Stuck in the Industrial AgeKids in American schools often feel bored, unchallenged, and intellectually restricted. Why? The basic model upon which our education system is built is designed as an industrialized system to train workers for an industrial economy. Cookie-cutter curricula are taught using the same set of textbooks in the same way by the same teachers, with everyone graded based on standardized test. Follow the pattern. Memorize the right answers. Stay inside the lines.
The problem, of course is that industrialized work is now outsourced to cheaper labor pools or robots, and our industrial economy is of a bygone age.
Our education system is not designed for the information economy, where a premium is paid for creativity, execution, ideas, and uniquely filling niche markets.
What's worse, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects that are so key to a modern, well-educated labor force are the most vulnerable to these cookie-cutter approaches, where liberal arts subjects are often approached with more creative lesson plans. Whenever I hear a child say "I hate math", I know in my gut that it's probably the soul-sucking way that subject is being taught that has drained the child's passion for the subject.
The Seth Godin TED talk I reference below has a great quote that I'll paraphrase: "If you wanted to create baseball fans,...would you have them memorize the top 50 players' batting averages and quiz them on it?...When it's work, you want to do less of it. When it's art, you want to do more of it."
The factory-style approach by which we're teaching our students replaces passion with the chore of doing homework and memorizing what will be on the next test.
Repeating the lessonAs a math teacher in an average American high school, your job consists of lecturing on a specific subject for 45 minutes in front of your first period class, asking them to do homework practicing their problem sets, and then repeating exactly that same task seven more times.
This makes no sense in the age of high-speed internet and pervasive online video.
A better way: Flipping HomeworkHomework is a chore, and many students struggle with it at home. Much of the disparity in academic success can be traced back to the differing degrees of support a student receives at home, leaving many potentially gifted students out in the cold. If a parent/guardian isn't well equipped to help a student with homework, that student will likely fall behind.
What does make sense is to use that teacher as a one-on-one instructor who can use class time to help students work through problems, grok tricky concepts that they may have missed, and to keep students engaged and passionate about the subject matter. Focusing a teacher's passion 100% onto actively helping students is a much better use of his or her time.
Watching Online Lectures is the New HomeworkThe lectures now happen at home. How? Teachers could record live video of the week's lectures and host them on YouTube.
The simple ability to rewind and listen to a statement you didn't understand is hugely valuable.
Better yet, build your own curriculum and mash-up your self-created content with the world's greatest lecturers every day. If you're a physics teacher, assign a video you created on your own one day, and the next day, assign your students a lecture from Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind.
For more on a "flipped classroom", read this post by Bill Tucker.
Bringing the Classroom OnlineWhile watching lectures online is a great start, there's a lot more that can be done online to break down the barriers put in place by traditional education.
My colleague David Seruyange writes about MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses, in part of his post about the death of the traditional university. Being able to access your educational content totally on-demand, viewing lectures and taking tests on your own schedule opens up the access to education to a much wider audience. Watching a lecture every morning on my mobile device during a commute gives me that much more time to learn.
A major critizism that could be hurled at the concept of online education is that while it is more flexible for some people, it is severly lacking in the social aspect that makes education click for many people. Without another student to ask a question that you didn't think of, or the ability to walk up to the teacher after class, many opportunities for engagement in the subject could be missed.
Making Online Education SocialI don't buy it. Are you telling me that in our world of Facebook, Twitter, and Skype connecting us, we can't create an engaging social educational experience online?
I certainly don't think anyone has nailed it in a cohesive product offering...yet. There are a lot of components that need to come together in just the right way in order to pull off a great social educational experience for a large group.
That said, I learn and teach socially online every day. Our projects here at Vertigo consist of distributed teams of employees who need to work together to design and build software. We frequently need to get together to review code and designs, and we do so online. By using screen-sharing tools like join.me and Skype, we can actually teach each other and learn from each other better than if we were all co-located and meeting in a conference room. Being able to code, look at wireframes, and tweak visual designs from my development workstation while participating in a conversation about how I'm doing so is far more effective than talking about our architecture in one room and then working on it in another room.
The work Vertigo did to bring the 2010 PDC to life also highlighted how bringing together an international audience to learn about subject matter is actually more effective when done online:
Read more about the PDC experience here.