on the future of education

I’ll keep this rant short. I don’t know what the future of education is, or will be, but I do know that it’s not “web 2.0” despite the hype.

Education is, always has been, and always will be, about the acts of teaching and learning. It is not, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, a form of technology. It is not a suite of distributed online tools, no matter how buzzword compliant they might be.

We need to move past this infatuation with technology, this desire for shiny things to change everything, and get back to basics. To storytelling. To valuing and respecting the work of all participants (students, teachers, and others). To working together to teach our children, and ourselves. To extending the activity outside of some industrialized classroom and into the community.

Sure, “web 2.0” has a role in this – in providing tools to enable individual publishing and collaboration – but it is NOT the technology that is the future of education. It’s people. Without proper philosophies and pedagogies, all the shiny websites on the planet don’t add up to a hill of beans.

(donning asbestos underoos in preparation for ensuing deluge of fire and brimstone)

22 thoughts on “on the future of education”

  1. I phrased it differently on Jen’s blog post (you say “it has a role” I say it is “a part”), which this seems to be channeling/presaging/following-up-on, but agree. The thing is, I’m pretty sure almost everyone does!

  2. Wanted to add, after following the link you give above: there are different ways to interpret that statement. Let’s say that as Gutenberg’s technology rolled out, someone said “the printing press is the future of education.” They’d be wrong in just the same way you point out, but in another respect they’d also be correct, for the availability and ubiquity of printed material was a necessary condition for an educational revolution. I think it’s a necessary vs sufficient thing.

    Those who say “Web 2.0 is the future of ed” often seem to mean (as the description at the link you point to bears out) that “Web 2.0 represents a technological movement and characteristics that are critically important to the way to teach and learn” rather than “Web 2.0 is the *only* important thing” even if it reads like the latter at first glance.

    And then there is the further confusion of context. People and groups tend to hyperfocus on a particular attribute. In context (and being charitable) this doesn’t necessarily represent the exclusion of all else in quite the way that it can appear from the outside or when being less charitable. When I work with faculty on methods of teaching other than lecture and transfer– often to the exclusion of other methods– that exclusion is contingent on the context. I am excluding *at that time* not meaning or implying that there aren’t times when lecture and transfer are perfectly appropriate, even desirable. I wonder if many of the Web 2.0 statements are less loathsome in context.

  3. The web 2.0 hype has been loud and proud, as if the technology was changing the world, or that it was fixing what’s wrong with education. When the “web 2.0 is the future of education” mantra is chanted, people hear “technology will save us!” and that is wrong, and counterproductive.

    Gutenberg didn’t change education. Being able to publish content inexpensively (without needing a monastery full of scribes manually writing copies of a tome) changed things, and education was definitely affected. But it’s just a technology. The change occurred when students and teachers were able to access books that would have been otherwise unavailable, and even moreso when they could publish books of their own.

    I still remember when VCRs (!) were being touted as the future of education (and cable TV alongside them). And after that, computers. Now, it’s web 2.0. All are interesting and shiny, but none are really changing anything. The interesting changes can all occur without any technological intervention.

  4. “The interesting changes can all occur without any technological intervention.” Really surprised you wrote that. I guess you’re suffering an understandable backlash against the hype. Agree that it is counterproductive. However, there is a huge potential for change in the bottom-up, peer-driven approach that social software enables, when compared to your basic command-and-control LMS style stuff….but then you know that 🙂

    “the change occurred when students and teachers were able to access books that would have been otherwise unavailable, and even more so when they could publish books of their own.” …well, that was enabled by the new technology, right? Of course there were social structures and economics involved, and it took a few generations, but still.

    I think you just got sick of all the the BS* today…you’ll be back on board soon.

    * and sometimes the BS is not just marketing hype, but just people suddenly “getting it”, or overcoming tech fear for the first time, and then they get overly enthusiastic.

  5. I like the idea of getting back to basics. I regularly read books to my daughters and try to keep them away from technology (even though I design networks and systems!) as I firmly believe they should grasp the basics first. Web 2.0 should be an enabler rather than a provider.

