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Posts Tagged ‘future

Much of the anglosphere seemed to ga-ga over 21 October 2015 as the day Doc Brown and Marty McFly came Back to the Future.

This spawned needless analysis of whether the movie had correctly predicted life in 2015. No movie or even a well-regarded think tank can predict the future with any certainty.


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The future is now. The future is what you make of it. You do not need 1.21 gigawatts of power to realize that.

Stop staring into an unforseeable future. Stop trying to make projections that are based on fairy tales or science fiction movies or dystopian novels.

The future is hopeful, not wishful. It is not merely envisioned, it is also enabled. Do it now.

Tempting to link the future of anything to technological development. That is what most people seem to do because technologies make things faster, better, or are just plain awesome.
 

Caps-Lock is FULL OF AWESOME!!1! by colinaut, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  colinaut 

 
Since my passion and work lie where the fields of education and technology overlap, that might also be why I am often asked to offer answers to the question “What is the future of education?”

I do not have a ready or standard answer. But I have distilled some ideas that have withstood scrutiny.

The first is that education and schooling overlap, but they are not the same. For example, schooling is about enculturating the masses while education is about finding the individual.

We need both schooling and education, but I think that we have too much schooling and not enough education. It is just as important to realize that some people use the terms interchangeably. This is why you will get different and confusing answers.

The second thought I have is that it is a mistake to link changes in schooling and education to the pace of technological development. Schooling and education move and respond very slowly to change. Both are very conservative, but schooling more so than education.

The world’s first university might have started in Bologna in 1088. Lectures probably started shortly after and they are still a mainstay in 2015 despite the changes in technology.

My third thought is that we are extremely short-sighted as a species. We want to look forward as far as we can, but we hold ourselves back with our short and selective memories, our biases, our greed, and our fear:

  • We forget that every important technological development had its opponents and failures.
  • Some of us refuse to accept evolution as a fundamental change process because we cannot see beyond a human lifetime.
  • A few of us in control of products like educational media and policies like Internet access would rather maintain the status quo to make money or to feed worry.

So is there a future for education in spite of all these barriers? Of course. Can I tell you what it will look like definitively? Of course I cannot.

What can we do then? Instead of wringing our hands in despair, I say we learn to be now-ists because what we do now shapes the future. If, as William Gibson put it, the future is already here; it is just not evenly distributed, then I say we find ways to spread it around.

Like the majority of Singaporeans, I am physically myopic (short-sighted). I cannot see clearly beyond my arm without the help of corrective lenses.
 

myopia by haglundc, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  haglundc 

 
Some people can barely predict what they will do next week, so how are they going to see the future of education? I ask this in all seriousness because the future of education is no trifle matter.

The big question is: What is the future of education?

The people who seem the most worried about the future of education are politicians, policy makers, and administrators (strangely enough, teachers do not seem to be that concerned). The people most interested in answering this question tend to be vendors and self-proclaimed prophets.

On one hand, you can understand the importance of such a question. Any country’s ministry or department of education can correlate its core work with well-being (economic or otherwise).

On the other hand, you have to ask yourself if anyone can predict an uncertain future. Some thought leaders have started using VUCA to describe the world now: Volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. All four conspire to make prediction of the future of education next to impossible.

So should we just throw our collective hands in the air and give up? No, that would be just as foolish. I offer three perspectives.

  1. Here is a quote attributed to William Gibson: The future is already here — it is just not very evenly distributed. That is one way of saying that we can learn from others around and slightly ahead of us.
  2. Joi Ito recommends that we be “now-ists”. What we do now with verve and passion has a peculiar habit of becoming the future.
  3. We need to recognize another aspect of being short-sighted and that is not learning from the past and the mistakes others make. For example, we might think that the problems we have today like neophobia are new. An examination of the past will reveal otherwise.


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All that said, education can change quickly. However, schooling is unlikely to evolve or transform.

People are already educating themselves independently of school via Youtube and MOOCs. For as long as schools still cling on to pencils, think inside the paper-only box, operate by standardization over personalization, and create artificial bubbles, we are not likely to see much change. And as long as people confuse education with schooling, we will not see much change in education either.

