by Stephen Downes
Aug 15, 2016
No doubt the Government of Canada strategic plan will be of interest especially to Canadians, but the areas of focus should be of interest to governments and institutions worldwide. "Each area of focus details specific actions and activities that are underway or that represent new enterprise directions.
These are also probably areas of priority for my own organization and for educational institutions worldwide.
People have forgotten, I think, that there was an internet before the web. This is the story of part of it: Gopher. Developed at the University of Minnesota, "it was simple enough to explain: With minimal computer knowledge, you could download an interface — the Gopher — and begin searching the internet, retrieving information linked to it from anywhere in the world." It looked for a time like Gopher was the future of the internet. "Gopher developers held gatherings around the country, called GopherCons, and issued a Gopher T-shirt — worn by MTV veejay Adam Curry when he announced the network’s Gopher site. The White House revealed its Gopher site on Good Morning America."
As the press release states, "'Deconstructing CBE' analyzes the diversity of CBE (Competency Based Education) programs and evaluates how CBE can be customized to meet specific institutional needs." The study touts some of the advantages of CBE. "CBE targets a diverse community: The majority of respondents (68 percent) look to CBE to expand opportunities and enhance learning for non-traditional students." Additionally, "CBE does not have to be delivered online, and need not be entirely self-paced." The full report (37 page PDF) describes three case studies (or 'portraits') and is based on a survey of 251 institutions in the U.S. According to the report, "CBE raises critical questions about how institutions could be organized and financed and what roles faculty and other instructional support providers might play." Via ACE, which also links to a 2014 special issue of ACE's The Presidency on "The Road to Competency-Based Education."
The story is super-local but the impact of this program is nation-wide. The BBC micro:bit "is a pocket-sized computer that you can code, customise, and control to bring your digital ideas, games, and apps to life." It costs maybe $15 or so. You use it to create different hands-on computer projects, for example, in this case, rocket cars. It was part of this school's technology day, which also included the use of Raspberry Pi. See more in this video. Hand-on real projects are the best kind of learning, creating skills and memories that last a lifetime.
This is the problem that needs to be solved. "One of the inspirations behind the project was seeing many of his friend having to continue living like students, even with professional jobs," according to this article. "You find out that the government's charging you, you know, $6-7 a day interest, and that money doesn't even go to the schools, or the teachers that taught you ... it just goes to banks." We need to get the cost of education to zero, or as near zero as humanly possible. No, it doesn't solve every problem. But it solves some big ones.
I've described this in talks more often than I can count, so it's nice to have an actual physicist make the point for me: "During a decade of education, we physicists learn more than the tools of the trade; we also learn the walk and talk of the community, shared through countless seminars and conferences, meetings, lectures and papers. After exchanging a few sentences, we can tell if you’re one of us. You can’t fake our community slang any more than you can fake a local accent in a foreign country." Physicists recognize each other.
What's unfair about the whole thing is that people who are not experts cannot tell that they're not. "My clients know so little about current research in physics, they aren’t even aware they’re in a foreign country. They have no clue how far they are from making themselves understood." Yeah. And it's not just physics - I see the same thing in well-meaning scientists (including computer scientists) and engineers trying to talk about education and philosophy. And I wonder - every day - in what areas I'm seen by real practitioners as an unschooled amateur.
Finally, though: "They are driven by the same desire to understand nature and make a contribution to science as we are. They just weren’t lucky enough to get the required education early in life, and now they have a hard time figuring out where to even begin." Because everyone is something.
Here's George Siemens, from a recent and very positive interview in EdSurge: "If we do things right, we could fix many of the things that are really very wrong with the university system, in that it treats people like objects, not human beings. It pushes us through like an assembly-line model rather than encouraging us to be self-motivated, self-regulated, self-monitoring human beings." It makes me think of the interaction in one of Ulrike Reinhard's posts, where one person says her school will "change their path of destiny n make them something in life" and Reinhard replies "They are already something in life." And when Rory McGreal comments in the Siemens article that "You can’t be an adaptive learner if you don’t know anything" my response is that they already know something.
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