For the last two summers I was able to study in Geneva for 3 weeks with some amazing people from around the world. Truth be told, many were from Michigan, which is a fantastic place to be when it comes to education, despite news of our budget problems and crippling unemployment. This summer was a chance for many of my fellow graduate students to have a discussion about the convergence of education, web 2.0, and the foundations of democracy. We talked with NGOs, United Nations representatives, and were even privileged to talk with a family from France that had just formed a new NGO dedicated to engaging the youth of France, and ultimately Europe, to become productive members of society.
Apparently, the unemployment rate of people under 30 in Europe is appallingly high, and growing. The problem is, many youth in Europe, and ever-growing in the States, feel disenfranchised, disconnected, and unable to contribute to society. I’m still considered young, and I see evidence everyday of baby boomers and older generations with nervous or apprehensive outlooks of the future. They concern themselves with cultivating new leaders that will carry on what they’ve started, while still trying to preserve what they’ve been toiling away at for the last 30 or 40 years. I’ve talked with people that profess their pessimistic views of the future of our country, and the world. I’ve seen veteran educators that try to stay relevant, only to slip away at the end of the year, in a quick and quiet announcement of retirement.
And in a way, I share their anxiety. Several decades of established protocol, decorum, rules and regulations built upon year after year can often create fortresses of impenetrability around institutions. The older the institution, the closer they are to feeling like a forbidding castle on a high sea cliff with vast armies protecting their domains. And technology is here to destroy that.
With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, entire media empires can be overturned, national politics can be swayed, and historically close-minded institutions can be undermined. Several large educational (and some old) institutions have found ways to thrive in this new digital revolution. MIT has been wildly popular with their OpenCourseWare in iTunes U. Most large universities and colleges in the U.S. now require laptops of their incoming freshmen, and you can earn an entire degree online. And yet, there are still cases where schools still want to defend their domain from the “evils” of the Internet.
The truth is, technology isn’t going to destroy our future, it’s destroying the clear roadmap for the future that the past has traditionally provided us, or rather the notion of what used to be “good” teaching. Case in point, an excellent blog post from John Sowash describes a wonderfully amazing trans-formative experience he’s had with technology in his classroom. Rather than rely on the old model of direct instruction and lecturing to teach his high school Biology courses, he has managed to successfully “flip” his classroom through reverse instruction. By providing lectures via video podcasts, John assigns his students “homework” of downloading, watching/listening the lecture while taking careful notes. His classtime is then filled with what would normally be homework and individual instructional time.
By leveraging the ability to post the least effective form of instruction for students to digest on their own, he has made his class time with them much more valuable, by working through direct application of learning and exercises that are greatly enhanced by having the teacher present. That means no more as students giving up at home when they might have hit a roadblock doing homework.
This is just the tip of the ice-berg. I know a great deal of educators doing tremendously amazing things with technology, and there are more coming into the school systems each year. The future of education as we know it is crashing down upon us, as it is currently being rewritten each and every week. Walls are crumbling, barricades are failing, and the educational experiences of our past, which built the massive lumbering towers of our educational landscape will begin to look more like the spindly legs of a small step stool. Not sturdy enough for any practical job, but good to enough to get us started with the real work of making education truly trans-formative.
Image: ‘Post-Katrina School Bus’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/73207064@N00/88841552