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Archive for April, 2015

What does it mean to be educated in the Digital Age?

Posted by jturner56 on April 7, 2015

Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological.
(Neil Postman Technopoly 1993)

A question similar to one Roger Schank contemplated in, in which he called for a move from outdated notions of curriculum constructed for a world over 100 years past. Another view by Alfie Kohn sees as more important the qualities of a school likely to offer a good education. Kohn follows Dewey’s call that the goal of education should be more education, driven by a desire to ensure learning never ends. Lack of consensus, obfuscation and competing interests, though, cloud the path forward.

To where then? To me Cronin’s (1998) goals of a liberal education remains pertinent. Pepperdine University’s mindmaps project summarises these characteristics of what it means to be educated in the 21st century as follows:

  1. They listen and they hear.
  2. They read and they understand.
  3. They can talk with anyone.
  4. They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly.
  5. They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems.
  6. They respect rigor not so much for its own sake but as a way of seeking truth.
  7. They practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism.
  8. They understand how to get things done in the world.
  9. They nurture and empower the people around them.
  10. They follow E. M. Forster’s injunction from Howards End: “Only connect . . .”

How then to go about this in schools? First up the need to move beyond being educated as a process of transmission, to an environment that seeks better understanding and capacity through acquiring both the intellectual tools and the passion which Einstein described as “doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.” Allied to this a Socratic approach the seeks understanding of the great unknowns through pushing knowledge boundaries with respect.

Knowledge is fluid, understanding transient, wisdom a holy grail. An educated person seeks cognitive travels through these lands; engaging in wider discourse through pushing beyond boundaries.

There are no certificates for ‘being educated’, although there exist gatekeepers who may be worth engaging. If they be teachers their joy of learning may well be a light that can help illuminate the way. But beware the black holes. John Taylor Gatto warns of the debilitating nature of a shackling system.

Beware also the dangers of restrictive thinking through narrowing ‘solutions’; be they the latest technology with their edtech pundits, or political pushes reflected in segmented thinking. Is STEM or School Coding more current manifestations of this? (See Fareed Zakaria’s insights and Mariappan Jawaharlal’s reply for more on this).

Where then does digital fit? To start with, it has never been a solution, but rather brings to the consideration unprecedented rates of access, change and choice. This open new opportunities for connection and expression. Discernment is a critical factor for education, and requires leadership understanding of digital’s relationship with learning and it’s capacity to influence and create futures.

As MacFarlane notes, “at the heart of the question of what an appropriate pedagogy using digital technology should look like is, unsurprisingly, a philosophical question of what it means to know, or a wider social question of what we expect from an ‘education’.” (p3) To her inquiry-based learning needs to be at the heart of digital pedagogy.

Practically digital can be used to

  • illuminate through feedback systems
  • open up information connections
  • personalise learning pathways
  • provide bazaars of discourse, or
  • construct cathedrals of achievement

These can be as open or restrictive as gatekeepers choose, although the personal nature of digital are like waves eroding cathedral rocks.

Are schools, as educational gatekeepers, setting students up for the right journey? Perhaps as Larry Cuban notes, schools, being caught between conserving past values against narrow reform agenda thinking can only lead to ‘institutional stasis’. Or perhaps schools find themselves in a state of educational retardation, not through intent but as a result of too much inward or defensive thinking.

To contribute purposefully to education in a digital age schools need to

  • stand tall through reaffirming the liberal education core of democratic education
  • evolve pedagogy through teachers as connected learners, leading by example
  • evolve learning structures for literacies, concept building, and capacities for enterprise and social problem-solving
  • build cultural motivation (which requires political leadership, commitment and understanding)
  • be open to Socratic introspection
  • prepare students with a love of learning that can draw on as strong a connection as possible to all the previous points

Towards this Digital can be used to

  • build digital literacy, concept and enterprise knowledge and understanding
  • build visible learning structures to connect, share and inform through collaboration, concept building and blending media
  • widen access to learning, be it through web connections, social interactions or online learning connections
  • blend digital with physical to widen engagement and opportunity
  • engage to connect the personal with the systemic

Perhaps we may also see a day learning through deep learning constructed gaming environments linked to approved measurements. But will this constitute ‘being educated’?

This is all theoretical. But it translates into a vision that can be expressed as “digital technologies can enable construction of visible, connected and progressive learning journeys to support reflection, feedback, ownership and conceptual depth (for teachers and students).” It is the job of an educator to make this real. I have been fortunate to find this to be my passion.


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