Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A School in the Cloud

I know I've linked to this TED Talk in the past, but I was listening to it again this morning and thought it worthy of revisiting.

This is certainly a source I'm going to use in my Intro to Ed class that I'll be teaching at UND.  There are two things that I find really interesting about this talk.

The first is that I think Mr. Mitra is totally correct when he explains why our education system developed the way it did.  When the Victorians all but conquered the world (remember the old saying from the 19th century that the sun never set on the British flag because they had so many territories and colonies around the globe), they did so with what today is really an amazingly efficient computer system, even though the 19th century had no computer system.  But the Victorians built a "computer system" out of humans with basic (but universal) skills, like beautiful handwriting, being able to do basic math in their heads, and having basic reading skills.  That was all necessary because if you shipped something from the British headquarters in India to Africa and then sent it on to London, you used all of those skills.  If you switched languages or couldn't do basic math, the system would fail.

So the education system was designed to equip workers with the skills necessary to function as a cog in this great "computer system" comprised entirely of humans (and pencils and paper).  This is what Mitra calls "the great Bureaucratic System."

But the world doesn't function like that at all anymore.

So why are schools not prepping students for the new types of jobs that exist (and in many cases don't even exist yet)?

I love this point and think it's absolutely vital that we overhaul how we teach.

The second thing that I find interesting about this talk - though I don't buy it - is his "computer in the wall" experiments.

It's like this - Mitra put computers in the walls of buildings in slums.  The computers had basic programs built in.  Whenever he checked in on the computers, there were kids learning on them.  They learned English and complicated math and science skills too.

Sounds amazing.  But what I'm skeptical of is how many children were confused or completely bewildered by the technology and just left?  How do you reach those kids?

I don't think we can just eradicate schools and have kids teach themselves.

That sounds great, but I don't think it will happen.  They're still kids.  And give a kid a choice between learning to read or watching Scooby Doo or playing video games, what do you think they're going to select?

So I think they still need guidance.  And I think they need to be allowed to learn in the way that best fits them.  If they're independent learners, then fine, go ahead and learn on your own.

However, if you learn best through structure, let's have a traditional classroom (or elements of the traditional classroom) for you to thrive in.  If your a visual learner, let's construct an environment to best help you learn and thrive.

How do we do that?  I don't know.  But I'd love to be part of the solution.

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