9:00am: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins.

He began by talking about incompatibilities between schooling and technology: uniform learning vs. customization, teacher control vs. learner control, teacher as expert vs. diverse sources, standardized assessment vs. specialization, knowledge in head vs. reliance on resources, coverage vs. knowledge explosion, learning by absorption vs. learning by doing, just-in-case learning vs. just-in-time learning.

The result of these incompatibilities is that school becomes less and less important, with a new system emerging. The industrial revolution brought universal schooling; the digital revolution leads to lifelong learning. Home schooling workplace education distance education, learning centers, web communities, other examples.

He then compared shifts over three eras of education:

  • Responsibility: parents -> state -> individuals
  • Content: practical skills / literacy -> basic skills / disciplines -> generic skills / learning to learn
  • Pedagogy: apprenticeship -> didacticism -> interaction
  • Assessment: observation -> didacticism -> embedded
  • Location: home -> school -> wherever you are
  • Culture: adult -> peer -> mixed
  • Relationships: personal bonds -> authority figures -> computer-mediated interaction

What is lost, what is gained in this transition? Here, I think he went pretty far off the rails. His list of losses, prefixed by some confusion about games, and with a ridiculous claim in the middle that we’re now not learning to work together, was: equity, citizenship (seriously? Blogger/Wikipedia culture somehow hurts citizenship?), social cohesion, diversity, commercialism, isolation, broader horizons. And his list of gains: more engagement, less competition, customization, responsibility, less peer culture (again, WTF?; I think, actually, what he meant here is that we’re losing a learning-hostile peer culture and replacing it with a more positive one, but I could be wrong).

Where do we go from here? We’re in a state of flux, a time when visionaries can have a real impact. The imperatives of technology: customization, interaction, learner-control, production. Specialized certifications. Rethinking high school.

(And then I stopped taking notes; more of the same, a curious mixture of sensible statements with claims that much of this conference gives lie to.)

11:00am: Compromising among Gaming, Learning, and Society, by Ruhui Ni, Mete Akcaoglu, and Ken Dirkin.

This was a Chat and Frag about a Chinese-language learning game / virtual world called Zon. And I really enjoyed it: I have no idea what the speaker said, because I spent the whole hour playing around with the game! It was gratifying to see that I’d learned something from listening to Chinese Class 101 sporadically over the last few months…

12:30pm: The Intertwingling of Openness and Data in the Future of Education, by David Wiley.

Here are his slides on Slideshare:

He started by talking about the history of lectures. First professors read texts to students that they copied. Then, the printing press: professors read annotations of texts to students that they copied. So: if the book couldn’t change teaching, can technology? He’s not optimistic, based on how laptops are getting used. (Or based on the way that I’m blogging this…)

He then moved into a discussion of copyright, openness, remixes. His claim: openness is the only possible means of doing education. If there is no sharing, there is no education.

Expertise is nonrivalrous: you can give it away without losing it. Expressions of expertise used to not have that property (books), but now they do (electronic copies). So: more sharing, which means, by the above, more education.

But: policy fights this technological advance. We saw this back in the 15th century: you could print the bible the Latin, but you could be killed for reading, let alone publishing, it in your native tongue. And we see this now: “learning management systems” exist to prevent access to, saving of, dissemination of learning, of expressions of expertise. Or closed laptop policies: if I’m not more interesting than your sisters updates about her breakfast, then I don’t deserve your attention. (Crazy example: a professor claimed copyright not only over lecture but over derivative works, like students’ lecture notes!)

The church’s policies around the printing press led to the Protestant reformation; are we going to have our own reformation, are we going to have a splintering of sects?

There’s a huge divide between everyday life experiences and education experiences: the former is open, tethered, customizable, digital, while the latter is closed, mobile, generic, analog. Sure, we have e-learning, which advances on some of these dimensions, but not on most. In particular, it generally fails on openness, which is the key to the other attributes. (Though some schools are pushing against this, fortunately.) (He also gave a plug for a company that he’s working with, Flat World Knowledge, which is a textbook company that publishes their works under a Creative Commons license.)

In his courses, he requires students to post their work on a blog. Not infrequently, one of these blog entries gets linked by an academic aggregator, so all of a sudden thousands of people are aware of it, maybe commenting in it. If this happens in week three, then in week four the quality and ambition of students’ work dramatically improves, much more improvement than traditional academic motivators manage to produce.

He also opened up participation in his class to the public. Assessment didn’t scale in that context; he looked to MMORPGs for inspiration, with classes and leveling up. (It wasn’t completely clear exactly how the mechanics of that worked to solve the scalability problem.)

He then shifted to data collection for the purpose of continuous improvement. Amazon does a great job with this; educators, even when they have that information (e.g. server logs for online education components), and just throw it away. One vision for how to use this: tutoring is very effective, but doesn’t scale. Can we use information about what students are doing online to discover moments when we can intervene with tutoring most strategically? (They’re doing this at the Open High School in Utah. Which tutoring, incidentally, they’re logging in a customer relation system, to make sure that data gets preserved. Businesses know how to keep and use data!)

Another vision: use that data to discover which curriculum materials are most effective, and hence to improve it? Which gets back to the openness issue above: you need to be able to modify it. So the Open High School is only using open instructional materials.

To sum: openness

  • Increases access
  • Gathers more data
  • Improves sharing
  • Creates local control
  • Makes data actionable
  • Permits alignment with societal changes
  • Facilitates the unexpected

And the the conference was over! I hung out with Roger Travis, playing some Rock Band and some Roll through the Ages (which he repeatedly beat me at); I had dinner with him and Mike Young and Erik Hanson.

A very pleasant conference; I enjoyed the content, I hope I learned a few things, and it was great seeing friends in person.

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