I have always wondered why some teachers and school leaders are fond of citing ICT “use” in order to “prepare for the future”.

I could focus on why “use” is not as effective as “integration” or “immersion”, but that is for another day.

Take a straw poll and people will tell you that the future is uncertain. How can you prepare for what you cannot see or define?

We should be leveraging on the ICTs we already have to address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities we have now. These are the smartphones in students pockets, their always-on connections, their indefinite reach, and their relevance now.

What we do now affects the future and helps shape it, so we should focus on the present and work our way forward. Focusing on the future (for example, “they will need this later”) is attempting to reverse engineer a projected need that may not exist.
 

 
I know what these well-intentioned teachers and leaders mean to say. Look forward. Do not teach the way you were taught. Prepare kids for their future, not your past.

These are messages that resonate with me too. But let us not forget the now because it is what we already have and the now shapes our future. The future messages are empty rhetoric; the actions we take now might prove historic.

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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.


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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.

A few weeks ago, my wife wanted to replace her pair of Jays earphones because one side no longer worked. It was as loud a hint about a possible Christmas present as I could hear.

We visited an Atlas store (they sell high end systems like Bose) intending to try a few lower end earphones.

Bose QC20i noise cancelling in-ears by houbi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  houbi 

 
My wife tried the new Bose QC20i and was hooked. Not only was the sound exceptional, it noise-cancelled the rest of the world out with the flick of a switch.

The problem was these things did not come cheap. They were listed at S$499 at the store with a “generous” Christmas discount of S$20.

I knew that the marked up prices for headphones and earphones in Singapore stores were ridiculous, so I went online.

To make a long story short, I found a reputable seller on eBay who offered a brand new pair of QC20i for about S$150 less. This price included shipping from the USA. The total cost was even less than Amazon was selling them for.

I paid less for the same high quality product by doing my homework online. I wanted buy something and someone else was willing to sell it to me for a more reasonable sum.

A recent article in Today highlighted how Uber matched riders with drivers for a fee and could bypass traditional taxi services. There were fewer regulations and the rider might take on more risks, but the service gave people what they wanted. The writer of that article suggested that the same thing could happen with “students needing tutoring on specific subjects being matched up with professors anywhere in the world willing to teach them”.

Now and in the future, learners can Uber their education. They can find and shape their own education for much less than premium schools and universities are offering. What they create for themselves will be no less authentic, useful, or valuable.

Like Uber, customizing your own education is not a smooth ride at the moment. The incumbents cry foul and push back. But when the dust settles, perhaps a Christmas or three from now, I hope a new landscape emerges: One that allows learners to give themselves the education they desire.

Recently I jumped on the Carousell bandwagon to get rid of old electronic items. My experiences so far have been overwhelming and positive.

When I sold my old iPad Minis, I was inundated with so many messages that I could not keep up. I put the items up for sale at 11pm one evening and decided on a buyer shortly after midnight.

I just sold a 2010 Mac Mini, and while that item did not draw as many views, it got to people who really wanted the item and I sold it someone who wanted to upgrade from a 2007 model.

Carousell is a mobile app that allows you to take photos of items you want to sell, describe them, and then advertise them on an online platform. I have noticed some folks set up entire niche shops there.

I can view the profiles and ratings of other buyers and sellers. We communicate via the app and do not exchange personal information like phone numbers until we decide to meet.

The platform removes the middleman. When I sold other items before, the middleman always took a big cut. But when there was no intermediary, there was not enough reach and I could not sell my items.

What does this have to do with the future of education?

Schools, universities, and tuition centres are the intermediary brokers for education. Administrators and policy makers at such institutions do not really have to care about learners and learning.

We have entered an age where learners can seek their own paths and start customizing their education. There are already generic connectors like Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube. There are specific resources like MOOCs, the granny cloud, and Khan Academy. Learners do not need teachers or they can seek their own.

At the moment efforts like DIY selling and customizing your own education are niche efforts. But I look forward to the day when cookie-cutter, industrialized schooling are viewed as odd or even cruel practices of the past.


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