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Review: Education Nation (by Milton Chen)

Book: Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools
Author: Milton Chen
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Teacher (July, 2010)

Like sunspots, books critical of the education system seem to follow periodic cycles. And, it seems we’ve hit a high point over the past year or so. We’ve seen popular books on the theme emerge from Clayton Christensen, Malcolm Gladwell, Sir Ken Robinson, and others.

Their messages are largely the same.

They converge on a genre that can only be classified as “change manifestos” — texts that are often written by educators (or people on the fringe of education) and suggest that we need a revolution in education. These, nearly universally, fail to tie in research, and lack a real futures orientation. As a result, many of these change manifestos fail to help bring about meaningful change.

Milton Chen deviates from the change manifesto genre somewhat by reflecting on his own experiences and the work undertaken by Edutopia, which he previously directed. The book is so deeply oriented toward the work of Edutopia and its key source of income (George Lucas), that, prima facie, it nearly comes across as a swan song of their accomplishments. Reading beyond this, however, the book emerges as another list of indictments of many of the things wrong with the U.S. education system. Where Chen shines, is in making a case for changing our mindsets so that we can find remedies. Specifically, Chen writes that we need to focus on implementing six edges of “innovation” in K-12 learning — not all of which are mutually compatible:

  1. The thinking edge: We need to upgrade our thinking about education itself
  2. The curriculum edge: Modernizing what is taught, how, and how we assess learning
  3. The technology edge: Meaningfully bringing modern technologies into educational environments
  4. The time/place edge: Realizing that education occurs all the time, not just during school clock hours
  5. The co-teaching edge: Teachers are important, and bringing more experts into the classroom is beneficial
  6. The youth edge: Recognizing generational differences between students, educators, and society

These six edges are just fine, but let’s focus a little bit on semantics: I view innovation as the purposive application of imagination and creativity to produce new benefits, but the edges of “innovations” Chen covers are really frameworks for practitioners, policy makers, revolutionaries, et al, to think about making positive change. Moreover, most of these reframings have existed since the time of Dewey, making me wonder why they’re in a book about “innovation.” What Chen does well, however, is connect his six edges with research and stories — most of which was compiled from his arm’s length relationships with Edutopia and other researches in the San Francisco Bay Area. And, he uses these connections to build support for integrating project-based learning, cooperative teaching, proper technology integration, professional development, and other ideas — except they all emerged from the 20th century, not the 21st century. There are tomes of additional research available, nationally and internationally, that Chen could have folded into his book to make for a richer and deeper read — perhaps one relevant for the 21st century. But, this book is really the story of Edutopia.

And that’s just fine. Unless if you’re looking for innovation.

Whereas peaks in sunspot activity can have real consequences for people on Earth, peaks of change manifesto activity have generally lead to no real change. I have enormous respect for the work of Chen and Edutopia, but the casual rehashing of old themes with an “innovation” rebranding leaves the reader asking “how?” and “so what?” Unless if Chen can address these how and so what questions in a second volume or an update, I’m afraid this book will share space on my bookshelf with other change manifestos.

Bottom line: Chen’s Education Nation is an enjoyable read within its genre, but lacks new ideas.


Notes: 1) Thanks to Carmen Tschofen for introducing the term change manifestos to me to describe the genre discussed above. 2) Wiley provided a copy of this book for me to review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

Exploring education futures at TEDxLaguna


Photo by Cristóbal Cobo

On Monday, I participated in TEDxLaguna, the second TEDx event ever held in Mexico. I called for “leapfrogging toward Knowmad Society” (video coming soon). Also, Cristóbal Cobo shared an overview and invitation to join our Invisible Learning collaboration. I believe the event was a great success, and I am pleased to have collaborated with Ernesto Gonzales (the event’s organizer), his team, and the other speakers. Videos of the talks will be posted to the TEDx YouTube channel soon, possibly in both English and Spanish… stay tuned!!!

