Nicola Wright & A Glimpse into the Future of Learning.

Nicola Wright.

Nicola Wright – Suspected Super-Blogger

Today we have a very special post from one of a colleague and compadre, .

Nicola is a student of Internet Communications with Curtin University, a professional blogger, mother, and homeschooler! Where she finds the time to write for herself is a mystery to me. I secretly suspect some kind of super-power, but shhhh!

This is a piece about the future of our schools, and whether or not we have created a world that no longer requires bricks-and-mortar learning institutions.

Are schools obsolete? The future of education in the information age

In the age of the Internet when we can find anything we want to know, when we want to know it, there is a growing question about the relevance of traditional learning models. The idea of teachers and school curating what we need to learn is fast becoming irrelevant. Why do we need to outsource to ‘educators’ decisions about what information is best for us know when we can access information about any topic at few clicks of a keyboard?

Education researchers are now making predictions about the future of education that sees it heading in the direction of self-organised learning (Richardson, 2012; Wheeler, 2013). It could well be that in ten years time we will see an end to testing and comparing students and ranking schools in order of those who are highest performing. What do those test scores mean anyway? No more than that a student has learned something for sole purpose of passing a test, which more that likely will soon be forgotten. Unless a student is engaged with the material they are presented it is unlikely that that information will stay with them long term. Just look at the Chinese education system for starters. They rank highly in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores but the students are pushed very hard; in high school they study 12.5 hours a day and identify as feeling ‘highly stressed’ (Hesketh et al. 2010). Yong Zhao (2009), a Chinese education expert describes this process as producing gaofen dineng which translates as ‘high scores but low ability’ brought about by students having no time to be creative or follow their own interest with ‘an absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning’ (Jiang Xueqin, 2010).

A Glimpse into the Future of Learning: www.knowledgeworks.org

A Glimpse into the Future of Learning: http://www.knowledgeworks.org

Rather than children having to adapt to a ‘one size fits all’ model of education with pressure to perform well in standardized testing, imagine an education where ‘radical personalization’ is the norm. Every child would have access to resources, both online and off, using hands on materials or within a one-on-one mentorship situation. Peter Gray in his book Free to Learn (2013) outlines his dream for non-coercive education in the future. In it he visualises publicly funded community centres where children (and adults) can come together to access resources and teachers on subjects that interest them. Members could be rostered on for cleaning and administration duties thereby providing opportunities for healthy multi-aged socialisation and development of stewardship and civic responsibility. Together with access to free online courses (think open universities and MOOCs) students would have access to all the tools they need to pursue their interests and career goals. Once they have developed the important skill of being able to assess the quality of information online (what’s the source?) the world is their oyster.

Schools of today are pretty much the same as they were 150 years ago. In the information age it’s now time to rethink the paradigm of top-down pedagogical structures and embrace the affordances of our digital present where information is in abundance and easily accessed. Real learning happens everywhere not just within the four walls of the school building. That’s SO old-school.

“I never teach my students. I only provide them with the conditions in which they can learn.”
– Albert Einstein

References:

A Glimpse into the Future of Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.knowledgeworks.org/sites/default/files/A-Glimpse-into-the-Future-of-Learning-Infographic_0.pdf

Gray, P. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. New York: Basic Books.

Hesketh, T., Zhen, Y., Lu, L., Dong, Z. X., Jun, Y. X., & Xing, Z. W. (2010). Stress and psychosomatic symptoms in Chinese school children: cross-sectional survey. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(2), 136–140. doi:10.1136/adc.2009.171660

Richardson, W. (2012). Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single). TED Conferences.

Wheeler, S. (2013, May 5). Self Organised Learning Spaces. Learning with “e”s. Retrieved from http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/self-organised-learning-spaces.html

Xueqin, J. (2010, December 8). The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703766704576008692493038646.html

Yong Zhao (2009), Catching up or leading the way: America education in the age of globalization.

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Depression – The Shadow Following Me.

In what seems to have become the norm for me now, this is another difficult post to write. Not because of the material, necessarily, but more because it involves making an admission to myself and, by extension, those who read this blog. Ordinarily, I try to avoid making distinctly “personal” posts. Instead, I try to direct the issue to a more generalised set of examples and then put in a little personal information. Instead, this is all about me.

The Cycle of DepressionI have recently been diagnosed as having chronic recurring depression. To those who know me personally, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It seems that those outside of it always manage to see the cycles much better than those on the inside of it all. But, there it is. What I thought was simply a lack of skills or ability to cope with the multiple stresses life was throwing at me, turns out to be a chemical imbalance inside my brain that means that I am physically incapable of dealing with a lot of what life gives me, without treatment.

Now, I know I shouldn’t feel bad for sharing the fact that I have depression. It’s not something to be ashamed of, and I’m not. What I am ashamed of is the fact that I let it get so far without asking for help, or without letting the people around me know what was going on before it got to this point. I had my suspicions. I knew something was up, but rather than heading to the doctor sooner, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have time. I didn’t have the money. It’d all be fine if I could just get over this assignment, or that interview, or this appointment. There was always something else to be done.

My relationship with my partner suffered. My relationship with my child suffered. My uni work has suffered. My work life has suffered. It wasn’t until all this was pointed out to me that I realised how long this had been going on for.

This is the first week of medication. It’s been difficult. The days of lethargy, the headaches, the inability to sleep despite being so tired – they have all taken their toll. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. People know now, and can help when I need them to. If I falter, they know what is going on, rather than not understanding at all.

This is not a call for those who feel they may have depression to go get help. That sort of thing doesn’t really work. It doesn’t matter how many people say you seem depressed, until you make the realisation yourself it holds no validity. This is simply a statement that once you do seek help, it does get easier. Not every day, because there are still ups and downs, but bit by bit it gets easier. It gets much easier when you know you’re not being foolish, that there is a medical reason you’re up at three in the morning crying for no apparent reason. That there’s a physiological cause of that lethargy. And once you are armed with that knowledge, that makes it easier to cope. Day by day, one step at a time, you can break down that cycle.

Self-Censorship is Everywhere.

In the decision to publish my last post, there was a greater amount of consultation with others than previously. The question was not whether or not the issue needed to be discussed, because I still maintain that it definitely did. The question was, “Will posting about this cause potential employers to discount my applications due to my writing?”

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Censorship by IsaacMao : flickr

I spent a good few weeks thinking about whether or not to write the post, and then a few more questioning whether or not I ought to publish it. As I said on Twitter and my Facebook page, it was the hardest decision I had made in reference to my blog to date. This post is a close second.

Why do we feel the need for self-censorship? Why do we feel that some things we know ought to be said should not be said by ourselves? That it needs to be said, but maybe by someone else? That “something” need to be done by “someone” else. Have we become so afraid of repercussions resulting from the right actions, as much as the wrong ones?

In the current global economic and political environment, I can excuse some of this fear. The need for a job, secure or otherwise, is paramount for most of us. There are bills to pay and roofs to maintain. There’s a need for food on the table, and transport to take us where we need to go. Everything is our lives depends on a steady income, which depends on us appearing to follow the status quo. Don’t rock the boat or you might lose your job, because there’s a million people just lining up to take your position from you. Or so we are told.

But what if that boat needs rocking? What if that “someone” who needs to do “something” never does? What if that someone is ourselves, and if we don’t take that first, scary, terrifying step to lift our heads, open our mouths and actually say something, then no one ever will? Have we become so institutionalised that we refuse to be the first to move?

There have often been complaints against “slacktivism,” suggesting that it is a lack of desire to actually effect change that drives the “likes” and sharing of stories, rather than actual getting off the couch and doing. Perhaps there is a different reason for the rise in the “slacktivist”? Liking something on facebook is a relatively safe activity. Sharing a story through social media is safer than actually joining an activist group and attending a protest. Especially if you have that all too useful “retweets are not endorsements” attached to your profile.

The fragility of our civilised lives has become our prison. We are too scared to act out, speak up or take a stand because this so-called life we have requires so many delicate, easily-removed aspects that we need to hold onto them, despite our desires to show the world who we are, what we actually believe in or how we really feel.

How many times have you been asked how you are going? How many times have you answered with something mediocre? “Yeah, fine. Thanks for asking,” or perhaps “Great. Yourself?” Why not something more truthful like, “Not so good today, but thanks for asking,” or maybe “You know, I’m feeling amazing today!” Because that would jar the sensibilities of the person asking. It’s not something expected. We have instilled within our society certain protocols that must be followed or we don’t know how to react. Think about it. If a stranger came up to you and handed you a flower, what would you do? Would you take it? Maybe, but you would feel that it was so far removed from the everyday that you would probably feel strange doing it.

What if a person on the street asked you to help them restrain someone you had seen assault another person? Would you help, or would that appointment you’re on your way to take priority? Maybe you’d be afraid to get hurt if the person being held tried to escape before the police arrived. Either way, you would be hesitant.

The same goes for speaking up about things we see as wrong. We are more inclined to do as little as possible to bring it into the light, not really committing ourselves to decisive action, just in case it turns against us. We have become a society so scared to act, so ready to self-censor our actions and speech, because we are holding onto the façade of a life most of us realise upon reflection is not the life we want to be living.

I’m not going to stand by and take a mediocre, safe stance on issues. I don’t want to be afraid to speak up anymore. As people were telling me when I was asking for advice regarding my last post, if someone doesn’t want to employed based on the important topics I write about (or some of the not-so-important ones), then they are probably not someone I want to be working for or with. If no one makes a stand, then the “slacktivists” amongst us will have no one to like or share.