This week I checked in on the New Schools Venture Summit where - just like the Education Innovation Summit and InnoTech Summit - there were some very intelligent people who had some great ideas about what the future of education might look like.
Regardless of who the organizer is, the title of event or what the speakers' specialist areas are, there seems to be a common sentiment regarding the future of education which is;
"Our existing system needs an upgrade, but... this is not an invitation for EdTech to re-boot the sector with any unnecessary "disruption" or exaggerated claims about their latest gadgets or gizmos. Many teachers will confirm that their students have had just about all the disruption and exaggeration about education that they can handle.
Technology will not replace a great teacher! The consensus seems to be that the best technology in education will amplify educators ability to teach by either
1) Freeing up their time and/or helping students to learn outside the classroom, or
2) Helping to bring learning to life - products and services that help to engage students
When I hear speakers discuss how technology will successfully assist educators, I get the image of “The Bionic Teacher” (and like the Bionic Man I hope that $6 million dollars will go into developing and maintaining these "Super Teachers!" ...Although without eyes in the back of their heads... how else are the "creative kids" going to practice their art of "being creative?")
This week I particularly liked Thomas Friedman’s presentation where he reiterated some comments from his fantastic book “The World is Flat;”
“The first, and most important, ability you can develop in a flat [globalised] world is the ability to “learn how to learn” – to constantly absorb, and teach yourself, new ways of doing old things or new ways of doing new things. In [a global world] it is not only what you know but how you learn that will set you apart. Because what you know today will be out of date sooner than you think.”
So how do you educate people in a way that they “Learn how to learn?” Friedman goes on to offer some advice on this by suggesting that students should;
“Go around your friends and ask them: who are your favourite teachers? And take their courses – no matter what they are teaching… When I think back on my favourite teachers, I don’t remember the specifics of what they taught me, but I sure remember being excited about learning it. What has stayed with me are not the facts they imparted but the excitement about learning they inspired. To learn how to learn, you have to love learning – or at least enjoy it – because so much learning is about being motivated to teach yourself"
I can’t think of any better example of this advice than the influence that Mrs Hill had on Steve Jobs;
“From the early grades Steve Jobs had been something of a troublemaker. Then one teacher, Mrs. Hill, recognised he was really very bright, and bribed him to buckle down and study, using money, candy and a camera building kit. Steve became so motivated that he even ground his own lenses for the camera. In the Smithsonian oral-history interview, Steve said, “I think I probably learned more academically in that one year than I learned in my life. Quite a testimonial for how one teacher can change a students’ entire history" Jay Elliot, The Steve Jobs Way
Steve Jobs highlights how this one teacher was so instrumental to his development, take a moment to consider the possibilities of this statement;
"Think what four or five great teachers in a row might mean!" Arne Duncan
Is your head buzzing with what this might look like too? David Cameron wants young entrepreneurs to create the next Google… The comment above has just made this idea a little more of a realistic possibility in your head, hasn't it?
An extremely important point that Friedman makes is that;
“While it seems that some people are just born with that motivation [to learn], many others can develop it or have it imparted with the right teacher.”
Annie Murphy Paul might have some theories about how people come to be born with such motivation, but this is too scary a concept for me to consider... and any kind of "prenatal cultural advantage" will almost certainly not apply to some of the more vulnerable and marginalised groups.
I decided to take a break from all the Tweeting, blogging, social media and other online & offline distractions. I went for a walk to the local farm and reflected on FE, Education, Edtech, the "creative class"...to think about Bionic-Super Teachers who help students to "learn how to learn." As usual it was a bit of a bizarre experience...
Sold a Pig in a Poke?
When I got to the farm, the first thing I noticed was a rather sad looking pig in his sty. I couldn't help noticing that the pig had funny looking ears or that he lived in a sty! There was a sign on the fence saying that the pig had been poorly treated when it was younger.
This pig couldn't change his background, his living conditions nor could he help what his ears looked like. He also didn't seem to be as happy as I recall being told that a pig in a sty should be. I found these to be "lessons in the obvious".
This reminded me of the blatantly obvious things in education - that the experiences, outcomes, skills and potential of vulnerable and marginal groups is going to look "a bit different," maybe even "awkward" or "weird" but they will most certainly not be devoid of "potential."
You may not be able to make a silk purse out of this little piggy's ears, but he's the best way I can think of to find some pretty expensive truffles.
I thought of the millions of young people whose potential might be hidden because of the tired old and obvious disadvantages (which never seem to improve). Obviously their experiences will mean that they have different abilities from more affluent groups.
