Chris Dede’s Keynote

What the heck are we going to do in higher education when the students who are coming to us from high schools have had the benefit of all these immersive and powerful pedagogies ranging from inquiry and problem-based learning to learning for understanding?  What will we do?

Dede, Harvard, Education, says we ought to be more focused on this than we are – we tend to concern ourselves with the skills problems of students arriving on campus and the “remedial” help they need.

This is a long post, but if you read to the end, you’ll read some thoughts about what we  (yes, that means us!) might have to unlearn.  I connect his “unlearn” comments with Henry Jenkins’ participatory culture ideas–how students and we can both learn better if we give up our constraining “we are the only experts in the room” paradigm.  If we embrace collaborative learning, learning communities we can unlearn what we need to.

Dede works with doctoral candidates at Harvard’s Grad School of Ed on immersive learning environments and augmented reality, and he showed us what students (from all kinds of schools) are able to do with an environmental science course of study.  He showed us both a beautifully done virtual environment of an urban pond environment, and a suite of lessons based on augmented reality.   He explained how this allows students to approach science from the front end– causal complexity (which is what there is in real life) — as opposed to approaching it from the back end — applying formulas in a rote way as the professor tells you to.

3 big technologies

  • immersive simulated environment
  • social media
  • mobile devices and applications

Immersive simulated environment – these are especially useful when they can be designed around pervasive student misconceptions. The design of the pond environment was engaging, and Dede called that a kind of “principled magic” to engage the students and help undo those misconceptions.

Collaborative inquiry is at the heart of this pedagogy.

Students, even without prompting, begin using social media ooutside of class, among their friends, in order to help them figure out what’s going on.  So they are building up some digital literacies.

For example, as they piece together their research and information gathering, they are learning the transmedia navigation, followed by judgment, that Henry Jenkins talks about in his work on participatory culture.

Dede asks a question that is as pertinent for librarians as for faculty — How are we going to teach when every student has in their pocket a powerful computer with distributed intelligence capabilities.

When do you want to use virtual environment?  When augmented reality?  AR is easier from a technical standpoint, but the instructional design is key, hard to do right.  But the ball will get rolling — students who have had these kind of experiences in school will begin to augment reality themselves, and will begin to expect this kind of work to be part of school.

We need knowledge and skills to transfer outside the classroom.  AR and VE (virtual environments) help.

We used to say “If you want to learn, get away from the world (because the world is messy and noisy).”  Ivory tower.   Much to be said for this point of view.

But now, a lot of people are getting excited about the idea that someone could stand in the middle of the world and have a fantastic learning experience.

In terms of customizing for the user, devices could even begin to know who is using it, how they like to learn, what they already know, etc.

Dede’s work on teaching and learning includes figuring out how to assess sophisticated performances based on rich observations–the kind of learning we care about, the kind that transfers outside “school.”  The paper and pencil test is incapable of recognizing the kinds of rich and interesting things that students learn in VE’s.  So, could we build an assessment instrument capable of measuring the kinds of inquiry science skills we are trying to teach?  (They are working currently on summative assessment.)

In a Virtual World, we can evoke inquiry skills impossible in a p&p test.  How does that work?  Lots of tacit info can be presented (just like in the real world — it can be absorbed in seconds).  Not having to present all context in narrative text means that with test results,  we aren’t confusing what students know with their abilities to read.

In the VE test, we get rich audit trails about how the students proceeded with their investigation.  Can we produce patterns that a skilled teacher can make use of —  e.g., this person is good at formulating hypotheses but doesn’t understand controlled experiments.  (Right now the data is way too complex.)

HS teachers are struggling with standardized high stakes tests that are summative, and fail to capture what it is we are really trying to teach.  Formative assessment (like barcodes in stores – we know what inventory we have in real time) is better, but we haven’t got even a psychometrically valid test at the summative level.  Still working toward what we could know about students to plan effective real-time interventions.

Chris Dede.  “When we get the pedagogy right, we’re always astonished by what students can do.”

We’ve gotten used to the products coming from HS as being increasingly worse, needing remediation just to be prepared for college.

Alternative Visions for the Highly Prepared Students Coming into College – what should they do  in college?

  • More of the same?
  • Intensively interdisciplinary, to build up systemic understandings.  (They won’t get so much interdisciplinary stuff in HS)?
  • Focus on wisdom as a capstone to knowledge?

Definition of Wisdom.  Dede, ER, 2009  (article that didn’t get a lot of response.)

Where does knowledge fall short – where do we need the exercise of wisdom?

Commercial online textbooks – the corporate world publishers are sprinkling a frosting of active learning on traditional “transfer of knowledge” teaching methods.

It’s not about the tech – it’s about changes in content, pedagogy, assessment and learning outside of class/school.  Tech is a catalyst, but it’s not the main attraction.   Help people get past that.

Teachers teach the way they were taught.  We are going to have to do some unlearning.

Unlearning – intellectual, emotional, and social.  Giving up things that have made us successful in order to adapt successfully to a changing context.

Professional Development = Communities of Unlearning

Is higher education in crisis?

Yes.  We look at the economic problems coming down on out heads.  Poor students coming in because of standardized testing.  If we don’t turn around pre-college ed, we’re in deep trouble as a society.  But if we fix K-12 and don’t fix college learning, we’re still in deep trouble.  The tactical problem is the way the incoming students are unprepared – we spend too much time focused on that.  We should be looking at the problem of success – what are we going to teach, when they are coming with these deep skills and understandings.


Students are worried about getting jobs.  Programs are being developed to be more vocational.  How does that square with your idea of teaching wisdom?  We could offer students/employers an interesting deal.  People can’t just apply knowledge to make the world better, they need to be innovative.  The value proposition we could offer would speak to more of the dimensions of wisdom, and that could have economic value (not just individual salaries, but broader social economic vaue).

Faculty will not be the ones building these VE’s.  Maybe faculty would edit them.  Maybe AR is something we can do together with students – technically not as hard.  Less about creating the infrastructure, and more about going thru this kind of wrenching shift from teachers (librarians?) being the expert sources of knowledge.  Instead, modeling how you go through these apprenticeship experiences.

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