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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The Australian Internet Filter.

All the cool kids are doing it, so why not me?

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Just in case you haven’t heard of what this is. Let me recap. In essence, the Australian government has already started paving the road for a mandatory internet filter of the internet for all Australian citizens. There will be a secret blacklist for sites that will be banned, which no one has access to. There is no real recourse if your site ends up on the list to get it off. There is no real disclosure on what might get your site onto this list, suffice to say the official line is: “Items refused classification”. This could anything deemed illegal, immoral or otherwise.

There’s that curly word again… Immoral. It’s a word that makes my skin curl. I am all for deciding that illegal thing should be banned. Child pornography, bestiality, those such things. But how do I know that even typing those words won’t get my site on the blacklist? But what if I have a site about polyamory? Homosexual health issues? There are some that would consider that immoral. Who is to say that what I am saying is or isn’t immoral? Who has control over the list?

Another issue that has not really been brought up has been the implications on academic internet research. Those researching potentially “suspect” subjects may find that they are not able to access such sites that contain articles concerning such things. Where will that leave our universities and other researchers?

What I am afraid of is this being just yet another extension of the Blame Game. What’s that, I hear you say? What I call the Blame Game is people suggesting the magical “someone” should that magical “something” about whatever. There is a trend that is growing in the world that we do not want to take responsibility for our own actions. Suing a major technological corporation over false advertising is one thing, but suing them if you were surfing, got dumped by a wave and ended up in a wheelchair claiming they needed to erect signs warning about the dangers of the surf is another thing. Take responsibility for your actions people!

In the same way, parents arguing that the internet has become too ubiquitous and “someone” needs to do “something” about keeping the children safe is just another attempt to forgo some hard-line parenting and discipline. I am not suggesting that you do not allow you children to use the internet at all, although if that works for you, go for it. What I am saying is educate your children on the right way to use it. Yes, that may mean NOT using the computer as a substitute for the babysitting television. Yes, that may mean actually sitting down with your children and using the computer with them. Yes, it may even mean that you have to go and educate yourself on safe internet practises. Heavens forbid you actually have to take time out of your schedule for the betterment and protection of your children! You decided to have kids. Go wild and actually be a parent to them. Stop using the magical “someone” and “something” to fix all your problems.

Why should adults be told what they can and cannot view? Australia already has some of what are viewed to be the most strict censorship guidelines in the western world. Surely we don’t need more restrictions? We seem to be making a bee-line for the ultra restrictive days of the 1930s where books were banned under the Indecent Publications Act (look up the first book to be banned: ‘Upsurge’ by J.M. Harcourt) for having communist tendencies and immoral leanings (yes, there’s that word again).

Even beyond that frightening trend is the fact that this filter will not stop future governments from banning to their own agenda. With the increasing power pressure groups such a Family First and others, developing significant say in the parliament through members we can only project that the future in one in line more and more with seemingly science-fiction films as Equilibrium and V for Vendetta. Harsh? Idealistic? You think? We see in other countries that panic spreads amongst people and they rally to a previously uncharismatic leader who finds strength in the people’s “time of need” (post 9/11 fiasco). We see that a coupe in Australian politics (K-Rudd vs Gillard) is viewed with disgust but no real outrage. We in Australia have become so terribly disconnected from our government that most are still unaware that decisions are being made in the parliament despite politicians not having read senate inquiry reports, not even waiting for them to be published before the vote is tabled!

“The concept of the Web is of universal readership.” – Tim Berners-Lee

The sad part is that the Web which runs on the internet, when invented, was never supposed to be ruled over by governments. It was supposed to be a depository for all the collective knowledge of the world. Yes, it may have gone a little out of proportion and out of control, but Tim Berners-Lee was on to a good thing when he said no government or corporation would have control over the whole web.

Make no mistake, this is a far-reaching topic that will go through unless there is a major outcry from those that our politicians supposedly have been elected to represent. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t felt very represented in the parliament of late. What can you do about it? There are a number of on line petitions and such useless ways of making yourself feel like you’ve done something, but if you rally want to do something about this, write your local member or senator a letter or email detailing what your concerns are. Call them. Make them realise that this is an actual problem that they can finally step up and act the valiant politicians just like they dreamed they could.

Want to know more about this topic? Here are a few links for you to take a look at:

The OpenNet Initiative.

The Australian Government Classification website.

The No Clean Feed website.

news.com.au: Enemy of the internet: Australia under surveillance for violating online freedoms.

Communications minister Conroy misleading public about the filter.

 

Image courtesy of Sally06 on Flickr