The school choice battle is about choosing between schools, or among schools. The anger-filled video from Reason TV embedded above demonstrates the stress this choice enflames. There is another choice unfolding that is to go to the commons of what is known by humankind online as a source for learning.
The new choice does not settle the arguments about schools. Instead it offers every student another — additional — choice for finding knowledge to learn. By combining two surprise serendipities we can open literacy and learning for the young global generation:
1. Handschooling: Getting an individual mobile device with wireless broadband browsing to every youngster, so that each of them can connect to:
There are many complexities to creating 21st century education, but there is a new, simple, increasingly doable step: connecting each student to what is known online. Doing that for a student does not make a choice, it provides equality.
Among the questions voiced by video game executives: How can Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft keep consumers hooked on game-only consoles, like the Wii or even the PlayStation Portable, when Apple offers games on popular, everyday devices that double as cellphones and music players?
And how can game developers and the makers of big consoles persuade consumers to buy the latest shoot’em-ups for $30 or more, when Apple’s App store is full of games, created by developers around the world and approved by Apple, that cost as little as 99 cents — or even are free?
The everyday devices that now offer games can not only bring the stuff of traditional textbooks — text and printing images — into the hands of students. These devices can offer later versions of constantly updated text, moving and interactive images, live cams for subjects studied, capture of images and locations being studied, and games that teach.
In fact, it is so obvious that individual mobile devices are at least as effective a replacement for textbooks as they are for game consoles that one wonders why the changeover has not been made long ago. My guess is that schools make decisions for large groups of students instead of one individual at a time. When it comes to buying a game console, a single player or family does the shopping and decides how they want to play the game. Also, billions of dollars spent annually on textbooks are at stake. Surely we can find a better way to spend those billions than on paper (remember the trees), ink, and delivering (making a big carbon footprint) millions of heavy books for kids’ heavy (spine stressing) backpacks.
My more recent focused definition of the phrase “golden swamp” is: the network in the open internet of what is known by humankind. Network laws operate freely out there causing the golden swamp to vet itself and emerge the freshest most authentic version of what is known about essentially each and every science, technology, humanities subject, etc. This remarkable new phenomenon is surely doing this: “taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before.”
I don’t know exactly what the future will look like, but I’m not too worried about it. This sort of change tends to create as many good things as it kills. Indeed, the really interesting question is not what will happen to existing forms, but what new forms will appear.
The reason I’ve been writing about existing forms is that I don’t know what new forms will appear. But though I can’t predict specific winners, I can offer a recipe for recognizing them. When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.
In a decade or two, when the world looks back at the transformation of learning to mobile, what will be the kick-off date? When did handschooling* really take hold and get underway? I would lay down a bet that 2009 will be the year. Here are some reasons why:
First, smartphones are rampant. These devices are actually — finally! — delivering the internet through browsers that are easy to use for the nimble fingers and sharp vision of kids. The tipping point is close and closing for the cascade of internet browsing mobiles into the hands of student age people.
Second, the mobile phone transmission networks that are quickly covering the planet are also being crept into by internet browsing. I am not an expert here, but with my iPhone, where I can make a phone call I can browse the internet. That fact is transitional for learning.
Third, online knowledge quality of learning resources has become embarrassingly superior to print. A student simply learns more by clicking through the website of the Large Hadron Collider than by reading a textbook author’s synopsis written months or years before.
Fourth, handschooling is emerging in the for profit sector, while the edu sector continues to hemorrhage money. A fellow I know is qualifying for an Apple certification for which he can only take the test on his iPhone. Apple is not tax-supported.
Maybe the HandheldLearning 2009 in London in a couple of weeks will be the day of the turning point into the new era of handschooling. If so, its founder deserves kudos. A few years ago I was on a panel with Graham Brown-Martin who founded and heads the HandheldLearning conferences, now in their fifth year. He is a true believer in learning for every child which mobile can deliver. He has pushed forward to empower kids to learn with mobiles, against education establishment inertia and the need to clarify the mobile learning vision for all of us. Graham is leading a winning movement, as I am sure the Festival will reveal.
*Handschooling is a new domain I have registered. More about that soon.
One gets flak for optimism. The cool thing about the positive approach, however, its its power. In an eloquent tribute to Norman Borlaug, who died at age 95 this week, Gregg Easterbrook describes the incredible power of Borlaug’s good purpose. The entire article — a Wall Street Journal Opinion piece — is instructive to cynics and good sustenance for optimists. It begins:
Norman Borlaug arguably the greatest American of the 20th century died late Saturday after 95 richly accomplished years. The very personification of human goodness, Borlaug saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived. He was America’s Albert Schweitzer: a brilliant man who forsook privilege and riches in order to help the dispossessed of distant lands. That this great man and benefactor to humanity died little-known in his own country speaks volumes about the superficiality of modern American culture. . . .
Those of us who want to make a difference for the world’s young population now on the brink of starvation for healthy education can be inspired by Norman Borlaug’s persistence — and his huge success in getting done what he saw possible.
Yesterday I saw the new movie “9″ where awesome talents of animators and voice artists once again have created a dystopia. I confess to being a literary and movie wimp when it comes to appreciating art as the depiction of death, destruction, horror, and the rest. I know this is unsophisticated in the arts.
