Friday, 26 August 2011

Blended Learning and Relevant Classrooms

I'm feeling the synchronicity of two educational situations at the moment. I'm presenting this on Monday next at our Board's learning fair, and I just went in for an interview for a curriculum leader position in technology/elearning.

The topic of the learning fair is 'student engagement' but I think this is the answer to the wrong question. Engagement implies trying to tailor your teaching to make it palatable for students. Engagement is what you get when you look at the bigger picture and become relevant, it isn't a goal in itself.

I was asked today in the interview what the future is for blended learning. In this case, blended learning implies a hybrid of elearning/in-class learning and technology. I don't think there is a future in it, I believe it is the future, at least if we want to get an increasingly irrelevant (due to the pace of change) school system to recognize the scope of the changes happening in the world around us, and make a meaningful attempt to prepare our students for the deluge ahead.

Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google had a rather profound quote, I use it in the prezi:

"Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. I spend most of my time assuming the world is not ready for the technology revolution that will be happening to them soon,”

If the world isn't ready, education is even less so.

In the interview I described students' out-of-school life as a torrent of data, like standing under Niagara Falls; it's a stimulating, multi-directional, multi-disciplinary stream of information on many topics delivered in many different formats in rapid succession. We then get them into a class room and dribble information at them, out of a teacher's mouth, out of a text book, all of it stale, uni-directional and non-interactive; then we wonder how to engage them.

In the meantime I'm seeing students mismanage and drop information and connections they should be making because they can't manage the information being streamed at them. They don't know how to make most effective use of their technology, often using smart phones in the dumbest possible ways. They don't know how to effectively vet and prioritize data and find ways to make useful, actionable connections from it.

We certainly don't teach effective data management and analysis in our in-class information dribble of chalk boards, rows of desks and one-person-speak-at-a-time last century classes.

Blended learning, where teachers make use of the sea of data swirling around us and teach students to swim, not sink is the first step towards a relevant education system that actually prepares students for what they are likely to face. But preparing them for the data storm requires that we use the technology being developed to manage it, and the friction is great from a conservative educational standpoint.

When I was a kid, I was big into Astronomy. I memorized the nine planets, and even the big moons. Since August 2011, we've discovered almost 600 planets (even including Pluto's demotion) and average about twelve new discoveries a week. The whole time I was growing up, there were only nine planets, we're on the verge of discovering multitudes. Astronomy is just one of EVERY FIELD OF STUDY that is facing this data onslaught.

Information isn't the limited, simple, permanent, sacred collection of knowledge it was once perceived to be. We have to stop teaching to the book and start teaching to the evolving datasphere.