Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Future Is Here: Ready or Not


There is a biblical saying about no man being a prophet in his own land (Matthew 13:57) that I like.   It would seem that people have been thinking about resistance to change for thousands of years.  Why do we resist change?  This has been one of my central questions, almost obsessional, for a some time.  Popular wisdom would explain fear, threatened egos and a desire to protect the status quo as the reasons for resisting change.  Rob Evans, clinical psychologist and consultant to stakeholders in education told the audience at Building Learning Communities conference in Boston two years ago that teachers experience change as a sort of grief process.  Before change can happen, they have to let go of ‘old’ ways and cope with loss. My own answers to the question of why we resist change currently lay in brain research but the source or veracity of the answer is not as important as hearing the  loud voice of the evolutionary imperative admonishing educators, schools, administrators, governments and those who have the power shape the learning experience of students to “adapt or die”.  

Pedagogy needs to serve the student, not the teacher or the textbook

Read any of the popular books on innovation in business, for example Phil McKinney’s Beyond the Obvious.  As you read, substitute ‘client’ for student and ‘product’ for pedagogy.  If you can endure some internal discomfort created by superimposing a business model onto education, the idea that pedagogy and instructional design needs to fit the needs of our students (clients) becomes a useful metaphor.  Continue reading further to understand that successful businesses pay very close attention to the needs of their customers.  When the customer loses faith in the product, the business is in danger.  “Yes, but school is not a business” you say? “Wait and watch what happens when students understand that they can access learning anywhere, anytime and on demand”, I say.  The digital age has released information and knowledge from the prison of the page (David Weinberger “Too Big to Know”) and that is changing everything.  

I remember the day when I realized that everything had changed.  I was introducing some ideas about sociology to a grade eleven class and referred to a famous study of behaviour in public restrooms when I faltered and was unsure of  the author’s name.  Mason, my ever-eager student said, “Wait Miss.  Let me check that for you!”  At that very instant, as I looked out over the 21 students behind 21 laptops screens, I realized that I had become accountable to the truth and learning in a radical new way.  When fact checking and information recall is one click away, teachers need to rethink how and what they teach.  In the ‘Land of Google’ where students drink from the firehose of information, teachers must ask the ‘killer questions’:  why is this important? how is this relevant? and what will they remember about this in five years hence?  

information hydrant
Will Lion's Flickr Stream


Students in higher education have new choices today in how they learn.  MOOCs and open courseware, online universities and blended classrooms were not on the learning landscape horizon only a few short years ago.  The student (the consumer, the client) can access learning anywhere and personalize it.   This fundamental shift in the availability of information made possible by the digital age is changing education.  Schools, teachers and all stakeholders of the educational process need to see that the ground is shifting.  Just as the music industry and the traditional paper press has had to reinvent themselves, so do schools and teachers.  

Moore’s Law and Education

Intel’s co-founder, Gordon Moore, observed that our energy efficiency for computer processing speed doubles every eighteen to twenty four months.  His 1965 observation has remained true.  In 1971, the Intel processor held 2,300 transistors and today holds approximately 560 million.  This exponential growth of computational capacity has made our time in history unlike any other.  Never before has technological change been so rapid.  Today we speak of interactive technologies (such as Luidia’s e-Beam that turns a white board, a wall or even a floor into an interactive space) but  it is very probable that within two years we will be speaking about immersive technologies, such as the Muse from Interaxon.  This simple headband with sensors reads your brainwaves (EEG technology) and allows the user to actually see into their minds.  It can interact with apps on an iPhone or iPad and even move physical objects using only thoughts.  Imagine this in the hands of a child with ADHD who would benefit from learning cognitive control.   This self-observation of mind states has incredible potential for transformation much like any meditative mindful technique (such as Kiran Bedi’s controversial and successful rehabilitation of Indian prisoners using Vipassana meditation).  

So why would schools not want to harness new technologies in the service of education?  Change is not enough to meet the demands of this rapidly morphing learning environment where classrooms do not have to be physical spaces and teachers are not always adults with degrees.  Innovation needs creativity, courage and vision.  Innovation is disruptive and does not encourage uniformity or compliance.
The future has arrived and adaptation might help you survive but innovation will ensure that you thrive.