Meducation: the learner’s little helper?

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Now if All Change Please! were to write that in the not too distant future all you will need to do to learn something new will be to take the appropriate knowledge pill, you would doubtless think it had finally flipped its lid, completely gone off its rocker and that it wouldn’t be long before they would be coming to take it away to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time, and it would be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats…

But if it did, it might go on to suggest that if you had a serious knowledge addiction problem, just as Michael Gove obviously has, and, for example, wanted to learn about rocket science, there would be a pill for that, and a different one to take if you wanted to know everything there is to know about brain surgery. To be taken only under the direction of a qualified teacher, obviously.

And just imagine the uproar at the Daily Mail headline: ‘All school children to go on the pill’. Or perhaps it might be a ‘morning after’ pill that was taken if you had forgotten to do learn Chapter 23 the night before? There would also probably be clever headlines such as “Is this the next generation of tablets for use in schools?’

Doubtless educational academics would write papers and attend long conferences where they would earnestly debate the amount of prescription that would occur with this type of so-called independent learning, and whether or not it should be henceforth referred to as ‘Meducation’. Should schools be henceforth renamed clinics? Would there be hard pills and supposedly easier-to-take soft pills? And of course, most importantly, they would need to decide what colour pill to assign to each subject area of the curriculum, e.g., yellow for English, blue for maths, orange for science, etc.

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Meanwhile, don’t worry, All Change Please! intends to keep taking its tablets and as a result has no plans to make such a crazy suggestion. Especially as someone else already has. And not just anybody, but no less a person that Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT.

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/03/negropodamus-disses-internet-of-things-predicts-knowledge-pills/

Yes, the very same Nicholas Negroponte who in the mid 1990s was ridiculed for suggesting that one day people would buy music and books over the internet. And who around the same time was developing early prototypes of automated GPS driving systems, wearable computers and digital street maps, all of which no-one thought would ever come to pass. So obviously he’s no idea what he’s talking about. And his latest prediction is just as hard to swallow:

‘In 30 years, Negroponte said, we’re going to be able to literally ingest information. Once information is in your bloodstream, some kind of mechanism could deposit the information in the brain. You could take a pill and learn English or the works of Shakespeare. He said little else on the subject, but Negroponte assured the audience that the idea is not as ridiculous as it seems.’

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And of course, as fans of The Matrix are doubtless already thinking, there is a parallel here with the choice between taking the red pill and the blue pill. The blue pill allows the person to remain in the blissful ignorance of the fabricated virtual reality of the Matrix, whilst the red pill would lead to escape from the Matrix and into the painful truth of the real world. Presumably those heading for Oxbridge would take the blissful blue knowledge pill, while the rest of us would be given the realistic red one?

Meanwhile here at the All Change Please! Institute of Technology we are secretly working on a slightly different pill. One that isn’t about knowledge acquisition and recall, but one that makes it easier for people to be more creative and collaborative, and to accept and strive for positive change in the future. Now that really would be something worth having.

 

Image credits (Flickr):   Top: bwjones  /  Middle: emagineart    /   Bottom: buttersponge

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”

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A new initiative by traditional academics insists that very small children should first be taught a rigorous programme of structural theory and have a good knowledge of the scientific application of forces before being allowed to play with building blocks.

OK, this time just kidding, but admit it, for a moment there you were willing to believe it!

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently read an account of a prospective employee, who when asked a knowledge-based question in an interview, admitted he didn’t know the answer, but that when it became important to the work he could suggest various ways in which they would be able to find out. The employer was impressed, both with his honesty and resourcefulness, and he got the job.

Or as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so clearly put it in 2002: ‘Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.’

In contrast, reading much of Gove and Truss’s spin or the writings of traditional academics, one could easily believe that an abundant store of known knowledge is an essential and the only prerequisite for any future employment, and at the same time not a single child has been taught a single piece of knowledge since the 1960s. This is of course, all complete nonsense. The reality is that the majority of children in the majority of lessons have continued to be formally taught existing knowledge. Indeed there is current trend in the production of resources intended to support teachers who have never used a project-based learning approach before.

And if All Change Please! reads just once more the supposed myth-busting  revelation triumphantly proclaimed by traditional academics that ‘you can’t look everything up on the internet’ it will scream. Let it make something clear. NO ONE IS SUGGESTING THAT CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER BE TAUGHT ANY KNOWLEDGE.

All so-called ‘progressive’ teachers of any worth recognise the value and importance of knowledge. What they do however is to question the type and amount of knowledge needed and to try and relate it as much as possible to practical application rather than abstract theory. They are also keen to develop children’s abilities to independently discover and learn – and question the reliability and validity of – new knowledge.

What’s really missing in the education system though is a structured programme of the development of thinking and learning skills, properly coordiated, monitored and rewarded across the whole school, instead of the current very patchy, haphazard exposure children might or might not encounter, depending on which teachers they just happen to have that year. When that finally happens then perhaps we will really be able for the first time to assess how effective or not it is.

