A conundrum we face is that two of the greatest assets for education often also present two major obstacles (aside from the largest and most obvious obstacle of finance). Policy and teacher experience have helped to hurdle past education goals in the United States and have been responsible for creative and unique solutions to critical issues facing the education of our nation, and no one denies the hard work that educators put into their teaching. However, many policies and a stark difference in those teacher experiences have also provided an unfortunate arena for education to stagnate in critical areas. At times, it seems as though decades separate our modern technological world from the world of education leaving many students, teachers and parents frustrated. This special session on the future of education dives closer into the heart of the matter as [KM Q&A!] wraps up 2012.
UPDATE: See Part II of this interview, where University of Tennessee's Professor Susan Benner chimes in with prolific answers to these questions.
For this session, the [KM Q&A!] Bot has received the kind assistance of multiple experts.
First, we have with us Professor Paul Kim, the current CTO and Assistant Dean at Stanford University's School of Education. Professor Kim has served over 15 years as a higher education executive with a B.S. in C.S. and both an M.S. and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Technology. One of Professor Kim's latest state-of-the-art classes was a newest addition to Stanford's Venture Labs program, "Designing a New Learning Environment." Our [KM Q&A!] Bot participated as an auditor in this game-changing free online class, where participants around the world formed their own teams and collaborated new educational technologies.
Next, we were able to catch up with Professor Tony Valley. Professor Valley's dissertation for his Ph.D. in Education Leadership at Portland University dealt with Oregon charter schools. Professor Valley has over 30 years experience in public education as a teacher and administrator, and has taught at the university level for nine years. Recently, Professor Valley has focused on many aspects of the future of education.
Finally, futurist James Breaux was able to send his perspective. James Breaux is a graduate student of Futures Studies at the University of Houston College of Technology M.S. program. James also has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering. As a Futures Studies M.S. grad, ongoing research often points James to educational futures presentations and materials and he lends his own unique view.
KM Q&A! Bot: What is the most pressing issue facing education today?
Professor Kim: Social DNA issues, resistance to change and teacher qualifications for the 21st century classroom.
Professor Valley: There is significant tension between the convergent (standardized education/Common Core state standards) and divergent thinking (critical and creative thinking/differentiated instruction) forces in education. I am persuaded that the move toward standardization is not effective—We should probably be thinking about educating children/adults to be able to work in jobs that have not yet been invented. Critical and creative thinking get us there—Standardization does not. Yong Zhoa (2009, 2012) has a lot to say about this.
James Breaux: Value, relevance and educators.
QA: What are your immediate thoughts and concerns about the future of education?
PK: School systems are actually a limiting factor for students to reach their full potential.
PV: My immediate thoughts/concerns are these:
1. We need to shift dramatically away from the standardized approach we are currently taking. In the end I do not believe it will get us where we need to be.
2. We need to stop politicizing education—Education is property of neither of our two major parties, nor is it an issue for either party to demagogue to gain votes. Education should be an area of political agreement.
3. I am concerned that we do not do enough for students who are not academically inclined, but have skills in other areas. We need to do more for them, which is where the DIY/Makerspace movement can help.
QA: We take that last point to mean that Makerspaces can help add value to functions at schools, such as with the hopeful Makerspace MENTOR program which intends to engage 1000 high schools over the next few years through DARPA grants. DIY groups and shop/tech/art classes are certainly filled to the brim with the academically-inclined, but I see your point that a large benefit will be engaging those students with academic needs as well. Mr. Breaux?
JB: Addressing the value proposition issues. What if the Commercial model swings back to in-house R & D – by a change in tax laws or some other unintended driver?
QA: Back to another great topic, Professor Valley mentioned Makerspaces and DIY movements as an asset in education. Where do recent DIY movements such as Makerspaces fit into the future of education?
PK: They will help transform and mold future education space.
PV: I think they have a lot of potential. It is interesting that this is a movement that seems to have risen independently of schools, but is one schools should be moving to adopt. It addresses some of the issues I referenced above about critical/creative thought and the need to attend to students who have other talents and skills outside of traditional academics. Moreover, this movement taps into the American cultural DNA—We have always been a nation of tinkerers and inventors.
JB: I believe that the splintering of the post industrial education model will see many trials of alternate skills development methods, venues and processes.
QA: The Common Core Standards initiative has been mentioned, where many more elements of education in the United States are becoming standardized. How do you feel about the Common Core Standards initiatives set by the US Department of Education?
PK: Quick patch work without clear vision or appropriate ICT innovation.
PV: I understand their attraction and purpose—It seems to be a drive to make a “one-size-fits-all” system even more so. Once again, we are looking for the magic education bullet that does not exist. I am not convinced that this is the right move to make.
JB: In general I am in favor of benchmarking and performance metrics. I well understand that unintended consequences are often the result of well meant rule sets and process tweaks, but in general, setting thoroughly thought-out and widely agreed standards can be helpful if we don’t lose sight of the mission to be accomplished and are willing to adjust as poor results come to light.
QA: Let's switch topics for a moment. Moodle is an open source online learning environment, very popular in use. The First Annual Moodle Research Conference in Crete-Greece this year intended (2012) among other important items to tackle accessibility and interoperability issues with its platform and other technologies. How do you feel about open educational resources?
PK: They can be good, but not close to being enough to make a dent in current flawed education systems.
JB: I like the idea. The main issue I see with OE and MOOC is accreditation. What does the accomplishment mean to those that would engage the student? If you have a traditional degree in a specific field from one accredited college or another the training of the student can reasonably be supposed to be similar. This is an issue that is under consideration and its solution will add value to open ed.
PV: I really like what Academic Earth, Khan Academy, MIT, Stanford, iTunes University, et.al. are doing. It gives people a chance to learn things they might not otherwise be able to learn. Moreover, this highlights the idea that learning does not always take place in a classroom under the guidance of a teacher. And the materials I have looked at closely (specifically Academic Earth and MIT courseware) are terrific.
The Digital Badges movement (with Mozilla and UC Davis as exemplars) is also a very interesting idea. Done right, it could revolutionize education and how we view academic credentialing. It would not surprise me that some universities are exploring it, and that some entreprenuers are looking for ways to promote, monetize, and profit from it. The movement ultimately could be a good or a not so good thing—It is too early to tell on that.
I have read a bit about Massive Open Online Courses, but do not know enough about them just yet to offer a real opinion, other than to say if it promotes greater access to learning and ideas, then I say it will be a great thing.
QA: Moving on, what are important considerations for the future of educational technologies?
PK: Learning analytics, mobile technology and global classroom technology.
JB: Delivery to many platforms, censorship, overcoming social interaction barriers inherent in technologies today, credibility and relevancy.
PV: I think there are four considerations/questions here:
1. Access—Every student needs full, at home, on demand access to get the most out of their education. The digital divide is real, and has to be addressed in a real way.
2. Curriculum—How can we leverage technology to make curriculum better? Some online schooling companies I am aware of (Aventa and K-12 are two examples) are making sharp gains in this area.
3. Learning skills—Students need to know/use good learning skills to make the most of their technology access. This requires good teaching.
4. Teaching skills—Teachers need to know/use good teaching skills to help students make the most of their technology access. Right now, that is often not the case: The vast majority of teachers are just scratching the surface with their knowledge/use of technology. As young people enter the teaching ranks, this will change—the concern here is for the people who are already teaching—How will they gain the skills (and the confidence to use them)?
QA: On that note, do you have any advice for future teachers?
PK: Embrace the wind of change and be as proficient as students about available technologies.
PV: I have three pieces of advice:
1. Learn all you can about good teaching methodology (particularly differentiation of instruction). This sets the baseline for your teaching practice. Then, put it in motion in your classroom with your students.
2. Take your ongoing professional development very seriously. Read widely (and not just in education), attend conferences and workshops, travel, volunteer, learn new technology skills, etc. The world is changing and what you learn in education courses about teaching just scratches the surface. There is always more to learn.
3. You should be ready for anything—Anything can happen.
The “Agile Mind” wins.
JB: Teaching is hard – make sure that you set your life up to balance the hard with the rewarding. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Do not stop learning – not just the required continuing education stuff, but the gee whiz, ah ha, I wish I had known that years ago stuff too.
QA: What about advice for students and parents?
PK: Learn beyond classrooms and keep up to date with technology and leverage.
PV: I have three pieces of advice:
1. Take your schooling seriously. Learn your basic reading, writing, and math skills very well. And, learn all you can about critical and creative thinking. This will be a constant need for any future employment opportunities.
2. Learn all you can about technology and how it enhances learning. Technology will likely be a constant need in any future employment opportunities, and having those skills will matter.
3. Work to develop good character skills—Integrity, honesty, reliability, etc. This makes you a good future employee and a better person.
JB: Listen to each other. Know why you are going to school – your reason; be able to say it and write it down. If you believe it you will accomplish what you want and when what you believe changes you will know what to do. Find an advisor at the school that you trust; don’t settle for anything less – go to the head of the department if you can’t find that advisor.
Debt is like cancer – you can recover from a little bit if you catch it early enough.
QA: Any closing thoughts?
JB: The topic of education is on everyone’s mind right now, but it always is. It is a worthy topic. We live in an age of the monetization of everything, but education contributes many valuable intangibles as well.
PV: Thanks for the opportunity. These are big ideas and we need to talk about them, and act upon what we decide to do.
QA: Any questions for our readership?
JB: Yes. Thank you. A train leaves Pittsburg at midnight going 70 miles per hour… Just kidding, but seriously – what do you think about the math/sciences deficit between the US and other countries? Does our imagination/creativity/risk-taking culture continue to trump this creeping educational advantage or do we begin to fall behind in the intellectual economy and wind up back in our manufacturing economy?
PK: When teachers are resistant to changes and are no longer able to facilitate the kinds of new learning activities possible in today’s classrooms, what do we do with them?
Read more about Makerspace MENTOR, partnered with DARPA: http://mentor.makerspace.com/
Also, see the recent article at Makerspace.com: "Research Roundup: Some Studies on Making and Learning"
As a note, Knox Makers' own local education systems and schools work to improve education in our area with unique programs and initiatives that have won national awards and mentions. As a contrast, there are also factors of education in Tennessee that are heavily criticized for poor or below average assessment. UTK's VolsTeach program was recently recognized as a state model in STEM. Knox County Schools show impressive progress with over 90 percent graduation rate, but there is still a lot of critical improvement needed and being pursued. Different stances on best courses fuel differences between strong conflicting views about how to pursue education improvement best in Tennessee, but hopefully education quality in the state advances with positive momentum in coming years.