And as with the search for truffles, you might need to pull your wellies on, roll your sleeves up and do a bit of digging about to find their exclusive qualities. If we don't, how much "potential" risks the danger of remaining undiscovered but, with just a little elbow grease we just might even uncover a "Golden Buddha" or two!
So if, for whatever of the many complex societal reasons, someone reaches their teenage years and their education resembles a "pigs ear" and their mind is "as messy as a pig sty?"
What if the concept of "a love of learning" hasn't been instilled in some 16-17 year olds? What if a good education, a good job, any kind of good prospects and any kind of "happily ever after," seems about as real as a fairy tale for the disengaged and disadvantaged?
As the debates about the interaction between Teachers and Technology (TNT) rages on, what does this particular group need to help them find the buried treasure that is "their potential?"
Is it the "Teach" or the "Tech" - the dynamite that creates the big bang; or the fuse that's needed to facilitate the explosion?
The Big Cow
On "the other side of the fence" there was a huge field, which was in much better condition than the pigs living area.
In the field was the most magnificent cow you ever did see, there was a big crowd by it and I wondered if it was a prize cow, or maybe it was sacred... if it was, I wondered if it could perform a miracle to sort the pigs ears out and tidy his messy sty.
My (admittedly wandering) mind considered the weird and wonderful beast that is the MOOC - an animal that some detractors view as nothing more than a cash cow; while there are proponents who think it could be the goose that lays golden eggs. (Hands up if you're now thinking of the soup advert "pea and ham... from a chicken?")
There is a lot of talk about MOOCs just now... But, at the moment, will this be the right solution for our more vulnerable students.
I am as excited as anyone about MOOCs, maybe even as excited as Jack coming back from the market with his magic beans, but these beans have only just been planted in the ground... Its not until the next morning that Jack finds out that there is indeed "magic in them beans."
Maybe some educators would be better to sleep on the idea, and see if there's an extra-ordinary learning platform waiting for them, and their students, in the morning.
As was highlighted at the Education Innovation Summit, MOOC development is at such an early stage in education, it may have a long way to go before it will suit everyone.
You can take a horse to water...
If a student has been going to school for the last 10 years and is reasonably unenthusiastic about learning, then it really is going to need to be some special magic at the back end of that particular system!
This is especially true as only about 10% of students who start a MOOC finish the course. This is not to belittle the achievements of MOOCs or to suggest they will not get to 70-80% course completion… simply that this is in the early stages and may not suit all learners yet.
One of the most balanced and relevant arguments for FE that I have seen about MOOCs is “The Trouble with Online College".
Every new idea has the early adopter market and I don’t think FE is the right one for MOOCs, is there any way to test this suggestion? Is there a precedent?
A White Elephant
As I watched the majestic cow in the field, a huge (and somewhat lonely) cloud floated by and was in the shape of an elephant.
This huge elephant-shaped cloud reminded me of days gone by... and I wondered, what did we do before all the technology? We used our imagination! "when I was a lad..." you might whittle any given day away imaging what shapes the clouds made; today "The Cloud" is responsible for shaping many of my days.
Good to know that some things stay the same... I've always had my head in the cloud(s)!
While MOOCs are newer, shinier, have more flashy buttons and A LOT more investment, the Open University has been around since the 1969.
I believe that only around 5% of UK population enroll on an OU course… I wonder how many students from low incomes/disadvantaged backgrounds take and/or complete an OU distance learning course? Why and/or what would be required for MOOC to increase these figures?
The chances of some of our most vulnerable young people having "an education in the cloud," that will help them find their "potential" and shape their lives, might be as likely as the pig at the farm growing wings and flying up to the white elephant that floated above us.
The only way I could see this happening was with some assistance from Tripitaka and "The funkiest Monkey that ever did pop" who had the ability to summon the cloud to him.
Puss in Boots
I may not have seen a pig fly, but you would not believe what I saw next... A cat comes swaggering along wearing are rather fine pair of boots! The farmer explains that Shrek was is his favourite film.
The cat stops right in front of the pig who, is now looking decidedly stuck in the mud, and proceeds to clean some dirt off his fancy footwear. Well, the pig looks at the cat with the most disdainful and hopeless look, and I swear I heard the pig speak "Well aren't you just the clever clogs!"
I thought of "The Technology Life Cycle" and how the ideal early adopter market for MOOCs are groups of “talented and highly motivated,” a group who might help to improve the service before rolling the service out to the “laggards" in the market. Suggesting a MOOC to vulnerable groups before any flaws have been ironed out (i.e. Higher completion rates), might do nothing more than see a student who needed the "Teach," not the "Tech," switch off to learning even further.
