society

Knowmad Society released – and it is beautiful!

I am very pleased to share that the print edition of Knowmad Society is in press, and it is beautiful!

Knowmad Society cover-print-smallYou can read it now at http://www.knowmadsociety.com – the book is available in print, PDF, iOS, and Kindle editions. If you enjoyed a free copy of the book, please consider purchasing a printed copy. It helps us recover our costs, and, as I can’t say enough: It is beautiful.

Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work, and how we relate with each other in a world driven by accelerating change, value networks, and the rise of knowmads.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers: Creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. The jobs associated with 21st century knowledge and innovation workers have become much less specific concerning task and place, but require more value-generative applications of what they know. The office as we know it is gone. Schools and other learning spaces will follow next.

In this book, nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work. Educational and organizational implications are uncovered, experiences are shared, and the contributors explore what it’s going to take for individuals, organizations, and nations to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Coda: In producing the print edition, Martine Eyzenga took charge of the creative layout of the interior, and the cover was illustrated by Symen Veenstra. Thank you to everybody who provided feedback while the book was available in its “preview” format – you provided critical peer review.

Knowmad Society is now available!

Last December, we celebrated the completion of the Knowmad Society project by launching it at Seats2Meet.com in Utrecht. Now, we are pleased to launch the website, and offer the book as a free download, a free iPhone app, or a $0.99 Amazon.com Kindle purchase.

Full details about book is available at http://www.knowmadsociety.com.

Photo by Rene Wouters
Knowmad Society launch – Photo by Rene Wouters

A collaboration between John Moravec, Cristóbal Cobo, Thieu Besselink, Christel Hartkamp, Pieter Spinder, Edwin de Bree, Bianca Stokman, Christine Renaud, and Ronald van den Hoff, Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work and how we relate with each other in a world where we are now asked to design our own futures. These nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work, and provide insight into what they are doing now to help drive positive outcomes. Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart provides an afterword on his take on how to best support a knowmad society in the international arena.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers –creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific concerning task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work within a broader options of space, including “real,” virtual, or many blended. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities.

The authors explore knowmad society in terms of socioeconomic evolution from industrial, information-based society to knowledge-based society, to a creative, context-driven Knowmad Society. Educational and organizational implications are explored, experiences are shared, and the book concludes with a powerful message of “what’s it going to take” for nations and cultures to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Key topics covered include: reframing learning and human development; required skills and competencies; rethinking schooling; flattening organizations; co-creating learning; and new value creation in organizations.

Knowmad Society is published by Education Futures LLC with additional support from Seats2Meet.com.

The Singularity and schools: An interview with Vernor Vinge

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

Last week, I spoke with Vernor Vinge [Wikipedia | website], a retired San Diego State University professor of mathematics. He is better known as a five-time Hugo Award-winning science fiction author. His works include True Names, Fast Times at Fairmont High, and Rainbows End. Most importantly, his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” argues that accelerating technological change will bring about the end of the human era as we know it, and that the world will become so complex and foreign to human observers, it will be impossible to predict what will happen next.

Ray Kurzweil and others have since contributed to the popularization of the Singularity, but the conversation has been centered on technological determinism. In a world that is consumed by accelerating change, what are the implications for systems that are at risk of being outpaced — namely, human systems? And, what are the implications for how we will learn and work in the near future?

Vinge:

I got this sort of vision where the human workplace is scattered in both space and time, and for a single career, it’s not a merely a matter of changing your career every couple years, it’s a matter of actually changing your point of attention on smaller time scales.

What can science fiction tell us about our future?

According to Vinge, a lot. He helped introduce the cyberpunk genre in the early with his 1981 Novel, true Names. He says, “the technological situation we have now is very similar to what was described in True Names, which actually was implicitly targeted in the year 2014,” but much of that can be attributed to pure luck.

The future authors of the genre have envisioned, he argues, has emerged today as a mix of expected and unexpected dystopian and hopeful elements. Society of today, he believes, has not changed much since the early 1980s. Corporate dominance in government, for example, is still at the same level as it was before, and our views on technology shifted since 1984:

Before the year 1984, people generally looked at computers the way George Orwell did in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 1984, people had these great visions of computers freeing the people from tyrannies, and that is still a real possibility… and it is a possibility that has come true in large parts of the world. But, I would say the jury is still out as to what the ultimate effectiveness of computers and communication automation favors tyranny or favors liberty. I’m putting my bets on liberty, but I would say it’s not an obvious win in either direction.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Singularity was introduced at the NASA VISION-21 Symposium. What’s changed?

I’m still where I was in my 1993 essay that I gave at a NASA meeting, and that is that I define the Technological Singularity as being our developing, through technology, superhuman intelligence — or becoming, ourselves, superhuman intelligent through technology. And, I think calling that the Singularity is actually a very good term in the sense of vast and unknowable change. A qualitatively different sort of change than technological progress in the past.

