If Not Now…When

An inspiring keynote from Adrian Sannier. Making no apologies, the remarks below are a mixture of Sannier’s presentation and my thinking while it was unfolding and trying to put his ideas into my language.

Sannier (and many others):  We can’t any longer believe that you can learn enough by age 20 to contribute to society until you’re dead (retired).

This is just one of the many data points he offered in declaring that the way we deliver education is completely outdated.  He spoke eloquently about the role of education in solutions to global problems.  Urgency was his watchword; we can’t continue to just tweak what we have, we need a revolution.

Sannier has a strong sense of urgency – not only because situation is urgent but also because our opportunity is so great.

The roadmap for Sannier’s remarks:

  1. These are the days of miracle and wonder.
  2. Except at school
  3. Is this the best we can do? (Many of us believe that…)
  4. We’d better hope not!
  5. Time for the 4th revolution?

We all know the examples of miracle and wonder, the ways that life has changed forever for young people who have always had the internet, and for the rest of us. Napster – 0 to 70 million users in 6 months, with no marketing.  Brought down an industry.  Good example of a disruptive technology.

School, however, has changed very little.  Our “classrooms” look cooler with projectors and powerpoint screens, but the system is the same.

Sannier made the point that his kind of message has been part of EDUCAUSE conferences for the last 15 years.  Not that we haven’t made progress, but we haven’t made very much.  Perhaps we don’t believe that we can make a difference — too many things are dragging us down, we believe we are doing our best under the circumstances.  Maybe we aren’t revolutionary because, after all, we are the people for whom the current education system has worked out pretty good.

BUT!  We’d sure better hope that’s not the case—if this is the best we can do, we’re in serious trouble!

Many of us have actually accommodated to the notion that education is a sieve — that it is for separating out the deserving “good students” from the people who can’t learn as much.  It’s not our obligation to maximize individual learning — students have to master the system we have constructed.

Technology is thought of as a panacea still.  And yet, we are almost always using it still at its lowest potential.

Substitution – using powerpoint instead of the chalkboard
Augmentation – using tech to add to what is happening on the chalkboard
Modification – letting affordances of tech to change the way you teach for the better
Redefinition – letting affordances of tech redefine your instructional design

If you start with a sieve (education is economically and politically aimed at sorting people out), you cannot build a staircase (which is what we think education should be, a ladder to opportunity and a richer intellectual life.)

Sannier made an example of posing a simple algebraic problem to the room and seeing who felt confident in solving it.  Of course, we could all just “google it” but many would think of that as cheating.  If we basically understood the process needed to solve it and used the internet to support us, is that wrong?  By googling – will you get the right answer and do you have the ability to “check” the answer?  There are ways to use the internet (evaluating information; going to the right place to get a good answer; using your abilities as a critical thinker) and then to interrogate the answer you received.

Technology puts people out of work.  We want to believe that technology drives economic growth which will create jobs.  But what will those jobs require?  Really different skills than what is delivered through standard education.  Do we want people who can solve the equation with paper and pencil, or people who can efficiently find the right answer online.  Our poor efforts in education have put millions of people one job away from being shunted aside, never to contribute to society thru work again.  Technology started by putting low-skill workers out of a job, e.g. cashiers – now it’s legal researchers being put out of work.

We put high hopes on the younger generation of faculty to solve the problem of education being delivered poorly.  New professors have come thru the same sieve that produced the older generation of faculty.

It’s hard to be a professor.  The old tricks don’t thrill the crowd.  So what do we do to help?  We give them tools . . .  We expect them to fix the situation themselves.  Sannier says, “I’m a terrible cook – will it help to give me a Cuisinart?”  He doesn’t mean faculty are terrible teachers, I think he means that the playing field has changed so completely that to pile technology tools on faculty and expect them to make up for structural failures is not going to be a successful strategy.  Take heed, instructional technologists.

Sannier asked us to think about what it must have been like to be an employee at Kodak when digital cameras were coming on.  Do we feel as vulnerable in our precarious position?

What are signs that the dam is breaking?   There are disruptions!!  He mentions my favorite guy – Clayton Christensen – and the exact thing I always blather on about, how disruptive technologies get perfected in the down market and then smack you in the face.

Examples of disruptions:

Encyclopedia Britannica versus Wikipedia.  Democratization of info is only part of what is happening; from now on, encyclopedias (knowledge of that type) are created in a stunningly different way.

Books.  Borders bankruptcy.  Announcements that textbooks are going to be available for $14.99 instead of $150.  Books are not portable in a world of too much information — books are portable when you are going to the beach.

OER.  Also known as open educational resources.  Stack up your “product” (your course) against some brilliant outsider  (e.g., the open Artificial Intelligence course offered for free by 2 Stanford professors.)  James Taylor is offering guitar lessons online–how does that change the way people learn guitar compared with the old Mel Bay method? What are you offering — can it compete?

Herbert Simon (CMU, Nobel Prize) was quoted from decades earlier making the comment that teaching has to stop being a solo occupation.

What are you (the prof) trying to do + what we can tell you about how to do it = towards a solution.

He gave an example about how technology replaced weavers during the industrial revolution.  When people start talking about the science of weaving instead of the art of weaving, that’s a clue.  More and more, we can know how people learn and LEARNERS can know how people and how they learn.  So, we need to not be talking about the art of education when the science of education is increasingly happening.

This was an engaging presentation from a person who earned impressive credentials in academia and who is now  a leader in the commercial side of education (Pearson).  I share his sense of urgency, his sense of the problem. –Karrie

This entry was posted in Disruptive Technologies, Shifting Education Paradigms, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to If Not Now…When

  1. Rebecca Stuhr says:

    Thank you for the great detail! I’ll be looking up a little bit more about Sannier. And a question–where does the prediction of the 14.99 text book come from?

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