Changing the way we teach and learn is difficult.
But, last week I realized how education is being radically disrupted by new technologies.
Not all of my colleagues agree. And I have to admit that if you are active as a teacher or interested in education, you might think that education hasn’t changed much over the last few decades.
Of course, we are all making more use of digital technology. But many people think the “essence” of teaching (transferring knowledge, information and skills) hasn’t dramatically changed.
This is a mistake. Things are already different.
In a digital age, education is less about students acquiring knowledge. Instead, the classroom of the future focuses on offering an experience that builds the capacity for living and working in a world of artificial intelligence, connected machines and automation. And such an experience can only be “successful” if it spurs curiosity, unleashes creativity, and demands teamwork.
No doubt, accepting and embracing this change can be a little frightening. But, it also makes me feel excited and invigorated.
Here then are three takeaways from last week’s events
First, my wife found an op-ed piece in the local newspaper on the need for education reform.
The article was about how many schools in the region aren’t paying enough attention to new and disruptive technologies. At least, new and disruptive technologies are not being integrated into the curriculum in the “right way”.
The key point? Schools are still preparing students for the old world.
This not only hurts the students. It is bad for everyone. We need to have a better understanding of new technologies and their possible application. This is the only way to ensure that we are preparing young people for the future.
Of course, new technologies have been introduced in school curriculums.
Yet, the typical approach has been a conservative one, focusing on explaining rather than using technology.
Instead, schools need to focus much more on offering a platform for understanding, experimenting and then co-creating with technology. “Hands-on” engagement in small teams is the best way of inspiring the younger generation and showing them that innovation is important and fun.
The fact that a rather “conventional”, local newspaper pays attention to the tech makeover of the school curriculum convinced me that the way we are thinking about education has really changed. The pressure to embrace this new ethos is irreversible.
The second event was a discussion amongst my colleagues about teaching materials and assignments appearing on file share sites, such as Course Hero.
Some colleagues were upset that their course materials and assignments were being uploaded without permission. They argued that students are prohibited from posting any materials unless they have the express consent of the teacher and the school.
Several teachers suggested that students should be sent a warning that file sharing is an infringement of school rules and uploading of such materials will be disciplined.
The question is whether this is the right approach for a digital age.
Of course, I understand the copyright issues with sharing such materials.
But compare this trend of “content sharing” with the music industry and the disruption that Napster introduced in 1999. Educators can try to delay the use of “open source” teaching materials, but change is inevitable.
Instead, it may be smarter to embrace the idea of “content sharing”.
A more open approach to “information” is already happening.
There is a plethora of online resources that students can choose from to learn and understand particular topics. Think Coursera, EdX and iTunesU to name just a few open learning systems. It makes no sense to focus on “protected” knowledge-based content when such information is available from multiple online sources.
If teaching is focused on new technologies and cultivating curiosity and creativity, then traditional materials are not a key differentiator anymore. It is the ability to “teach” students how to learn and work in a digital age that adds genuine value and not the ability to transfer information.
In that respect, traditional “teaching materials” play a less important role in education. Classwork, as well as “exams” will take the form of “apprentice style group assignments” and competitive components will be more common in the classroom.
Instead of traditional materials compiled by teachers, students will acquire much of the necessary information themselves from websites, blogs, online video or podcasts.
This already appears to be the preference of most students these days. They prefer to collect information by themselves and at their own convenience.
In this new world, teachers are no longer an authoritative source of “content”, but instead must focus on motivating and assisting students in making the best use of “content” that they find themselves.
The third event was my participation at a conference on business organizations and innovation, where I attended a number of presentations by entrepreneurs and government officials.
This might seem slightly remote from “teaching”, but this experience made me think about how the style of teaching needs to change and is already changing.
The “best lectures” are becoming more like “TED talks”, in that they are concise, passionate and often controversial.
A counter-intuitive effect of the current technological revolution is that it has made teaching much more “personal”. The use of personal stories in which challenges are confronted and overcome is the best way to attract attention and cultivate curiosity.
Of course, examples and anecdotes have always been a great way of teaching. These examples have always been necessary to explain theories to students.
But it is different now.
This became very clear at my conference last week. The audience just switched off when presented with a traditional style lecture describing a new development or theory. Smartphones came out and “power naps” were taken.
But when speakers framed their presentations around personal experience, everybody was engaged and involved in the discussion that followed. The audience wanted to learn (and augment their level of experience) from the successes and failures of the speakers.
I hear more and more complaints about the current generation of students. My colleagues often grumble that “Millennial students” are lazy, unmotivated and overly-focused on convenience.
They don’t prepare. They are always looking for “the easy way out”. They are constantly playing with their phones.
This kind of complaint misses the point. If young people aren’t motivated they just lose interest. As educators, we need to think more about how to engage and inspire them. And no doubt this requires more disruption.
But such disruption is already here.
After all, new technologies are disrupting education in ways I could never have predicted even five years ago.
And this disruption will create an education that is a better fit with the new digital world. Building the capacity for dealing with new technological opportunities and challenges is the only way to better prepare young people for the uncertainties of the future.
Certainly, this change will put more pressure on teachers. They have to adapt materials more often and keep up to date with the latest trends in technology. New technological developments need to be addressed and incorporated into the curriculum. References to online resources have to be constantly reviewed and assignments renewed.
But this is not a bad thing. Teachers need to become collaborators with the students. It spurs lifelong learning, which can only lead to more creativity and curiosity in the classroom.
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