Saturday, August 28, 2010
In colleges and universities today, we see varied student experiences. Dan Brown, a 19 year old, recent drop out of University of Nebraska and YouTube video blogger passionately speaks in his Open Letter to Educators about educational institutions. He asks, "What has education done to reinvent itself?
His answer, " In my experience, Nothing. Sure you've started using email, online databases, services like Blackboard. And if it were 1999, I'd be saying- Great! But it's not 1999 and if institutional education wants to survive in the information age, then institutional education needs to do more than adopt a few tools."
Dan talks about professors who stand in front of class lecturing with no student interaction, spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks that are never opened while newer and free information is available on the internet, and writing tests that are simply regurgitation of facts. Dan believes, "Society no longer cares how many facts we can memorize because in the information age facts are free....Education isn't about teaching facts. It's about stoking creativity, and new ideas. It's not about teaching students to conform..it's about empowering students to change the world for the better."
Dan dropped out of university because as he says, "My schooling was interfering with my education." Unable to get the interaction he desired, he is now focusing full time on his YouTube work. Currently, he is working on his Dan 3.0 channel where he has turned his life over to his video subscribers who will plan his life for the next year.
If we look at Dan's comments we can see a number of areas that need to be considered. The first area is the nature of students. Today's students have grown up in a digital world where collaboration and social interaction is natural. They are no longer passive; they have become creators and contributors; they want to participate. Their world is full of open and free resources and information. Sitting and listening to a teacher using a chalkboard or Powerpoints for hours on end, just isn't appealing when their world is full of interactive media. Memorizing readily available facts, as Dan points out, just doesn't make sense.
If we walk around a college or university today we may walk by a number of different types of classes. Although the rooms may mostly be equipped for multimedia, a percentage will look as they may have looked a century ago. More and more students today are demanding online classes. Again, if we examine the different online courses, we would see a wide difference from extremely interactive to paper-based correspondence courses masquerading as online courses.
And it's not just Dan who sees the problems. Don Tapscott sees many of the same problems. He points out that a person frozen in time from a century ago would marvel at the changes in most professions, but if that same person entered a university it would look much the same because the model of education has not changed. Tapscott believes that the digital natives will force a revolution in education because they are so different.
Today and in the future, education will need to be more interactive and customized. Students need to be active in creating their own learning. Teachers will need to be more like facilitators or guides who present learning opportunities for students to investigate. The interaction will need to make use of more multimedia. The interaction will also need to be more social and collaborative. Today's students are connected to each other on social networks and they are used to collaboration, so opportunity for collaboration is, and will be, necessary.
Instead of a focus on printed textbooks that soon will be out-of-date, learning materials will need to be more current and more available digitally. Students today are used to free and available information 24/7; therefore, there should be more use of freely available open source materials. Learning tools of the future will include mobile and smart devices that can make use of augmented reality where students can interact in live environments with augmented reality characters and multimedia.
As students move more to alternate delivery models like online courses, there will need to be more options for anytime-anywhere ubiquitous learning. Online courses, blended classes and face-to-face classes will need to be more individualized, so that students can focus more on the specific parts they need. Assignments will need to be more authentic and related to real life experience. Students will still need to learn foundational information, but there will need to be more focus on self discovery. Faced with an overload of information students will need to learn valuable critical thinking skills.
It's going to take more than technology and tools to change education. There has to be a recognition of how our world is evolving and how that evolution is affecting our students. Sir Ken Robinson (see my blog post of May 25) talks about the need for change in education. He believes that an evolution is not enough; we need a revolution. Robinson sees current models of education much like standardized fast food.(Not too tasty or healthy, from my point of view.) Robinson believes that education needs to be more of an organic process where we create conditions under which education will flourish. To do this we must customize and personalize education where "people develop their own solutions but with external support based on a personalized curriculum." (Robinson, TED Talk)
I'm hoping and working for that revolution. The tools will help, but there's a mindset that needs to shift.
"A little revolution now and then is a good thing." Thomas Jefferson