  6. Great rant! WEB 2.0 has a role but it isn’t the solution to all of education’s issues. I think what we are seeing with the WEB 2.0 “bandwagon” is that it is being seen as the savior to an education system that, in many instances, has lost meaning to the participants (teachers and learners).

    When institutions like education or healthcare are challenged because the model doesn’t work anymore they tend to do one of two things. Either they take what they have and repackage it thinking they can forestall their demise by tricking the participants into thinking that what they are offering is new, or they throw out everything that has gone on before and embracing a completely different model.

    With WEB 2.0 some people want to “repackage” education so that it looks new, but essentially does the exact same thing – deliver material to a group and then have the group say back the information that was diseminated. I have seen several courses/classes that use wikis, blogs, and social networking but the actual assessment model hasn’t changed.

    Others using WEB 2.0 are going the opposite way and are suggesting it is the tools themselves that need to be radically altered so therefore if you pack up your overhead projector and use a wiki then you are embracing the “new” dawn of education.

    I am with you – Education is far more that sum of the tools or technology used.

  7. And so, let’s say that this is Lake Woebegone, and teachers are good. Match good teachers with good technique, love of kids and
    excellent pedagogy with Web2.0.

    What do you get then?

  8. Do I detect a groundswell of support for the notion that edubloggers should talk about teaching and learning in every statement about tools and technologies? It’s been a popular topic the last few weeks, but what will it take to turn it into a permanent feature of our work? A catchy name? A common set of pedagogical principles?

    I was delighted by the focus on teaching and learning at many of the sessions at BLC last week: pre-conference visit to The Met/Big Picture Schools, Bob Pearlman and the New Technology Schools, Pedro Noguera’s keynote speech, Darren Kuropatwa, Bob Sprankle, and Clarence Fisher. (Maybe people were still obsessed with tools elsewhere in the conference, but I didn’t attend those sessions.)

    Do I dare dream of this as a permanent feature of our online discussions and conference experiences?


  9. Good point Darcy, people are fixated on glittery things. meanwhile we have a breakdown in society with respect, with family values, and without this core the world only grows to be more chaotic no matter how great advances in technology may be.

  10. @Cleve I think I was a little unclear, but the post was triggered by yet another flurry of activity around 2.0. It seems as though 2.0 is used as a shortcut to mean so many things, when really it is nothing more than a marketing veneer. Real teaching and learning can occur with or without technology, and saying that shiny new technology is the future of education does a great disservice to the real, in-the-trenches learning activities.

    @cogdog absolutely. a big jar of cheez whiz. maybe with a slab of vegamite on the side. education 3.0!

    @incsub aka James – I realize I’m being overly simplistic here, and that there is still a role for both didactic and generative teaching practices – they are not mutually exclusive. All I was trying to say is that the hype around “learning 2.0” and “education 2.0” and “classroom 2.0” is nothing more than meaningless, shallow babbling about buzzwords. See my comment to Cleve above.

    @teddy absolutely! bring on the great teachers! bring on the effective and appropriate pedagogies! bring on the web 2.0, where appropriate! That’s all I’m asking. It all has to fit together, if at all. There is definitely room for “web 2.0” technologies, but we can’t put them up on a pedestal as “the future of education.” They are just tools. Just technologies. It’s what we do with them, with whom, and how we do it that makes it interesting and relevant.

    @richard I hope it’s more than a groundswell. The department I work in is called the “Teaching & Learning Centre” so I may be more predisposed to thinking about those activities, but without a focus on them, everything else is irrelevant noise.

  11. LOL I think we may actually agree but are looking at the situation from two different perspectives.

    I agree that there are superficial buzzwords thrown about and that web 2.0 can be viewed as a shortcut. Many people misinterpret; many people use it as a marketing veneer.

    But it doesn’t follow logically that, because some people misinterpret, that there is zero substance behind it. It doesn’t follow that because it is hyped, it is *nothing but* hype.

    And I think it’s somewhat of a false dichotomy to contrast web 2.0 tools to “real, in the trenches learning activity” and claim acknowledging the power of the former is doing a “great disservice” to the latter.