OK, quiz question for budding traditional academics. Who is supposed to have said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”? No cheating now…

In case you were away from school the day that was covered, the answer is Albert Einstein. All Change Please! is happy to admit it didn’t previously know that. Indeed it was only after searching online to discover the source of the earlier saying “A little learning is a dangerous thing” that it discovered Einstein’s version. Sounds like a little searching might be a good thing.

Of course, a little knowledge can, as it is said, be a dangerous thing (as Gove has demonstrated through his lack of knowledge of teaching and learning). but so is too much. As well as more specialists we need more generalists who are able to see and work with the bigger picture. And as All Change Please! might just have mentioned once or twice before, what we’re currently completely failing to do is engage in any sort of debate about exactly how much formal ‘just in case’ knowledge of a given subject is now appropriate, and what that knowledge can best be delivered’ as it now can be, ‘just in time’.

Instead of nervously looking over our shoulder at the future while grasping to keep hold of an ever receding past, we should be striding positively towards tomorrow, learning from the mistakes of yesterday. Or as someone else once sang:

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

Shinin’ at the end of ev’ry day

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

And tomorrow’s just a dream away.

Now I wonder who wrote that? Well, this time it certainly wasn’t Einstein. But there’s a clue in All Change Please!‘s last post.

I, Govebot

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Metal Mickey was a popular children’s TV show from the 1970s.

I, ROBOT is a science fiction story written by Issac Asimov in 1939 about a robot that confesses to murdering its creator and then wisely switches itself off to protect humanity. One can only hope that in the near future Metal Mickey Gove does the honourable thing and admits it has similarly murdered education and wisely resigns to protect humanity…

But until that day happens we will need to continue to read Metal Mickey’s special-advisor generated political science fantasy inspired roborage spin. The latest gobbledegove nonsense nostalgically predicts the early 20th century coming of the futuristic ‘Second Industrial Revolution – a New Machine Age’ in which robots do all the making and everyone in the country has a Russell Group University Degree.

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/michael-gove-speaks-about-the-future-of-vocational-education

In some ways it is a remarkable speech in that it identifies and acknowledges the scale of the changes ahead. But unfortunately the more Gove says, the more obvious it becomes he has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. His  current reforms of the curriculum, examinations and eBacc-led league tables are  in the process of producing a generation of children unable and unwilling to face the challenges of developing the new ways of thinking and doing that will be needed if the country is to flourish in meeting the threats and opportunities of whatever the next ‘age’ actually turns out to be. Simply making vocational courses more academic in content and in examination is not going to work.

“To ensure we lead the world in the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial thinking required to design and create the new and emerging products and services of the Information Age, we need to completely abandon the notion that the memorisation of academic, out-dated knowledge is the way forward. As a result we shall be completely changing the eBacc to fully reflect the new requirements for teaching and learning in the 21st Century. All students, however academic, will therefore be required to study the Creative Arts, Design and Technology until the age of 18”  – Gove somehow completely omitted to say.

Instead he simply perpetuated the myth that in order to create anything worthwhile you have to first spend the vast majority of your time in school and college studying theory, absorbing knowledge and not daring to ask any awkward questions, such as Why? And at the same time he unwittingly consigned those who learn, succeed and grow best through practical and creative subjects to the growing numbers of NEETS.

Other things he said ranged from the ridiculous:

“….curricula and exams are more rigorous – with a proper emphasis on the centrality of academic knowledge in the education available to all.”

“Giving all children access to high-quality teaching in maths, English, physics, chemistry, biology, languages and the humanities to the age of 16 provides every child with the opportunity to flourish whichever path they subsequently choose.”

To the highly questionable:

“And more than giving children choices, that academic core also trains our minds to be critical and creative.”

“The work of cognitive scientists…..has shown that the best way to develop critical thinking skills is to ensure all children have a firm grounding in a traditional knowledge-based curriculum.”

“You actually need to have knowledge in your head to think well. So a knowledge-based curriculum is the best way to get young people ‘ready for the world of work”

And to the quite outrageous:

“…factual knowledge enhances cognitive processes like problem solving and reasoning. So, the more knowledge students accumulate, the smarter they become.”

“And it’s demonstrably the case that the higher order thinking skills we need – even and especially, in the sphere of technology – can be and are successfully cultivated through traditional intellectual disciplines.”

He even managed to equate Design & Technology with little more than the development of skills of traditional craftsmanship (although to be fair, that’s what it still is in many schools).

“In the existing design and technology curriculum students have had the opportunity to work with traditional products – wood and metal in resistant materials, wool and silk in textiles – to learn traditional methods of production. There is – and always will be – a demand for skilled artisanship of this kind.”

Meanwhile All Change Please! has recently been making a first hand study of the works, words and wisdom of Walt Disney, the creator of the educationally maligned but commercially and culturally highly successful Mickey Mouse. Perhaps Metal Mickey Gove should listen more to what he had to say:

“Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”

“If you can dream it, you can do it”

“It‘s a mistake not to give people a chance to learn to depend on themselves while they are young.”

It’s just a great shame that Walt Disney is not our current secretary of state for education.