Gadgets You Can Get Rid Of – and Pile Up These Outmoded Education Ideas, Too

Reading Sam Grobart’s article in the NYT yesterday http://nyti.ms/dRe6Eo I found it not only entertaining but pretty accurate. I happen to agree with most of his calls – though I think cheesing the USB Thumb Drive could be a bit immature.  Not every client, for instance will install software to see your stuff.  For now, I’ll take plug and play.  Kill the standalone GPS unit too – a BlackBerry with VZNavigator got me from New York to Holden, Maine (look it up – you won’t find it – though my phone did) as well as my onboard system – and it spoke to me in a much nicer voice.

Ok, so we’ll agree hardware ages out (the last CD is being pressed next week) to be replaced by a new technology or better yet new software offering easier information manipulation, connectivity and storage.  And the pace is accelerating at a ridiculous rate—beyond in most cases our needs or our ability to acclimatize to the environment this technology has created.

I wish the same rapid changes were true in both corporate and public education.  This way, even if a concept fails it can quickly be replaced by another, better one.  How many antique philosophical constructs, techniques and methodologies (and include tech here) must we throw into a crevice to melt in the instructional magma before we get the idea that there are many ways to resolve – and improve learning performance.  Educators, rooted in the 19th century, with some pretense at accepting 20th century thought, and a few 21st century models of knowledge transfer.

In an effort to be short—these items and ideas are top of mind and food for thought.  I invite your dialogue or arguments.  (This will be posted of the Heroes of Education Foundation Group on LinkedIn as well).

In schools:

1.       Shred the attendance book.  Are you seriously still considering – in the age of RFID, etc., attendees and students need to sign in?
2.       No such thing as a computer lab – laptops are cheap enough and accessible so why push anyone into a single use facility. Besides teaching computing is like teaching ‘pencil’.  And kids are way ahead of teachers anyway.
3.       There is no reason the person in the front of the room is the font of all knowledge.  Learners will come prepared differently since different questions will be asked and instructional approaches will have to take on a different flair. A good teacher accepts his/her role has changed.
4.       Don’t throw out ALL the books – just the ones that get worn out having been used for 2-3 generations of students (All novels, texts about grammar and the like, mathematics overtaken by utilitarian math on one side, theory on the other, Social Studies and Language Arts – don’t get me started – and the list burrows in throughout the curriculum .  Add to oversize volumes of art, travel, maps, though.
5.       Push open the fissure just starting to open that is decentralized learning.  We learn in life, not through an artificial construction of life.  Access to information and the ability to share–is the most democratic of ways means the ability to string together meanings, solving problems, building simulations of how to define what learning is.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach the requisite foundation building bricks of content – just differently and this is consistent with…
6.       Blowing up the school.  The savings in fuel costs between the boilers and buses will keep any district in laptops for years.  Meetings of learning cohorts have the entire environment in which to gather in a group.  Moreover, if you need a reference remember how school started: Socrates stood beneath a tree enticing those who sought knowledge to come and get it.
7.       Schedules – you must be kidding.  Everyone has a custom schedule – but all have to meet certain requirements.

In the corporate realm, adult learners bristle against having to learn something new – especially if they can’t see the benefit.

1.       All learning should be ‘line of sight’ that refers to two overlapping constructs.  Firstly, what is to be learned needs to be JIT and crisp enough so talent can realize how they will do better, enjoy more, have higher rates of satisfaction when they participate – now willingly.  The other part refers to evaluation.  Why bother to pull staff away from their tasks (which are now heavier than ever) unless management can determine that the input—courseware, etc.—yields a measurable, positive change; from attitude to the bottom line.
2.       Finally, like in schools, what about direct learning.  Is ILT still a viable concept?  We could come up with a half-dozen models to replace top down learning, recognizing, as adults, the freedom to learn by one’s own methodology and style still bears the responsibility of results that are tangible and measured.

There’s my not so small list.  To be sure, a realization that technology is school on a stick is necessary – you can take learning anywhere.  Corporations know this – when staff travels their laptops are precious cargo and many an airline passenger is heads down working on a training program.  Of course, the program might just be a recitation or page-turner that only defeats the real opportunity.

I don’t think we throw out everything – but I believe the foundation is shaking.  As our tools become even more ‘talkative’, the easier change will be.  And it will come, if not from our leaders than down from the streets – because the 16 year old and the 60 year old are closer than ever before and they’ll all want a revolution—or a vigorous evolution at least.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

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