    I think you are arguing that the statement “technology IS change” is incomplete, because factors such as “what we do with them, with whom, and how we do it that makes it interesting and relevant” are not taken into account. I agree – absolutely.

    But if we instead take the perspective that often “technology LEADS change” then we can acknowledge the potential for the transformative power of these new tools while at the same time recognizing that learning happens with a student, and not with a browser.

  12. Sorry D’Arcy, as much as I big up my respect to you, I’m going to have to fight you on this one. This sounds dangerously close to my favourite bugbear ‘Technology isn’t important, it’s pedagogy that counts.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this, and it makes we want to scream. What people usually mean is ‘I don’t like technology so I’m going to pretend it isn’t important’. I know that isn’t the case here, but it gets close and the danger is to underestimate the effect of technology.
    Think about changes in transport technology – would anyone argue that ‘the jet engine isn’t important, it’s still just travel’. These technologies changed society.
    I also don’t believe people sit around with a bunch of pedagogies in their back pocket thinking ‘if only I had a technology to realise these’. I didn’t know I wanted a wiki until I saw one, and then I immediately saw the educational possibilities. The pedagogy followed the technology, but also helped inform the practice. It’s a dialogue.
    So what the new tools represent are new ways to communicate. And, as we saw back in your twitter post, the technology itself can change the way we communicate. As Shirky says ‘when we change the way we communicate, we change society.’ As I argue on Feldstein’s blog, you can see the technology as a metaphor if you like, or the medium, through which some profound social changes are happening. The way we view content, and who gets to act as a filter, are very deep issues in society. Does anyone in a content industry think technology isn’t significant?
    I think it would be a shame for education not to engage with these changes because it was busy denying the role of technology.
    There, that’s my rant over.

  13. Martin, I’d probably be the last person to say that technology wasn’t important. It’s the description of Technology as The Future that bugs me. No. Teaching and Learning is the future (and the present) and if teachers are effective they will use appropriate technologies with appropriate pedagogies. I think it may tie in more closely with the philosophy of a teacher (and their students) – are they “open” vs “closed”? are they generative vs supplantive? etc… that will predispose them toward a subset of activities and pedagogies, which will further predispose them toward a subset of technologies, etc…

  14. D’Arcy – yeah, but, no, but – let’s take your example of ‘open’ – this is an attitude that is made more relevant and apparent by the technology. Before digital content there wasn’t a clamour for CC licences, we all signed the copyright forms for publishers, because that was the way things were done. And the way things were done was that way _because_ of the technology – ie the limitations of physical products. The way the record industry was constructed was because of the technology – shifting atoms. But when it becomes digital the concept of openness changes – we begin to think of access to digital content as almost a right. We know it can’t be stopped. The copyright forms suddenly seem archaic and draconian.
    So, if you take web 2.0 as a set of principles (openness, democracy, reuse, etc), then in many ways it _is_ the future – at least the future of education is one that grapples with these issues, which are in many ways at odds with those currently enshrined in educational systems.
    From this perspective actually technology _is_ the future, because technology is about how we communicate and work – and if education isn’t about that, what is it about?
    I know you wouldn’t argue that technology wasn’t important, but saying ‘teaching and learning is the future, not technology’ will sound like that. Sure learning (not so sure about teaching) is the future – but isn’t that like saying ‘education is the future of education’? Technology, and more importantly, the attitudes and approaches it embodies and encourages, will be a bigger part of this future than it probably ever has before.
    Told you this was a pet topic of mine … can we still be friends?

  15. aw c’mon D’Arcy- the future of education is totally web 2.0
    Haven’t you been to “Rate my professor”?
    (I’m joking of course).
    Sure- technology doesn’t replace teaching- but, as a teacher, you better be up on the technology- or you won’t have any cred.
    I remember sitting in a management class, asking about Tom Peters. The textbook had excerpts of Peters in the assigned reading for the day- the prof had assigned it- yet didn’t know who Tom Peters was.
    This was post “In search of excellence”
    It’s never been about technology- it’s always been about passion and skill. Those that have the passion and skill- will be heavy users of the Internet- because it is the repository of knowledge for all mankind.

