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The future of education, open accreditation, and DIY U: An interview with Anya Kamenetz

Note: An mp3 of this interview is available for download.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Anya Kamenetz, a senior writer at Fast Company Magazine, and the author of several thought-provoking books on education, including Generation debt and DIY U: Edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education.

Anya’s most recent projects — two free ebooks Learning, freedom and the Web (Mozilla Foundation) and The Edupunks’ Guide (Gates Foundations) build on her previous work investigating issues of self-directed learning, peer-networks, and access.

Our discussion focused on the future, purposes, and meaning of formal education, as well as alternative accreditation models, Knowmad Society, and academic and institutional change.

Here is a summary of our conversation:

On the purpose of college:
“As I get deeper into the topic of higher education it strikes me all the time that there really is a blind man and the elephant quality to it. That people appear to be discussing the same thing and yet you find that their internal models of what higher education means are very, very different.”

On the mission of educational institutions in our modern economy defined by being post-industrial, highly globalized, and subject to accelerating change:
“We are living in a time of bottomless scrutiny of all of our institutions and education foremost among them and that’s because they are subject to so many structural pressures and the weakest points in their creation are really exposed by the winds of the new society and the world that we are living in…”

On the value of a college degree:
“…at its best, a college degree is a unique kind of currency that was created by human societies to show that someone has been through a process of personal development, of cultural development, that they are a ‘citizen’ in the truest sense of the word. They are able to participate in society intelligently. Ideally they are able to contribute to society…”

On compulsory high school in America:
“The whole idea of compulsory education is a little bit of a strange one in the United States. We’ve never had more, than what we have today which is a three-fourths high school graduation rate. Even though we compel people to attend, we are not that great at getting them to graduate. And for those that do graduate, in many districts, over half need some type of remedial courses to repeat when they get to college, if they get to college.”

On our projection of the demise of formal schooling by 2037:
“I’m not sure that I share the bluntness of a projection like that. It’s very easy to envision a world in which formal education is far demoted down the list in terms of choices that individuals have…”

On how alternative accreditation can benefit Knowmads:
“We are seeing all kinds of exciting developments in alternative accreditation. There are two major trends and they sort of work in complimentary directions. The first one is, this more atomized, very specific skills based orientated kind of accreditation which is best encapsulated by the badge. … On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think in a very intriguing way, you have sort of the person, the whole life, life as certification. The idea of a portfolio based assessment, things that allow you to document your learning that has taken place in various stages and aspects on your life, create a narrative around that learning, reflect on that learning, and develop metacognitive skills and document the learning you’ve done as well.”

On sociotechnical practices that are shaping the future of learning:
“The availability of social networks and peer based social networking is really enabling people to make visible the peer roles in learning that have sort been faded into the background by the last 150 years of formal education which sort of, and really in some sense the last 1000 years which considered of a person at the front of the room talking and the rest of the people are sitting down. And the assumption is that the people who are sitting down are very passive listeners and are not actively involved which each other; and, in fact, we have the phrase “classmates” but necessarily give you the idea that you have something valuable to learn from the person sitting next to you or behind you as much as you do from the person at the front of the room.”

On creating a more accessible and equitable education system:
“I think what is clearly being revealed at the moment is that the structures that we are building don’t necessarily allow for increased social equity or access over an above what we have in the brick and mortar system because merely making things available for free doesn’t necessarily lower the barriers to access and in fact we are actually we are in danger of recreating many of the same privileges that exists in the Ivory Tower world online simplify because people online tend to work through more informal networks that goes back to sort of an idea of an old boys network, it can be more meritocratic in some ways, it can be more open in some ways, but in the bottom line you need to have more onramps, ways to make these structures visible to people who wouldn’t necessarily know how to use them.”

On rising costs in higher education:
“Basic disruption theory tells us disruptive choices rarely come from the inside institutions, they have too much to lose. It’s the new institutions that are finding the ability offer things at radically lower costs. and sort of reframe and question what we mean by higher education.”

On evolution and revolution in education:
“I think that education is a peculiarly resistant to change of any institution because the whole purpose of formalized education is to preserve the past. … I guess I would vote on the side of very radical change happening but it may not take the take the form we expect.”

