2008/10/16

Education as It Happens 1

It has been some time since I felt that I had anything to contribute to the narrative I have been constructing on this topic over the past few years. As part of my initial forays into the miasma that is education within the scientific-technological wave (Toffler 1982) or paradigm as it is now characterised, I initiated a series of interviews with people I considered to be luminaries in the area of education and the use of technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience.

For this post I want to try and shape my narrative around the recent book by Clayton Christensen, called Disrupting Class. He and his co-authors have taken the lens with which they first gained fame: disruptive innovation and focussed it on education in the 21st century. They argue that much change is essentially impossible due to the entrenched ideologies and competing interests groups that currently drive the educational experience. That said, they do hold that with the arrival of online learning -- the first truly disruptive educational experience since the move from the one room classroom -- the same disruptive potential for change is now upon us. I need not review all the points they make here, but I do think that most readers will concur that the era of monolithic instruction is coming to an end. The one size fits all approach driven by the 'Sage on Stage' mentality is giving way to something much more robust and engaging: the 'Guide on the Side'.

While those of us who been in education - for say, the last 25 years or more - will likely agree that there is nothing radical or innovative about this notion, here in Singapore, and other Asian educational systems (where the monolithic impulse is firmly entrenched - and who can argue with test results, eh?), this movement towards 'active learning' represents a sea change on the swirling waters now that characterise digitally enabled learning. These waves now lap the shores of our current educational systems.

When I initiated my interviews for 'Education as IT Happens' I was trying to determine if there was some general consensus among educational leaders with whom I collaborate, as to how we can transform the educational experience in the digital age. If you have the time and inclination they can be previewed at this link. When we talk about this transformation, it is clear that there are many voices shouting into the winds of change: some with the true purpose of advancing the educational narrative; others with self-interest or aggrandisement as their only agenda. Sadly, I feel many fall into the latter category. I am especially concerned about the leading role that technologists are taking in shaping the agenda, especially given their limited understanding of the teaching and learning process. The 'if I build it they will come' mentality pervades most IT cultures that I currently encounter.

There exists a continued flutter of excitement about Web 2.0 and the advent of social networking tools. I find this particularly unsettling, not because I haven't tried them, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Delicious etc, but precisely because I have; and they do little more than extend the social interactions that are part and parcel of the face-to-face experience that characterises school education and family life in general. Mostly, I find they have practical utility for encouraging interaction and dialogue with friends and family who live and work at some distance. In my case, and with respect to my family who are halfway around the world from me, it is through the use of these tools that I am able to nudge and prod on a fairly regular basis (once a week) to keep abreast of their developments. The bigger question is: Would I do that if they lived around the corner. In my case, not likely, as each of us has distinct lives and interests which are not always correlated.

I believe that what is not examined is the potential which the internet and such tools have for enlarging and transforming the global village. I fear that we continue to advocate for the use of these tools in the wrong environments. We don't seek the synergies possible by having learners interacting -- within structured curriculum experiences -- to deal, for instance, with larger and pressing issues, i.e., the ability of our present land, water, and air resources to sustain this and future generations. But I digress. It requires a great act of will to change the old, to disrupt the known—and I fully admit that I am as quick to resist change as the next guy, save when a logical and reasoned argument supported by real examples is given. Such is the nature of the dialectical approach.

We move forward within this penumbra, not through dictated responses or bullying by those whose exercise of office comes from the power of the role—or assumed power- as opposed to the power of intellectual discourse.

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