in to his class when he was saying "how can we make a difference" - this intrigued me ... how can students in a classroom make a difference. The students were concerned about an issue in Africa and Toby was asking them how they could make a difference - the students took to social media to engage with the topic - connecting their class activity with current affairs in the the real world!

An open source approach to education for today’s future flexes the concept of a lesson as a rigid, subject-specific unit of time that takes place within the four walls of a classroom and instead sees that this embracing the idea that a lesson can be many things. Organic or structured. Long or short. Based within or beyond school premises. And as the structure of lessons diversifies, so too does the role of the teacher. Extending or shortening the lesson in a manner which allows for a more flexible style of teaching different roles, including mentor, coach and designer of projects that highlight the real-world relevance of subject material. This creates the potential for them to have a deeper, more fulfilling engagement with students, and a more creative part to play in the design and delivery of curricula

Let the Light in
Education establishments often have good community access but most can and should do a lot more - this is especially the case in Further Education where many of the buildings have very low utilisation. While college buildings can shrink to fit they can also be re-imagined to integrate far better with their communities. FE Colleges have excellent facilitates which could be used for college, community, business and technology projects and startups - connecting learners and staff with the community in ways that are real rather than simulated.. College spaces can be turned into open innovation zones, meeting spaces, maker spaces, co-working spaces, performance areas, workshops - the list goes on and on and many of these can be operated by students.

Think Outside the Box
Thinking about education outside the standard school or college building opens up new opportunities to innovate education and connect it with communities. Projects like Learning Towns and Scale Free Schools recognise opportunities for learning beyond the school walls and consider a new infrastructure of education. Tech City initiatives like Croydon Tech City apply the concept of Learning Towns to develop communities by embracing the startup mindset with an an entrepreneurial spirit of exploration, curiosity and a focus on possibilities. Tech City initiatives offer an option to embed education in real world activities - to use the resources in a community to develop ideas and make something with them. Schools and colleges really need to get out a lot more into the community and engage with education out in the world - if they don;t then eventually someone else will!

Education: open up the box - let there be light.

Education should be about opening minds and by opening minds to how and where - education will help humanity not only survive but thrive in the 21st century,