Judy Breck and Open Content

Some of you may have read my earlier post on Michael Schrage’s recent article in the Financial Times, pointing out some of the pitfalls associated with computers in classrooms. Some of you may even have seen Clarence Fisher’s almost-angry but later calmer response, a reaction similar to mine.

Why did we respond initially that way? Because of the number of people who keep damning the use of technology in education with faint praise, I guess. Because of the wasted opportunities.

So it was a good day to come home and find Judy Breck’s “109 Ideas for Virtual Learning” waiting for me. Delightful book, one that any and every one interested in 21st century education should read.

Here’s an excerpt from JSB’s foreword:

Let me dwell a moment on this powerful metaphor, an ecology of learning, founded not just on the vast information now readily accessible on the Internet but also the tools that amplify the social aspects of learning — learning in communities, learning with amateurs interacting with professionals, learning as a constantly expanding exploration of ideas.

Emphasis mine. JSB also makes the point about learning-to-be rather than learning-about, as a result of the feedback loops and social networks and participatory process. Brings to mind an old Maths professor of mine, who used to chide us regularly saying “All you do is commit to memory and vomit to paper“. Sounds better with his accent, where he made commit and vomit rhyme just fine.

I quote from Judy:

That transforming idea for education is this: The network, patterning structure of what a mind can know is mirrored in the network, patterning structure of the open Internet.

Powerful stuff. But my first-time around favourites are in ideas 8, 80 and 42. Why only open content will endure. Why open content is a bargain. And The Grand Idea.

I particularly like how Judy approaches the walled-garden problem from an educationist’s perspective. Here’s what she says on page 30:

“It will not work out to have open and closed content in parallel because knowledge itself is connected and that connectivity is dynamic. Only open content will endure because closed pieces of content are excluded from the dynamics.”

And then she goes on to say:

“A knowledge asset closed and isolated in a single website may be an expensive animation of a scientific principle, an erudite essay by a field-leading professor, or a rights-protected journal article. Many of these kinds of assets exist in the closed sections of the Internet. The knowledge quality of what these assets contain may be absolutely first-rate.”

“Even the highest quality isolated assets are a cut below open content because they are isolated from the larger context of their subject.”

Wow. Just go buy the book. Now.

Open content is not about tree-hugging tax-avoiding music-pirating downright UnAmerican activities. Open content is about learning and discovery and magic and our children and Judy’s Golden Age.



Keep computers out of the classroom?

I look for situations where someone I like and trust has a radically different view from me on any particular subject. Because I think I can learn from it.

Here’s a recent example. Michael Schrage, someone I’ve never met, but whose works I have enjoyed reading, wrote recently in the Financial Times: The “edutainers” merit a failing grade. Now this is a guy who wrote Serious Play, a researcher in innovation at MIT, someone who has been active at all levels of education for a quarter of a century.

So I take notice. He says “What better way to breed cognitively spoilt children than sparkly tools that cater to their impatience and short attention spans?” He goes on to say “Classroom computing offers less of a bold vision than a cowardly cheat by technocrats counting on technical innovation to shield themselves from hard questions about what schools should be.”

I believe he makes three important points.

  • One, misguided early adoption could have resulted in painful write-offs: a timing issue
  • Two,  most educational software has nothing to do with cultivating character: a process issue
  • Three, technology could be used as a medium to redefine relationships between schools and communities creatively

I agree with all three points. I also agree with him that we shouldn’t make the hyperactive short-attention-span problem worse.

I infer from his article that he does not believe in Taylorist assembly-line cookie cutter approaches to  education, and that we should celebrate the rich diversity present in student humanity. My words, not his. And I agree wholeheartedly.
But despite all these agreements, I believe there is room for computers in the classroom and in the school. For the social aspect of education, for cooking-pot approaches to learning. Blogs and wikis. Networks of networks. Letting our children do things we wouldn’t have dreamt of. Let them have their magic and wonder, and let us do everything we can to protect them from hypnos and mesmer.
I guess what I’m trying to say, Michael, is I agree with pretty much everything you say about this subject bar the use of social software. In fact I think it is imperative that social software is used to reconnect the child to the teacher and the school and the community. It’s not about gadgets and glitz. It’s about connectedness and belonging and sharing and bonding. That’s what we need in schools so that learning can take place.

Take the Cerado quiz on [I promised not to]

You can find it here. I saw it while reading something on TailRank that Judy Breck had posted via Smart Mobs, and just had to do it. And I scored 23. Which I can live with -)

And by going to the quiz I had a chance to see where Haystack had got to.

Four Pillars makes no sense unless we accept that there will be StumbleUpons and last.fms and haystacks. We have a foundation (which I promised to build out next week) and four pillars. But what are the pillars holding up or supporting? More later

Blogging with children

It’s been that kind of Saturday. My central heating (which broke down last week) gets fixed, yippee. Liverpool beat Everton. Yippee twice.

And I come across this piece, Why I blog with kids. There’s a teacher somewhere who blogs with his kids. Thank you Clarence Fisher.

And reading the post takes me to another, which asks today “Why aren’t we all blogging?” And Nancy Mckeand, whose blog it is, subtitles it “A first attempt at blogging with no idea where it will take me”.

Teachers who make themselves vulnerable in this way will succeed in their primary goal, to impart learning to their wards in order that potential may be reached, extended and released. Here’s to Clarence and Nancy…. and others out there I may never hear about.

Yippee thrice.