On a joint edtech project with a teacher recently, I was told ‘I am happy for you to choose the pictures.’ Whether or not this teacher was intentionally insulting is beside the point – it is not the first time I have heard the digitisation debate seeming reduced to a largely irrelevant aesthetic choice. There seems to be this relatively common misconception about the purposes and processes of digital education. This could be addressed on two levels – resource design and teaching design.
“Reinvent.” That was the giddy catchword of a plan by the University of California to create an all-digital “campus” that would revolutionize higher education by providing courses online for students shut out of the system’s brick-and-mortar classrooms at a time of high demand but falling budgets. Three years later, the Online Instruction Pilot Project has become another expensive example of the ineffectiveness—so far, anyway—of once-vaunted plans to widen access to college degrees by making them available online, including in massive online open courses, known as MOOCs.
Almost twenty years ago, the World Bank president was scheduled to visit some schools in Uganda. Around that time, the Bank was exploring the possibility of investing in videoconferencing to connect its offices, and those of its counterparts in government ministries, to each other as a way to promote more regular dialogue (and, it is probably worth noting, to save some travel costs as a result).
Do schools kills creativity? Sir Ken Robinson (we’ve learnt to be wary in the UK of anyone whose first name is ‘Sir’) has achieved saintly status through his three TED talks and RSA animation, on this very subject. It is difficult to go to any educational conference without being assaulted by the accusation that ‘Creativity’ has been sacrificed on the altar of traditional education and schooling. Robinson’s main thrust is that all children are born ‘creative’ and that school knocks it out of them. I'm not so sure.
Maybe I'm weird but when I'm at a concert and the singer says "come on everyone clap your hands!" or "everyone get up and dance" I instinctively dig in my heels and refuse. I simply don't like being told to enjoy myself or being forced to participate. If I want to I will but I don't like being ordered to.
I'd like to return to one of my favourite topics of late - online participation or the lack of it. Just as it is quite normal to appreciate music without dancing or singing along, we need to accept the fact that many people can learn a lot without actively taking part in discussions and group work. In fact one important phase in learning is a period where you silently observe and listen to those with more experience and tune into the field you are studying.
One effective way to learn is to use Social Media un-sociably. The traditional term for this is Lurking – hanging around a discursive space online without speaking up. It’s an inherently negative sounding term with connotations of voyeurism and surveillance – a fundamental aspect of not being embodied online. For example, if you attend a lecture but don’t ask a question you presumably aren’t Lurking because people can see you?
Jay Cross has written an interesting article, Should Learning Content be in Perpetual Beta? The concept of perpetual beta is several years old now and typifies the innovation spirit behind a lot of the dotcom boom. Beta versions used to be test versions of a product that only a select few could use in order to iron out problems before official release. Only a fully tested product could be sold to customers. However in the rush to keep ahead of the competition companies started releasing beta versions for public use, generally for free, encouraging users to test and give feedback on the faults. Google became very clever at making these beta tests by invitation only and the chosen few felt privileged to be test pilots.
What is a "beta version"? "We could take beta off all of our products tomorrow, and we wouldn't actually have accomplished anything...If it's on there for five years because we think we're going to make major changes for five years, that's fine." Google co-founder Larry Page Beta is the last, still buggy, version of software …
Remember ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson. It was in the NY Times Bestseller list for 220 weeks and was published in over 29 lnguagesgreat book, beloved by book clubs, a perfect story of heartfelt anecdotes, real schools in rural areas lifting people out of poverty. Except it wasn’t (many of you may know this, I didn;t). His stories turned out to be largely fiction, the money misspent, schools not built and when they were, they failed as they had no on-going support. Underlying this mess was a dangerous premise – that charity-fed schooling solves the problem of poverty.
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