Related on the Net: El Siglo de Torreón: Muestran ideas transformadoras

Five secrets futurists don't want you to know

Professional futurists continue to make outstanding contributions toward the development of understandings of the future, but is futures thought limited to this select group? Definitely not! With a do-it-yourself attitude, and leverage of the right resources, anybody can become an effective futurist. Here’s why:

  1. Nobody knows the future – don’t trust anybody who says otherwise. The world is changing at an accelerating pace, and it’s simply getting harder and harder to imagine what will happen next, let alone 20 years from now. We are all white belts when it comes to approaching the future. We have never been there before, and it is hard to model a world that does not exist yet. What futurists provide is their “best guess” — hopefully supported by quality research and trends analyses.
  2. Futuring is easier than you think. While some futures research methodologies, such as the Delphi method, require an element of professional experience and expertise, many others are easily done — and should be done — by just about anybody. Environmental scanning, for example, involves simply exposing yourself to as much data and information on a broad range as possible (i.e., reading as many newspapers as you can, daily). The futures wheel is related to mindmapping, and can be easily done within individual or group settings. Jerome Glenn and Theodore Gordon wrote an excellent volume on methodologies used by futurists, Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0 (Available at Amazon.com). For do-it-yourself futurists or those wishing to explore the field, it is an excellent resource that will get you going.
  3. We are all futurists. Few activities are as natural and universal among humans and human cultures are storytelling. We use stories to share our memories and imaginations of events that have happened or will happen. We use stories to share histories, fables and myths of the past. We also use stories to share visions of and for the future — including goal setting, promises of change, narratives of how we improve ourselves, and even apocalyptic nightmares. Even in our sleep, we often dream about future scenarios. Futurists explicitly tap into our stories and the power of storytelling to share their visions and dreams. So can everybody else.
  4. You can access the same information as professional futurists can. Unless if you’re divining knowledge from an isolated and highly controlled information source, the ubiquitous availability of data and information in today’s networked society mean that you can easily and cost-effectively build up your knowledge base of future trends. Moreover, you are welcome to join the same professional societies that professional futurists participate in, such as the World Future Society, providing you with the same connections and access to professional society-level knowledge they have.
  5. We all create the future. Futurists do not create the future, everybody does. Time may move forward, but the future does not just “happen.” Rather we share a responsibility to ensure that the futures we create are positive (ideal outcomes for humanity, the world, etc.). Moreover, in our interconnected world, we cannot disconnect from our futures. We cannot “futureproof” an organization. Nor can we find ways to fight it as individuals. Rather we can harness our inner futurists and lead in the creation of futures of our own design.

Settlers of the Shift

New World Order 2.0

I like conceptual maps –tools for illustrating the relationships among ideas– and, Tero Heiskanen created an interesting one. It’s huge. Without any further commentary:

Settlers of the shift is an open map of experts, organizations and ideas that are scattered around the globe. It’s for people whose work is shifting us towards a better tomorrow – a New World Order 2.0. This map aims to encourage people to connect across sectors and enable you to tie partnerships with like-minded individuals.

And:

Six values are suggested as a common backbone for the partnerships:

  • Justice: fair and honest treatment of everyone involved
  • Co-creation: synergistic dialogue and collaboration
  • Meaningfulness: solutions to problems worth solving
  • Generosity: giving time and resources for the sake of giving
  • Dignity: acting in a respectful and ethical manner
  • Abundance: denying artificial scarcity and limitations

(Thanks to Pekka Ihanainen for sharing this find!)

Invisible Learning: Designing cultures of sustainable innovation

cassette 2

Cristóbal Cobo and I are pleased to announce the Invisible Learning (Aprendizaje Invisible) project –and we invite your participation!

Invisible Learning // Aprendizaje Invisible is collaborative book (in English and Spanish) and an online repository of bold ideas for designing cultures of sustainable innovation.

Through the development of 1) a collaborative, printed book; 2) an e-book; and 3) a repository of innovative ideas at www.invisiblelearning.com, we seek to:

  • Share experiences and innovative perspectives, focused on rethinking strategies and innovative approaches to learn and unlearn continuously.
  • Promote critical thinking of the role of formal, informal and non-formal education at alleducational levels.
  • Contribute to the creation of a sustainable (and continuous) process of learning, innovating and designing new cultures for the global society.

