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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

MOOCs, the XPRIZE join many others who will never change education

I have been in Computer Science nearly all my life, but I didn’t get interested in education until the early 1980’s. I looked at was going in computers and education work at that time and was unimpressed. Those who were doing that sort of work seemed mostly interested in tutoring programs that helped kids do algebra better or taping and sending out lectures in what was called distance learning.

I found these thing totally uninteresting and began to think about how to really use the power of the computer to build simulations or games or activities that would excite kids about learning. But, it was hard to get schools or publishers interested in what I was doing because they were committing to making no changes whatsoever in how education had functioned for the last 1000 years.

Well that was 35 years ago. What has changed? Nothing it seems. There was the MOOC craze, which is a different way of taping lectures. Fortunately this craze seems to be over.

This appeared in the Chronicle of High Education today:

Optimism About MOOCs Fades in Campus IT Offices

So, thats nice, nothing good will happen online for a while because of MOOCs, but we can stop pretending that education is about listening to lectures and passing tests and go back to thinking about how real learning has always been about trying to do something you want to do and having someone available who knows more than you do who is willing to help you do it. (Sometimes these are called teachers.)

But then I read this:

New $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE wants to disrupt education as we know it

Wow! Great! Someone with real money wants to change education. Oh, wait. Too soon to get excited. This is what they are worried about:

As Diamandis emphasizes, what’s needed is a new way of thinking about education if we plan to educate tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of children: “Traditional models of learning are not scalable,” Diamandis said. “We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers, which brings us to a pivotal moment where an alternative, radical approach is necessary.”
So, traditional models of education, (kids packed into classrooms all doing the same stuff despite their interests and being made to pass tests and listen to lectures) are not scalable! Right. That was the problem. If only we could have more of that stuff that has made children miserable for 2000 years:

“I believe that school makes complete fools of our young men, because they see and hear nothing of ordinary life there” Petronius Arbiter  (said in the year 60)
And, there won’t be any more teachers if the XPRIZE has its way:

“there won’t be teachers the way we think of teachers today. Even students learning autonomously will require much more peer-to-peer learning, in which students armed with apps and tablets teach each other about the world. Finally, there won’t necessarily be “courses” or “learning modules” involved in the next iteration of educational innovation. There will be software and apps, and it will be up to the prize teams to define exactly what these do.”
Their intention, as I understand it, is to eliminate the only things that matter in learning. These are, in my opinion:

  1. a goal
  2. a person who can help you more clearly define that goal
  3. people to work with towards that goal
  4. new goals that come from having accomplished that goal
  5. being able to fail and get help
  6. being able to write about and talk about what you have done
  7. fielding reactions from those who can help you improve what you have done
  8. getting help in thinking about what else you might accomplish

Instead they want kids on tablets using apps to learn the same old crap we have always been teaching but this time they are on their own. Yea!

I believe that learning is a conversation, as I have said in this space before. Technology is helpful to the extent that it lets you try to do things you might not have been capable of doing before. Design an airplane, start a business, plan a career, invent something. These require teachers (or mentors) and plans of attack and simulations, and expert advice. Now I still believe that technology can save education, but we need to define more reasonable goals

“We’re aiming at kids who live in villages where there’s nothing. This has to take them from complete illiteracy to basic reading, writing and numeracy.”
Or to put this another way, yet again, someone is trying to teach the same old junk. There is nothing wrong with learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is a problem with every subject taken after third grade however. The only thing that is good about the first three grades (apart from the 3 R’s) is the presence of the teacher. The teacher is what they want to eliminate.

Here is an idea. The best use of technology in today’s world would be to hook up those who want to learn with someone who wants to to teach them. You could learn a language on line by talking to someone who speaks that language on Skype. You could learn how to start a business by talking with business experts and discussing your plans. You could learn to think out and discuss complex ideas in a Socratic seminar lead by.... a teacher. The real value of the computer in today’s world is that everyone is connected. And, there are a lot experts (people my own age, who have little to do for example) who would be happy to mentor kids who wanted to do things that were not part of the existing school systems. The XPRIZE,  I assume, will soon have a prize for the computer that tutors algebra most efficiently and we will be back to where we started.


jake said...

As always Roger, I completely agree with you.

I am a pathological optimist, but my resolve is being sorely tested in education.

We are doing the right things though! For us, it is our second year operating the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. This year, we are full with a waiting list. Many pf our learners are still struggling with inquiry, but others are flying so far beyond expectations, it is so much fun to watch them go.

Everything that you mention that education should be, we are doing. It is incredibly exciting. If you are ever in Victoria, BC, we would love to have you at the school.

If there is anything I can do to help, please do not hesitate to ask.

With respect.

Yogisimo said...

My compulsive agreement with your ideas sometimes causes me consternation when considering blending change into the dominant education model. We have an extensive system of sewers which is under-engineered to handle the volume of rain water given the wild swings in storm water. Additionally, our town has combined waste/storm pipes which makes water reclamation more work than necessary for the plants responsible for cleanup. So too our education system is under-equipped to understand the modern problems of true education. What is the solution, tear down the schools and put in place an untested matrix of new inchoate systems, or slowly chip away at these staid lecturefied test driven models? One thing for sure the system works for the thousands of 100K plus retired workers.