I also suggest watching two of Anya’s recent talks at Harvard’s Berkman Center and the American Enterprise Institute.

Perspectives on Invisible Learning

By popular demand, here are the slides from my Invisible Learning “stump lecture” from the past month:

In an era of globalization and “flattening” of our relatiohships around the Earth, how can we learn better? What happened to learning as we moved from the stable structures of the 20th century to fluid and amorphic structures of the 21st century? What roles do schools and colleges play when you can learn in any context and at any time? Do we continue with formal learning or do we formalize informal learning?

This is an open invitation to explore some of the best ideas emerging around the planet that are contributing to a new ecology of learning.

More info: www.invisiblelearning.com

Invisible Learning to be published in early 2011

About a year ago, Cristóbal Cobo and I announced a research project called Invisible Learning. After many months of work, collecting experiences, researching literature, interviews, and exchanges with experts (and –above all– many hours of writing), we can announce that in 2011 the Invisible Learning book will be a reality (in print and digital formats).

Details about the upcoming book, Invisible Learning: Toward a new ecology of education, are available at http://invisiblelearning.com — and, because we will first publish in Spanish, the website is (for now) in Spanish. We will roll out an English edition of the website and book later in 2011.

The project has exceeded all of our expectations. Not only in terms of interest (over 15,000 references in Google, 7,500 TEDx video playbacks in Spanish and many as well in English), but in the scope of contributions from universities and researchers in the United States, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Finland. We view this as a global commitment (Western, at least) to take a transnational perspective on education at all levels.

The ingredients from these sources are combined in this work to build a large map of ideas, proposals, experiences, tools, methodologies, and research frameworks that seek to make visible those invisible components that lie behind learning. This text seeks out new questions about learning for the upcoming decades.

Although the text has a critical perspective, resulting from the analysis of the shortcomings of educational systems, it also seeks to highlight innovative and transformative initiative that are launching in various corners of the globe.

We do not offer magical fixes for the problems identified, but we assemble the pieces of a conceptual puzzle, constructed from: Society 3.0; lifelong learning; the use of technologies outside of the classroom; soft skills; methodologies for building education futures; serendipic discovery; the hybridization between formal and informal learning; skills for innovation; edupunk and edupop; expanded education; digital maturity; Knowmads and knowledge agents; plus many new literacies relevant to the times in which we live.

We believe that the vested interest and the support provided by dozens of collaborators and institutions such as the Laboratori de Mitjans Interactus (LMI) at the University of Barcelona (publisher) are a living demonstration of the deep interest that exists for building a better education for tomorrow. Hugo Pardo, editor and the publisher’s tireless engine of this book provides some insight on his blog. We will write more about this project and its “added values” as it approaches publication. Stay tuned!

The value of invisible learning

In the past two months since the announcement of the Invisible Learning project, we have received a tremendous response in Twitter and the blogosphere. (Interestingly, most of the discussion originates from Latin America and Spain — and less from the United States and Canada.)

Much of the recent conversation has been on defining what is invisible learning, and whether we need invisible learning in an already crowded ecosystem of ideas. For example, in a comment posted at Blog Nodes Ele, Juan M. Fernández wrote:

Están bien todas estas propuestas pero por momentos tengo la sensación de que están cayendo en una retórica autocomplaciente y poco práctica. ¿Dialogan entre ellas o prefieren ignorarse? ¿No ha llegado el momento de tomar alguna de estas propuestas y desarrollarla?

He is right. Nobody should get self-congratulatory about adding new ideas or terminologies to an already crowded ecology of conceptualizations. What I feel is important, however, is how we approach the interconnectedness and blending of many of the key ideas and concepts that, to a great extent, were isolated. This is why invisible learning is valuable:

Invisible learning includes not only non-formal and informal education, but also addresses the need to recognize, understand and leverage the essential meta space between non-formal/informal education and formal education. Moreover, as Cristóbal Cobo points out, invisible learning is also inclusive of new social and cultural interfaces within this new paradigm of learning (i.e., edupunk). This means that we do not need to rely on new technologies to teach old ideas, but rather we can fuel new learning by tapping into our inherent imagination, creativity and innovation capacities that thrive in invisible learning’s spectrum of possibilities.