  16. @martin and @david, here’s an excerpt from an email I just sent:

    … this stuff is about so much more than simply technology, or following someone’s footsteps. it’s about being open, in every sense of the word, and what that means to the individual and group.

    my frustration with “education 2.0” “learning 2.0” “classroom 2.0” etc… is that the hype is focused on the “2.0” portion of the buzzword. It’s just education, learning, and classroom, but with new techniques and strategies rolled into the mix. A crappy, closed teacher isn’t going to magically stop sucking just because they set up a Ning site, or start a wiki or some damned thing. It’s better to work on being an effective teacher and learner than to work on incorporating technology. Effective teachers and learners will draw in appropriate tools to support what they want to do. Lame ones will remain infatuated or shellshocked by Web 2.0.

  17. I wholeheartedly applaud your call for a focus on the basics–student learning–instead of “shiny” technology. If we get too enamored with the technology we lose sight of what really matters, i.e. the ability of students (learners!) to grow, improve and change the world. That’s why I’m an educator. The shiny stuff is cool, but it’s all about learners and what we can do to help them.

  18. I’ve been itching about this stuff lately too. I think we’re having a hard time defining our discomfort because we don’t have a good metaphor, and that’s what makes the blugucatosphere spin ’round. Let’s see if I can make something up on-the-fly. Hmmmm. OK, here’s the way I see it. I think we need to go back to the river metaphor that used to bounce around. I can’t remember who came up with it, @courosa or @schwier maybe? Last year we would tell newcomers to “the network” that it’s not a reservoir, it’s a river. Go with the flow, things are constantly changing, catch the excitement, be flexible, etc. I think it’s turned into a polluted reservoir. How many microblogging applications do we need? What are our priorities in selecting an application? Who has a better classroom Ning network? Who’s going to be the first to ustream or liveblog a conference session? Who attracts the best blog comments? I don’t think it’s a technology Vs. Pedagogy argument. I don’t think it’s a debate over historical relevance. There are several problems with the Web 2.0 hype.

    1. There’s only one web and it’s different every day.
    2. The things we say are indicative of Web 2.0, are not new things, except for the shiny packaging.
    3. If something amazing comes out that doesn’t fit the Web 2.0 definition, what will we do with it?
    4. Corporations are doing everything they can to push tools at us and capture our brand loyalty. Remember AOL? Remember how many people remained loyal to that browser, even though it was garbage?
    5. If we become evangelists for a defined set of tools, we are in danger of closing the door on opportunity.
    6. Adopting only these packaged tools could get in the way of our own creativity and resourcefulness.

    Having said all that, I definitely support the use of these tools. I just don’t want people to ignore other possibilities, or to focus too much on the tool, without considering the effect on learning. When people talk about these tools being the “future,” I feel like they are living in the past. I know many will say that there are large groups of teachers who still aren’t using Web 2.0. We need to accept that this is OK. People are going to jump like hopscotch right over Web 2.0 and into the next thing. It’s not necessary for everyone experience ever tool on the historical timeline. The people who haven’t adopted Web 2.0 tools may end up ahead of us, because the next best thing will be even more attractive and simpler to use. Instead of following us into Web 2.0, they will jump right over us.
    If I’m going to evangelize anything, it’s going to be, “learning.” Whenever I find a new tool that provides better learning opportunities, I will promote it, but not as part of a polluted reservoir of tools. I will support individual, relevant application of the tools based on the instructional/learning needs. I want to lead them to the river and show them opportunity. I want to show instructors how to find their own solutions. I never want to be the one to tell them, “blog, wiki, podcast, ning.” I’m all about Create, Connect, Collect, Share, and whatever tool helps accomplish those, whether it’s something that exists right now, or something yet to be developed.

  19. Jen, hallefrackinglulah! that’s exactly what I was trying to get at. But you said it much better than I could 🙂

    it’s just learning. it’s just the web. can we move on now?

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