Tag Archives: disruptive education

A reflection on how I see my job changing

I am an educational technologist at a large state research university. It is due to this fact that for most of my career, I’ve been struggling with the large lecture teaching environment. Previously, it was all about student engagement and sense of ownership. We used student response systems and other active learning (exp. think, pair, share)… we had the students work through problems and draw out  equations and molecular designs – displaying students examples at the front of the room to demonstrate common misunderstandings and to rearticulate correct outcomes in a student’s voice.

Then a few things happened. Mobile devices put the world of knowledge in the student’s pockets and many prestigious institutions started giving away their best lectures. This opened up the world of “just in time” learning and open educational resources. Now, the struggle has really turned to the last battle. The sage on the stage simply can’t hold up as a model; even in the case of amazing charismatic speakers.

For me, it is pretty clear to me that the most brilliant teaching practices to arise during this educational upheaval have been the ones where the instructors stand to the side and allow the students to be touched by the wonder of really learning and engaging with their own curiosities. Sometimes this is called team based or project based learning.  Sometimes it is done is a course and sometimes it is done in the field.  It can be competency based learning, internships or a community of learners that meet in a makerspace/hackerspace/innovation centers.

The opportunity to try and foster this type of learning at Stony Brook University is very exciting and I hope that this in fact will be a path that I get to pursue. I can’t wait to see the relationships that will arise between our faculty, students and community members when this catalyst starts heating up.

The other point that I think makes this especially relevant to higher education is to have this happen at a moment in a student’s life when they still are traditional students. Before they have other obligations and while they are learning how to socialize, prioritize and that the world doesn’t look just like they do. It’s such an explosion of growth and there is so much energy and motivation right then.  Let’s surround them with wonder and inspiration. Let’s help them find their passion and then send them off to do great things in the world!

Innovation + Disruption Symposium Keynote, plus additional talks

Skip to around 9 minutes in to hear Clayton Christensen’s keynote. It is definitely the story of those who pay no attention to history are doomed to repeat it, with great storytelling analogies involving the steel and automotive industries. I was particularly interested in the bit about how the only companies to survive the industry disruption were those who set up a silo operation whose task it was to take down and control the main companies interests. (edX anyone?)

Also some interesting points about the significance of our Alumni and how so few things we do for students contribute to their ultimate support of our brand. (And how those things that do matter are not given any consideration in any meaningful way.)

Around 2 hours 20 minutes in, is a talk by Karen Harpp which has a very interesting description of the engagement of alumni and the current students for a particular class on the development of the atomic bomb. This included face to face and video conference interaction with the alumni. She also discusses a nice project that went over the course of several weeks where students did roleplay on twitter.

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how alumni participated during the course

In between the Keynote and the talk about the innovative course talk, was a panel of college presidents, which I found to be rather disingenuous. I couldn’t help but think that these people got their positions because of their ability to talk and represent themselves well, not necessarily because they were actually suited to be candidly talking about disruption happening in higher education.


Creation Renaissance

100 years ago and prior, people knew how to do things.  Sears, Roebucks and Co. sold kits to build your own homes.  They delivered the plans and the materials to your lot, and you built it. People could eat off the land. Even those working in a factory might only bring a bowl and fork for lunch, and eat greens that they would pick off the surrounding property at lunch time.

Up until recently (and really most people still fall into this category), we modern society humans haven’t known how to do much. We would probably starve to death with edible plants growing in our own back yards. If, left in the woods, successfully building a shelter might depend on whether you had watched a season of Survivor or some other “left in the woods naked” reality TV show.  (And really, how do you think that would really work out?)

Why has this happened?  Why this dumbing down of the people? One reason may have to do with how much money it takes to get by. Another reason may have to do with the manufacturing requirements of an overpopulated society. Consumerism certainly doesn’t help. But something seems to be changing.

Now that all the knowledge of the world is so easily accessible, and answers are all around us – people can, and need to, learn how to do, make, tinker and innovate again. There are so many things to rediscover (not everything is innovation), mechanics, urban/vertical agriculture, textiles, 3d printing, woodworking, electrical engineering,  — AND higher education is the perfect time to do it. Before you have a mortgage, while you still have time to explore, find your passion and discover the peers that make you tick! Some of these ideas could be the beginning to something wonderful, and some of those people might be the team that you go forward with to tackle challenges that face the world today. (Anyone interested in space elevators?  Anyone have a great idea to remove all that space junk?)

Students don’t need to sit down and listen anymore for hours on end.  They need to hold tools. We need a bit more pre/primary school, the scissors, work benches, glue, and mess. If given the chance, we will amaze ourselves with what we can accomplish. There is a renaissance coming.  Let’s make higher education be a part of it.

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Ironically, bringing women into the workforce may have led to a brain drain in terms of knowing how to do more practical skills around the house.

Knowledge is Loose, and what it means

Everyone senses it.  Things are different now.  I mean, we always had libraries, and you could go there and find things out, but one indeed had to go there and some very interesting books existed that were not allowed to leave the building.  Now – all that information is in your pocket.  And not just all that information, but world class speakers (as well as insufferably smart 10 year olds) are also online, showing and explaining to you what it all means.

Here is something on meiosis.  I just saw a presentation on this yesterday, so it was the first thing I thought of.  You will notice it is a youtube video, but it is also a Khan Academy lesson.

Here is something that can be applied more immediately, depending on your interests. (I’m picking the subjects off the tops of my head and haven’t previously viewed the video results).  How to make Maple Syrup.

But what does it mean?

I think that it means that students shouldn’t have to sit for predetermined lengths of time (what we call semesters) in order for them to obtain the gold standard, a degree, to start a career.  What it doesn’t mean, is that they are going to learn the soft skills that are still important, through the interactions that are currently available online. They still need to grow into adults.  They still need to leave home, learn to collaborate, learn to be organized and how to prioritize.  They still need to be exposed to “others”.  Young people need to meet face to face with people who have different ethnicities, belief systems, politics, socio-economic backgrounds and who come from different cultural backgrounds.  

It is my belief that in order for higher education institutions to remain relevant, that they foster these social/soft skill opportunities on campus, while finding ways for the students to discover their passions, enabling them to succeed, guiding them along the way when they falter, and allowing them to proceed at their own pace.

It’s funny, but what I actually picture is not the death of the socratic method.  What I picture is a bunch of inspired students, gathered around an expert and drilling them for the insights that they haven’t managed to glean from the internet or library.  A time where the students demand that missing piece, or having found that no answer is available – how to get that answer via experimental study and observation.

Time at college would become all the more, a time to find your “tribe”, a time to take advantage of the labs, other workspaces and professionals. A time to grow up and become a vital member of our global society.

The details need to be worked out.  I’m thinking competency exams, open testing centers, loads of advisors, “maker” spaces and a whiz bang technology infrastructure would be involved.  How to show degree progress for financial aid requirements is just one wrinkle.  I know we have enough smart people on our campus to figure it all out.  We also need  to be brave and do what is right.

I’ll leave you with this video: