Another dot in the blogosphere?

Back to the future with now

Posted on: May 6, 2015

Ask any well-read person to predict the future of education and they might a) say they have no answer, b) suggest some rough ideas, or c) warn of impending doom. If they do this, they are looking toward the future aimlessly, wishfully, or fearfully.

An alternative strategy is to look forward by focusing on what you can do now.

Video source

In his TED talk, Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab, suggested we be “now-ists” by:

  • Not asking for permission first
  • Relying on the power of pull (finding what/who you need when you need it)
  • Learning constantly and rapidly
  • Knowing which direction (not necessarily which destination) to head for

What does this have to do with predicting the future of education? Not much. But it has everything to do with shaping it.

Changing education is sometimes about moving when you are not quite sure or ready. It is less about having a concrete or traditionally laid-out plan. It is more about having a direction or vision.

For example, visions or directions in assessment might include “not paper”, not just high stakes examinations, or personal portfolios linked to identity. No one, especially vendors, can say they are ready to roll out systemic changes like these.

Instead of large ocean liners of change, change agents are already smaller, agile boats heading in the same general direction. They also learn to operate their boats differently from large ships.

Progressive change agents learn to leverage on these properties:

  1. Personal relevance
  2. Emotional ties, and
  3. Common causes.

Consider the example of the teacher who started the #iwishmyteacherknew trend. Concerned for her students, she asked them to share something she might not know about them.

The answers were very revealing and moving. They ranged from kids not having pencils at home to do homework, coming from broken families, and not having friends to play with.

The responses locally, in the traditional broadcast media, and on social media were disproportionate to the initial effort. Classmates of a girl who had no friends at the playground rallied around her saying “we’ve got your back”. News sites and broadcast media spread the word [example]. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew trended on Twitter and is still active with examples from all over the world.

One teacher’s effort went viral because of personal relevance, emotional ties, and a common cause. But viruses come and go. This effort persists because other caring teachers can relate to it (personal relevance), are moved by it (emotional), and share the same vision (common cause).

The same could be said for Ito’s mission to measure the nuclear fallout in 2011 in Japan because of his concern for his family. He reached out online and found like-minded folk and collaborators.

Ito did not wait for a system to be invented. The #iwishmyteacherknew teacher did not ask for permission to collect data on her students. They did not wait for a better future to come; they made it happen.

If you want to spark and sustain a worthwhile future in education, your effort must connect: It must be personal, emotional, and a shared vision.

5 Responses to "Back to the future with now"

CHAN Hsiao-yun 曾曉韻: RT @ashley: Shape the future of education with what you do now #edsg via


Vera Lim: RT @ashley: Shape the future of education with what you do now #edsg via


Gilbert Ng Ying Fong: RT @ashley: Shape the future of education with what you do now #edsg via


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