In many parts of the world, the new school year has already begun or is just about to begin.
2011 has been a year that was characterized by social upheavals, earthquakes, hurricanes and global financial turmoil.
There is a looming sense that the world of tomorrow will not be the same as today to such an extent that it’s impossible to predict what will happen even a month from now.
The word crisis has become a household term for what may in reality just be genuine change that brings both challenges and opportunities.
The new school year is such an opportunity, not in the sense of an institutional sequence but as a new season of learning and growth.
So, whether you are a student or a teacher, learning online or offline, in private or public schools or at home, here are a few questions to consider in the wake of change as pertaining to education and learning:
1. Has Technology Become Part of Nature?
There are two kinds of general approaches to technology and education these days:
– the classicist
Technology is understood as an intrusion into the traditional corpus of literacy, rhetoric, etc. It has no function in the classroom except in specialized cases (such as computer and/or media studies) or as peripheral devices enabling screenings of educational videos, etc.
– the tech-head
This approach is the complete opposite and very popular among educational start-ups. The idea here is that technology will magically improve education by removing the human factor and making it interactive and fun again.
Both of these approaches are not really an adequate response to the current situation.
Technology, to kids growing up today is not something out of the ordinary which has to be resisted or presented as a novelty.
Instead, it’s merely a part of everyday life. Not using it would be like refusing to eat and drink.
And presenting it as “revolutionary” would make just as much sense as advertising cutlery as a life-changing way of eating.
2. Is Collaboration The New Originality?
Closely linked to a changing understanding of media & technology is the conception of original and rip-off, of “original thought” and mere copy & pasting, of individual intellectual property and collaborative creativity.
Many teachers and professors are still not comfortable with the fact that there’s a lot of knowledge to be gained outside of their classes, lectures or designated text-books.
In fact, by merely reading a Wikipedia article every day and following up on and cross-checking their data, a person could gain an extraordinary body of knowledge without ever setting foot into a classroom.
But when a student copies and pastes a Wikipedia article and hands it in as an essay, that’s something else.
Where are the boundaries between this copy-cat behavior and our somewhat romantic ideas of “original thought”?
If all factual knowledge is just a click away, the demands made to students are shifting.
Is an original thought something which is happening in a vacuum and out-of-context?
Or is every original thought based on other original thoughts?
What are the rules and regulations upon which a student is allowed to use and required to cite his sources?
Should Creative Commons (or other models) be systematically taught?
What is the creative value of a “mash-up”, a remix?
Also, if someone can copy large parts of his university doctorate thesis and get an official seal of approval from his university and only be found out many years later by non-institutional volunteers, what does that say about the value of a doctorate and the university as a whole?
3. Discovery Instead Of Lectures?
The widespread use of technology enforces a certain way of learning.
Many children will find out intuitively how to unlock certain functions of a program simply by trial and error whereas older generations might be more cautious and demand reading a manual first.
Actions like uploading a picture, refining your search keywords, dealing with privacy settings, re-setting your password and many other micro-actions have become as important as being able to spell your name.
For many of us, using technology is not really an option. Whether we need to send a document, book a flight, buy books or listen to music – we do it all by using the Net and technology.
While this does create a new psychological pressure it also helps to train a mindset of discovery.
We don’t know what we are going to find when we Google something in the same way we used to know what to expect when we asked for a certain book in the local library.
The ability of constantly being presented with new data and new circumstances therefore favors the intuitive, not the normative learners.
One thing is for sure: In the future, technology will not become less important, the opposite seems more likely.
But is education of today preparing people to stand in this new world?
4. Social Skills Over Mental Juggling?
When any factual knowledge can easily be retrieved through your phone or home computer, there is no need to go to school or university in order to acquire this knowledge, except in rare highly specialized cases.
This is very important because it means that education institutions have lost the monopoly on knowledge.
They are no longer the only source of high quality information.
Have they internalized this fact and accordingly shifted their emphasis to other areas?
Or are they still locked in debates trying to establish themselves as the true holders of knowledge and the Net and all of its endless resources as mere rip-offs and unreliable lay-person work?
One of the areas that Internet and Technology can not (yet) supply is the exposure to a face-to-face social environment.
Are teachers and professors capitalizing on this and engaging students in active social participation, creating feedback and training scenarios – or are they trying to compete with Information Technology instead?
5. Changing Class-Rooms For A Changing Future?
The future of work is uncertain, to say the least.
Already now, global unemployment is rising because machines have made many repetitive tasks obsolete.
If the role of education is to prepare people for the future, we need to know what the future looks like.
But since everything is changing at such a breathtaking pace it’s hard to predict anything.
If this sense of uncertainty is the only certainty we have, what do we need to change about the way we learn and teach?
On the other hand we can be relatively sure that technology will not go away. Information will continue to accumulate. Communication will proliferate across all channels.
Taking all these factors together, what are the skills and requirements for the future?
There is a lingering hope that the past will return with all its predictable inevitability, leading to economic stability, normal weather and diplomatic linearity.
But what if it doesn’t?
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