Yet clearly, dystopian illustration of the future is becoming a bit old fashioned. Exploding cities, out-of-control machines, and horribly visualized aliens are all very twentieth century.
The future that is now unfolding does not seem fraught with those kinds of horrors. In the 1950s, when I was in high school, they seemed very possible. That is when dystopia acquired its cachet. But we know more now, and times have changed. The odds I give for a real dystopia in the 21st century are at least 9 to 1 against it. I know, global warming is in those odds somewhere. Yet as I wrote in my post Ditching Dystopia: No dystopia is necessarily ahead, quite the opposite is proving to be true.
So, I entertained myself this morning by overlaying the “9″ poster on a photo of some pansy flowers I took last month in Colorado. Next I erased some background from the poster. Then I replaced 9’s light globe with a shining Earth globe (a visual pun like Picasso enjoyed).
Quite seriously, it is time to use creativity and insight to describe and capture the global enlightenment that is dawning through our digital connected age. Looking forward with optimism is overdue and I am hopeful that soon the awesome tools and talent of our artists are challenged to show us the light and flowering of the future.
This week I received the Half the Sky book just published about “turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.” It is an important book about a crucial topic.
That said, the chapter on education completely misses the major potential of mobiles to change learning for girls: mobility! The huge problems they discuss for girls in getting education are all related to leaving the home to go to a school: cost, gender prejudice, menstruation taboos and embarrassment, demands for sexual favors from teachers, and even rape. (Wow!) Think of this: NONE of those problems exists when a girl stays home and uses her internet-browsing mobile to learn.
The idea that the new generation can and will learn somewhere besides and other than at school is not limited to girls. Worldwide there are many places where there are no schools but lots of kids. Here in New York City, there are lots of schools where kids attend but do not learn much because the schools have low quality and low expectations.
Seasoned Silicon Valley tech pioneer and writer Michael S. Malone describes in an edgelings column what his family equipped his son Tad with, as they sent him off to college for the his freshman year this fall. The first half of what Malone writes is about things that have not changed, like the need to include rolls of quarters and some laundry detergent. The second half of Malone’s account describes the technology he, his wife, and Tad chose for this first time freshman. Along with the details of what they chose, he makes these observations:
Twenty years ago, the cost of technology — as a percentage of total educational fees — probably peaked with the desktop computer and programmable calculator, clock radio and stereo-TV. . . . thanks to a couple decades of technological innovation, what would have been about $5K in today’s dollars for a crate full of electronic hardware and books, had now been reduced to two small devices, one the size of a pad of paper, the other a deck of cards – and all for half that price. God bless Silicon Valley. . . .
In the end, will this combination of hardware, software and serves in our brave new digital world of education prove more or less expensive than a few years ago? Hard to tell yet, but my gut suggests that it will all turn out about the same. But, that said, it is also important to note that Tad will enjoy infinitely more access to information and the ability connect to others . . . including his parents . . . than I did thirty years ago going to college just a few miles from home. As to whether that last is a welcome improvement, you’ll have to ask Tad.
The arriving socially networked online world is flashed at you through this video — and it is an exciting place to see. Changes in communication, media, commerce, and social venues are huge. I continue to be astounded that schools and education are still very little in the mix. But there are two facts in the video about education and they are very interesting.
So we think people don’t like to read books except on paper: 35% of book sales on Amazon are for the handheld digital reading device, the Kindle. And then there is this fact that I have not seen in the news: online students out performed those receiving face-to-face instruction.
Online knowledge aggregation – - the golden swamp – - is NOT linear. When subject knowledge goes openly into the internet, it settles into the network matrix that lets it link up among its internal ideas and with related webpages. In the internet knowledge cannot be forced into the usual linear ruts of textbooks. Eventually we are going to get to the place where teaching uses the natural networks of knowledge online — where students can learn by following patterns of interconnecting ideas. Professors will move beyond lining up bits of what they know in textbooks to optimizing links among their concepts online.
Edward H. Stanford, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education, said in an interview that the new e-textbooks were developed based on an ethnographic investigation of student study habits done by the company. He said the company learned that students often do not study in a linear fashion, but instead jump around in the text, whether in print or electronic textbooks. “One kid in a biology class said, ‘I don’t read the chapter. I just look at the art. If I understand the art, I go on to the next art. If I don’t understand the art, I read,’” said Mr. Stanford. “When he said that, it made perfect sense to me, but until he said it, I had never thought about it that way.”
Having written some articles, edited a special issue, and being a Contributing Editor for Educational Technology Magazine, I am proud to pass along news of the publishing company’s big step into open content.
For nearly 50 years, Educational Technology Publications has been a choice publisher of those doing the finest, most up-to-date thinking in the education field. On its website the company reports having been at the forefront of every important new trend in the development of the field throughout the past five decades.
Now they have jumped to the forefront of the open content trend in publishing. Publisher Lawrence Lipsitz writes to me in an email: “we are now placing all pages of all of our more than 300 books published since 1969, including even the most recently published books, both in-print and out-of-print books, with the GoogleBooks program, available for full-text search and reading. Every page of every book. Close to 200 are “live” now, with Google processing the remainder daily. In the first ten days, there were about 25,000 page views (with only some of the books available for viewing at the time). This is all open and free.”