This project aims to facilitate the creation of a globally distributed community of thinkers interested on the creation of new futures for the education. Sustainable innovation, invisible learning (informal learning and non-formal learning) and the development of 21st century skills are some of the core issues that will be analyzed and addressed in this project.

Moreover, we want to connect project participants with:

  • The best ideas in transforming informal and non-formal learning
  • The people doing amazing things in innovative education
  • Resources to help them get started on their own initiatives

We welcome you to join the conversation at www.invisiblelearning.com!

Project Topics and Keywords: New theories and ideas in education; Sharing of best practices; Exchange of innovation; 21st century educational institutions Open and distribute learning initiatives; Recommendation for public policies; Training teachers; Non-formal education; Informal education; Building innovative societies; Sustainable innovation.

…and others contributed by you, the authors.

Share your ideas and links using Twitter: #invislearning

Farewell to the Average American

Looking at demographic trends across the United States, Advertising Age came to a conclusion that will be stunning for most people:

“The concept of an ‘average American’ is gone, probably forever,” demographics expert Peter Francese writes in 2010 America, a new Ad Age white paper. “The average American has been replaced by a complex, multidimensional society that defies simplistic labeling.”

For $249, you can download their white paper on the topic, or you can review these posts on related topics from Education Futures:

The role of technology in Education 3.0

Note: This article is a part of the Designing Education 3.0 series at Education Futures.

Little evidence suggests that new technologies in the classroom are being used to transform educational paradigms. At last year’s ASOMEX technology conference, ISTE‘s Don Knezek pointed out that student graduation rates — and their rates of interest in schools — have dropped over the past few decades.  At the same time, investments in educational information and communications technologies continue to expand. If technologies are not making an impact in the classroom today, should they power Education 3.0?

Yes, but we need to use technologies differently.  Moreover,

The problem is that Society 1.0 schools most often use technologies to teach old information rather than taking advantage of them to generate new knowledge.The use of technologies must be purposive and expand to the realm of adopting social technologies in schools. To harness the potential of open, socio-technological systems, 3.0 schools will need to rebuild themselves not on software, not on hardware, but on mindware. Such new technologies integrate the development of imagination, creativity and innovation –all critical in the 21st century workplace.  Mindware maximizes the potentials for human capital development that ambient awareness technologies permit.

Is your school investing in mindware technologies?

We're always busy, but doing nothing

blackberry

Here’s another look at accelerating change. On Friday, the New York Times published an excellent review of Dalton Conley’s book, Elsewhere U.S.A.:

“A new breed of American has arrived on the scene,” Conley, a professor at New York University, declares in “Elsewhere, U.S.A.,” his compact guidebook to our nervous new world. Instead of individuals searching for authenticity, we are “intraviduals” defined by shifting personas and really cool electronics, which help us manage “the myriad data streams, impulses, desires and even consciousnesses that we experience in our heads as we navigate multiple worlds.” The denizens of our “Elsewhere Society,” Conley argues, “are only convinced they’re in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time, when they’re on their way to the next destination. Constant motion is a balm to a culture in which the very notion of authenticity . . . has been shattered into a thousand e-mails.”

Conley looks at the social transformations that were created by technological change between the mid 20th century through today. Organization and individualism have given way to intravidualism, “an ethic of fragmented selves replacing the modern ethic of individualism.” Work, play, and everything in between are blurring into non-discrete moments of incoherentness. We’re going somewhere, but we do not know where. Then again, no matter where we go, there we are.

This has serious consequences for human capital development. Perhaps to better succeed in what appears to be a directionless society of busybodies, we need to create a New Individualism, and re-orient education for developing strategic leadership at the individual level? …for learning how to cope with increased chaos and ambiguity? …for knowing how to be more selective in how new technologies are used before the technologies use us?