School Daze: Time for Education 2.0
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Social Media is now truly social – permeating every aspect of everyday life across generations. It has spawned businesses that have become household names, from eBay to Amazon, and individual behaviors that are quite literally changing society. Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism demonstrates the explosive growth of social media and the new skills – listening, learning and sharing – it requires. Not only innovators and thought leaders – but also such institutional stalwarts as PBS and Library of Congress have embraced the moment and evolved.
Which begs the question: Where is the education community?
One member of it, David Wiley, has some thoughts on the subject. He’s the founder of Open High School of Utah and an expert in utilizing technology to advance education. Wiley identifies six characteristics of e-learning and suggests that while the education system has made some advancements, most institutions are greatly out-of-sync with digital culture and students’ real world experiences. Pedagogy and curricula, he asserts, must evolve quickly, or traditional schools will find themselves left behind with the other behemoths of the 20th century:
Wholesale change is not the solution. There are tangible, intermediate steps any institution can take to move closer to an education 2.0 environment. The greatest opportunities are currently at elementary and high schools, as these students are already immersed in social media. To begin, institutions should conduct a careful review of their assets to identify the best individual course of action. And while Wiley’s presentation suggests four areas for focus, we offer a few practical ways to begin bridging the divide:
Isolated to Connected
In 2007, anthropology students at Kansas State University made a succinct argument for a new, more connected kind of teaching. Educators can tap into a variety of online resources, from wiki-based assignments, Second Life classrooms and chat room-based discussions. Pioneering schools like Harvard see the potential and are exploring virtual classrooms and simulcasts to allow more students to participate, from residence hall to hometown.
Voice over internet protocol (VOIP) and webcam technologies can facilitate “side-by-side” learning sessions with students across, and potentially outside, the U.S. Reaching across these traditional boundaries teaches students about networking and reinforces the idea that their education isn’t restricted to the brick and mortar classroom, or field trips within the surrounding community. Such connectivity “democratizes” education and provides access to talented teachers and diverse perspectives, regardless of location.
Generic to Personal
Foreign Policy’s current issue discusses why bad times lead to great ideas, including personalized education. Author Howard Gardner asserts the movement will likely begin outside formal schools, initiated by “entrepreneurial vendors...and ambitious students and parents.” Progress will require more than a powerful marketing message. Schools must leverage the new and varied skills students are bringing to the classroom. Many students understand open source collaboration, gaming and online sharing capabilities better than their teachers. Allowing students to use their individual talents and personal resources to both learn and help teach others will enhance the learning experience and make lessons more relevant and applicable.
Consuming to Creating
Ethics have never been so important, nor have cheating and plagiarizing ever been easier. Entire industries are grappling with the changing notions of intellectual property. Google Images and Flickr grant instant access to millions of copyable, copyright images. Home computers provide easy-to-use editing software. And Facebook and YouTube make publishing and distribution simple. In an age of curation and mashups, schools must work with students to evolve traditional definitions of plagiarism and co-create guidelines for navigating today’s digital culture. In an environment where self-publishing is on the rise, educators can leverage these same resources to help students create their own original content as coursework.
Closed to Open
Schools have long been a test kitchen in which students could, often through trial and error, learn important social skills without fear that their mistakes could have long-lasting consequences. No more. The recent sexting controversy and Domino’s YouTube fiasco show just how personally and professionally damaging teen behavior can be when broadcast across open networks. Schools must place greater emphasis on social etiquette and teach students the consequences of their innocuous behavior. Students’ online personas aren’t separate from their real world reputations, and today’s repercussion reach far beyond peer ridicule.
The knee jerk reaction of some who hold out against change is that technology is making us stupid. That somehow real learning can’t be conducted without traditional models of instruction. But available research doesn’t bear that out. And the palpable tension between tradition/traditional standards and the opportunity afforded by new technologies is getting in the way of evaluating, deploying, testing and adopting new approaches.
There is no question that the pace of change at this moment in history is exhausting. At the same time, education is more important than ever to help fuel our nation’s competitiveness. Never before have there been so many resources to increase our reach and effectiveness. Businesses that hesitate to embrace the digital world are finding themselves obsolete. That’s the nature of creative destruction. But our educational system can’t afford to ignore the massive shift underway – and neither can our children. Educators, parents and business leaders must work together to align the methods we use in our schools with the methods we use in our lives. Nothing less than our future is at stake.