If vulnerable students were to enroll in a MOOC, only to drop out because they lacked the motivation/ability and this experience ended their education, with them believing that "maybe all my teachers were right after all... maybe I'm just not all that bright!" This would be the fault of “the system” and educations' stupidity... Not the students.
The Guinea Pig
Down at the "Pig and Cat" (sounds like a pub) tension builds up and the pig looked like it wanted to trample the obviously intelligent, impeccably dressed... but unbearably smug and pretentious feline.
The standoff is diffused with the arrival of the friendliest guinea pig you ever did see. He was obviously on good terms with both the pig and our Antonio Banderas wannabe. He reminded the two animals that, despite their differences, "All animals are equal." I'm sure I heard the pig speak again and mumble defiantly "Except in animal farm!" I found myself joining the discussion and answering back "That'll do pig! that'll do!" The cat and the guinea pig then started to help fix the sty up.
I wondered what this furry little friend might look like in education. As with most new ideas there are proponents and detractors, and the polarised views can make a rationale debate a bit of a challenge.
Observations that I have had regarding the MOOC debates so far are that;
1) Only 10% of students complete a course
2) This appears to be an issue of talent & motivation
3) In order to be talented and motivated - you need to "learn how to learn" and/or "have a love of learning" - which are "must have" attributes.
4) In this brave new “post-industrial, creative class era" you need to find a way to be "fantastically unique and original” so you’re gonna need to be talented and motivated
Would a way for the Teachers and Techs coming together on the issue of MOOCs be that;
• The MOOCs profiled all students before they enrolled in the course
• They assessed the data to look for trends to identify common qualities/attributes of students who complete their courses
• Share this data with educators, who then integrate these qualities into the curriculum in early years
The Bees Knees
A busy bee came by and just flitted as freely as he liked, the wind started to pick up and clearly knocked him off course, but no matter what crazy direction it went in, he was able to just go with the flow, landed on the nearest flower and regardless of the type, size or colour of the flower, he was able to be productive for his bee colony and the flowers he landed on.
How fantastic would it be if our students had the same skills and mindset... to help make a contribution with where ever they find themselves and regardless what comes their way?
The students who complete MOOCs clearly have the ability to "learn how to learn," could the analytics from MOOCs help educators to identify these skills so they can be factored into younger students teaching, could this lead to;
1) More engaged students in class, which in turn
2) Increases the number of students completing MOOCs, that will
3) Prepare more students for the brave new "learn how to learn" world
Blows your mind thinking about it! Talk about TNT
For the educator who is perhaps thinking, "why would I help someone who is trying to replace me?" I would be tempted to rephrase the question to "What teacher wants to see their students fail?" Educators are not being replaced but, at the same time, education does need to change.
As if things weren't bad enough for this little piggy, the wind picked up and something comes hurtling towards the pig sty. As it comes closer the object appears to be what I can only describe as an "Angry Bird," and he appears to be carrying something... is it a bomb? Couldn't possibly be!
The pig looked totally panicked, so panicked that he turned green?! He looks as if he's walked into his worst nightmare. But the weirdest thing happened (Again!).
The scene seemed to became all digitised before my very eyes, Snow White appears and starts instructing all the animals. They race about gathering twigs, stones... (even got a pig shaped helmet from somewhere!) They build the most fantastic new house for our intrepid little piggy... The bird never had a chance!
A catastrophe was averted, the pig sty was transformed and the pigs' helmet covered up the state of his ears... and this transformation took place before my eyes and it seemed to be an exhilarating and fun experience for everyone involved (Oh I wouldn't worry too much about the Angry Bird, I can assure you he is doing fine!)
Could the same work for disengaged learners? Could "learning to learn" be made fun regardless of their previous experiences?
If there was a MOOC that was worth trialing with any less motivated students, I would be tempted to explore game based MOOCs and gaming in general.
If you have not seen these videos the results and their potential will blow you away!
Gaming can make a better world
BaaZynga my friend! The fun of FarmVille
I learned so much down at the farm and then checked out other news from the New School Summit... and you'll never believe what happened.
Zynga announced that they have created a fantastic partnership to explore game based learning and it looks really, really, really good - Zynga to give Education start ups a boost
Let's make sure that all our little piggies can go to market and have all the roast beef they want in their brick houses; Not have so many who are stuck at home all day... only for the big bad wolf to come along and repossess it.
Teachers’n’Technology TNT an explosive combination! Let's just make sure we use it in the right way... that we blow students minds with it; not destroy their chances!