JOSE: The pace of change in the 21st century is increasing and increasing, I think the world is becoming more interconnected and complex than ever. In this environment, I do think it is critical that we as teachers shift our focus from education to life-long learning.
GUEST: But not everybody has a computer. There are millions of people out there who are not interconnected and don’t need to learn all their lives about something which maybe they’re never going to use. Besides, it is a waste of time if you don’t have immediate access to new technologies.
JOSE: At my age, if I chose not to learn anything new after I was through with school, I would not know how to operate a VCR, DVD player, my cell phone, my computer, the CD player, or my home printer, and I am sure the list could be longer. Life is a continuous learning process or the human brain stagnates and everything stops. Fortunately, the increasing availability of learning resources on the internet is coinciding with the growing importance of continuous learning.
GUEST: We are resource constrained, because that availability of learning resources on the internet is only for those who have access to it, the rest has to keep on learning with traditional methods which have proven to educate as well. On the other hand, no opportunities to enhance learning by exploring the edge are presenting themselves.
JOSE: Of course that opportunities to enhance learning by exploring the edge are presenting themselves as well. It is at the edge that most innovation occurs and where we can discern patterns that indicate new kinds of opportunities and challenges. In this context, the edge can mean many things: kids who grow up digital, developments in rapidly changing nations such as China and India, new kinds of institutional frameworks such as open source and Wikipedia, and new media forms.
GUEST: But look at the context we all find ourselves at the moment. First, today’s kids, our students, are not very different from most of us here and they don’t learn in ways that are different from how we learn. Second, education is not more important than ever, because people are less willing to pay for it than ever before. Third, how are we going to educate students for the 21st century, if most students today aren’t going to have a fixed, single career in the future? It’s better that students pick up new skills inside of today’s traditional educational institution since nearly all of the significant problems of tomorrow are likely to be the same we have at the moment.
JOSE: Sorry to contradict you, but first of all, today’s students are different from most of us here. They have a new vernacular, a digital vernacular; and today’s students also learn in ways that are different from how we learn. It’s true that there are many challenges, but the question here is how can we begin to take advantage of those differences? We have to find a way to re-conceptualize parts of our educational system and at the same time find ways to reinforce learning outside of formal schooling so that these challenges can be met. In fact, there are successful models of learning already in place that offer ideas that can be more broadly applied. For example, studio-based learning environments all work-in-progress is always made public. As a result, every student can see what every other student is doing. Moreover, every student witnesses the thinking processes that other students are using to develop what they do. Students start to appreciate and learn from the struggles and the successes of their peers.
GUEST: But what about large classes? They invent and invent new gadgets, and computer programs; wikis, blogs, twitters, and so on, but who says they really work? What’s up? What should I believe?
JOSE: Well, new teaching practices must be invented and experimented with. Clickers, for example. They can be used in large classes as you say. A clicker is a simple inexpensive device that can be distributed to every student in a class, enabling them to respond to questions posed by a teacher and immediately tally results. Full-size screens surrounding most of the classroom is another example; each screen is independently controllable. Any student can grab any screen and can put anything up on that screen. During a seminar, for example, they can Google and instantly project what they find of interest to the overall discussion. All this culminates in a collaborative learning experience where multiple images are being displayed of what students found interesting.
GUEST: But who knows what is going on with kids who are growing up digital? How do they learn? How do they like to learn? How do they problem solve? And most importantly, what creates meaning for them and helps them to construct their own sense of self. Now very little time is spent reading good books. Carrying a laptop does not make you “digital”.
JOSE: The answer is that there are new kinds of social, work and learning practices, as well as forms of entertainment or infotainment that emerge when a generation like this is immersed in a digital world. It’s the modern, intelligent, multimedia mobile internet device that defines being digital. These devices used to be cell phones, but phone calls are a small part of what they are used for today. There is also game-based learning.
GUEST: Learning is not a game and most of the video games are incredibly difficult to master.
JOSE: If you’re not extremely good at pattern recognition, sense-making in confusing environments, and multitasking, then you won’t do well in the game world. Believe it or not, the gaming generation wants to learn, and without measurements they can’t tell if and how much they are learning. So this means that game designers as well as teachers of the 21st century students must know how to design good learning environments; environments that are constantly throwing new challenges at the students, challenges that are neither too difficult nor too simple. Further, as the student improves, the challenges need to be more demanding.
GUEST: In my opinion, this all goes against something very important in education which is the social life of the students. The social environment the traditional classroom offers can’t be replaced.
JOSE: Now we talk about the social life of information. The importance of the social construction of understanding where experience and information are internalized into actionable knowledge through conversations and social negotiations. In the networked age, this approach provides a way to both improve education and to set the stage for a culture of learning. For example, blogging. When handled appropriately, classroom blogs can open multiple ways of knowing and contributing to a class. For those who are too shy to speak out, find speaking in English challenging, or who are more passive, the classroom blog can serve as a way to participate in a class discussion. The classroom itself can create a kind of container for a blog focused on activities in the class and one tied together by the sociality of all members being in the class. It complements, but doesn’t replace, the class and as a container it also allows students to contribute not just their own ideas but also other material they find relevant to the topic of the class.
GUEST: I still think there is a problem with the new learning environments and it is that the passion for learning is not the same as it was in traditional learning.
JOSE: Twenty-first century new learning environments offer the possibility of a hybrid model of learning, where we teachers can combine the power of passion-based participation in communities of practice and co-creation with a limited core curriculum for teaching the rigorous thinking and argumentation specific to that field. It is implicit in this new learning environments that, given the nearly infinite number of communities that exist on the net, nearly every student of any age will find something that he or she is passionate about. In conclusion my dear guest, new learning environments are here to stay.