If you’ve never watched (Sir) Ken Robinson’s RSA and TED talks on the changing paradigm of education, take some time to do so. It’s well worth it. Super inspiring stuff. I’ve come back to these talks every so often over the past few years as I’ve grappled with designing online education alternatives.
I’ve been an eager observer of (and participant in) the “educhange” movement that has emerged in the last few years. The change education is currently undergoing has been simultaneously exciting and frustrating to see. On one hand, there certainly is palpable disdain for the traditional system, real enthusiasm to change things up, and new tools that can allow for meaningful change to occur. On the other hand, traditional school systems at every level seem mired in the status quo, and while tools are changing at a rapid pace, systems are stuck in a distant past that no longer resonates with modern learners. As Sir Robinson points out, these systems were designed for a completely different era, and significant change has not really occurred in quite a long time.
We spend such an integral part of our life in school. We learn how to socialize. We attempt to find our identities. We develop relationships that come to define us. We (hopefully) become passionate about certain topics and strive to actualize our potential in these areas. Because of how fundamental schooling is in shaping our lives, it’s no surprise that we hold school dear as a cultural institution. And such deeply entrenched institutions are always the hardest to change.
But we must. The current system has been broken for some time, and worst of all, today’s students are not really being equipped to succeed in a new globalized, tech-centric world. Yet at the same time, school is more expensive than ever (side-note, if you’ve never read about Peter Thiel’s thoughts on the Education Bubble, check this out). It’s high time for disruption.
Here are some of my thoughts on what a “hacked/modernized” system would look like (and for anyone reading this, I’d be curious to hear what you’d like to see in a modernized education system).
Highlight the Best Teachers and Give Them a Platform to Reach More People
When it comes down to it, amazing teachers are the backbone of great education. We all have had that fantastic teacher that has fundamentally changed our life. And luckily, there are now platforms that allow the best teachers to broadcast to the world (the most notable are the “MOOCs” (massive open online courseware systems) – Cousersa, Udacity, MIT OpenCourseWare, and more). However, rather than being a nice-to-have option that people take on the side out of interest, these open online systems must become more meaningful and substantial (and eventually, allow people to prove the knowledge they have gained via some type of reformed credentialing system.. more on that below).
As well — we need to do a much better job of highlighting the work of our best teachers. They should have a special status in our culture. Teaching should even be seen as a potentially LUCRATIVE career path, not merely a selfless one. On this note, did you know that some “rock star” teachers in Korea make millions of dollars a year?!? While that is a bit over-the-top, it points to the fact that teachers ideally should have as much upward mobility as any other profession. We need more Dan Shiffmans of the world attracted to becoming teachers.
Less About Credentials and Testing, More About Real-World Performance
The usefulness of modern-day credentialing has largely run its course. What used to be an effective way to “prove” what one has learned, has now become outdated and ineffective. The piece of paper that says you went to Yale has become more important than the actual classes you took while there (and that piece of paper is why Yale costs a whole ton of money when most of its class content is available online for free). As Paul Graham nicely puts it, “an elite pedigree becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Meaning, once you’ve got that piece of paper, you’re set, whether or not you actually are a high-performing individual.
But this system doesn’t make sense anymore when people can learn through so many mechanisms outside of a traditional institution. That is why credentialing must be replaced by more meaningful real-world performance indicators. Code on GitHub or a blog of your work is a great example. Mozilla’s Open Badge Framework is super interesting (yet early). We need better systems here and much much more mainstream adoption.
Students learn in different ways and at different speeds. Rather than lump them all together in one progression that is the same for everyone, we need to give students room to go at a speed that makes sense for them. The best solution I’ve seen here is to flip the classwork/homework model: watch lectures at home (through video), and do actual work/exercises in class when the teacher can actually offer guidance. Our very own Nature of Code class is being conducted in just this way in the coming semester. I guarantee you it will work. It’s a better format.
Leverage the Long Tail
The Internet has created tremendous new dynamics, and one of my favorites is the long tail (wow, I didn’t know that ITP’s own Clay Shirky contributed to coining the phrase!). The long tail applies beautifully to education, wherein we can one day picture a system where there would be an expert teacher available to teach you literally anything at a moment’s notice — from filters in Photoshop to mitochondria in biology. In the tech world, lynda.com is going a great job creating a long tail system. We need more platforms like this.
Students Teaching Students
Who says the school dynamic HAS to be instructor teaching students? Don’t we all learn even more when we have to teach someone else the material? I believe classes should increasingly be centered around students taking an active agency in teaching the material they are learning (it’s proven that this makes students more active learners). Thus, an ideal class set-up would involve:
- Video lectures outside of class
- Work/Activities inside of class (with the instructor providing guidance)
- Student responsibility to take agency and teach parts of the class
These are just some of my ramblings, but I believe many of the above changes must happen for education to become more effective and meaningful for modern leaners. The system is broken. Buy hey, we’re the perfect people to fix it right?