He still believes four pathways could lead to the development of the Singularity by 2030:

  1. The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent.
  2. Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
  3. Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
  4. Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.

When asked which one is more likely, he hinted that he sees a digital Gaia of networks plus people emerging:

The networked sum of all the embedded microprocessors in all our devices becomes a kind of digital Gaia. That qualifies, as an ensemble, as a superhuman entity. That is probably the weirdest of all possibilities because, if anything, it looks like animism. And, sometimes I point to it when I want to make the issue that this can be very strange. I think that actually the networking of embedded microprocessors is going like gangbusters. The network that is the Internet plus humanity, that is also going with extraordinarily surprises, if you just look at the successes in the various schemes that go by names like crowdsourcing. To me, those have been astounding, and should give people real pause with how to use the intellectual resources actually that we have out there. So far, we do not have a single computer that is really of human-level intelligence, and I think that is going to happen. But, it is a kind of an amazing thing that we have an installed base of seven billion of these devices out there.

What does this mean for schools?

Vinge believes talking about post-Singularity situations in education are impractical. In theory, is impossible for us to predict or comprehend what will happen, so we should not focus our attention on worrying about post-Singularity futures. Rather, we should focus on the ramp-up toward the Singularity, our unique talents, and how we can network together to utilize them in imaginative ways:

Talking about the run-up to the Singularity makes sense for several different reasons. One is, we have to get through it. The other is that it is our opportunity, as the chief players… it’s our opportunity to make things turn out safely and happily. In the meantime, at just the level of just getting one’s job done, I think there are real changes that are going to be happening in education and more broadly in training issues. I think one thing that is going to become more-and-more evident is the fact that we have seven billion people out there who are variously good … very good … at different things. And, there are ways of enhancing and amplifying that by collaboration. And, when I say “collaboration” […] it is a very good thing. But, if you look at some of the group mind projects and crowdsourcing projects, there is very great imagination that can be exercised in making collaboration effective. One thing is to interface people who have very different skills — that can actually be helped a lot by the network.

When dealing with unknown futures, it remains unknown how to prepare people best for these futures. He states that the best pathway involves teaching children “to learn how to learn” (a key theme in Fast Times at Fairmont High), and that we need to encourage the development of positive futures by attending to diversity in our learning systems. We need to not facilitate the formation of diverse students, but we also need to abandon a monoculture approach to education and attend to a diverse ecology of options in teaching and evaluation.

Most importantly, to meet the individual needs of students, he believes, we need to focus on “shifting the emphasis from intense attention to process and having the process of the teaching right … shifting that attention to having independent rating agencies that are not so much interested in process as they are in giving reliable rating information to people who have to judge the results of the money that is being spent on the education.”

Teacher 3.0: Sharing, creating, and connecting knowledge

In this year’s issue of Villa Onderwijs by APS, Erno Mijland and Rob Mioch present their views of what “Teacher 3.0” might look like (extended from the 3.0 paradigm shared at Education Futures previously). With the authors’ permission, we provide their translation of the original Dutch text into English.

Teacher 3.0

Authors: Erno Mijland and Rob Mioch

Share knowledge, create and connect

Teaching is one of the finest professions you can find. Teachers play a crucial part in preparing new generations for the future. Never before has there been so much uncertainty about what that future will look like.

An invitation to the dialogue about the consequences of these developments for the role of the teacher.

Moores law isn’t just about transistors anymore. The developments in scientifical research, the introduction of new technologies and the expansion of new ideas is going increasingly faster. Digitisation, globalisation, new knowledge about the working of the brain… all matters that run deep into the way we live, learn and work together. Also, the appeal to take responsibility for sustainable development and the reinforcement of our society, accentuate the central role that education has in equipping young people. Professional competences are currently recalibrated.

3.0

In this theoretical experiment, we combine several inspiring angles. Following the linear way of thinking, we could have chosen for 2.0. However, that might give the impression of a ‘next version’, an upgrade of the former version like we know from the world of technology.

3.0 focuses on the very core of the profession of teaching in the first part of the 21st century. With this magazine ‘Villa Onderwijs’ (trans.: Villa Education) we would like to give individual teachers and teams at schools the opportunity to engage in conversation about this topic.

Where we refer to the teacher as “he”, we also mean to include the female teacher.

1. The teacher 3.0 has an eye for the future

Children will have to find a place for themselves in a society with increasing risks and uncertainties. The teacher 3.0 will go into trends and scenarios and will weigh the consequences. In case it is relevant, he will make a translation of his findings to knowledge and skills in his professional area and the world of professions for which he prepares his students.

2. The teacher 3.0 offers students a home base

The teacher 3.0 views the school as a society that connects with the surrounding world. He teaches his students to take responsibility for their own lives and the environment they are part of. He teaches them a flexible attitude. That way, he gives shape to the ambition to create – through education – an environment fit to live in.

3. The teacher 3.0 establishes dialogue

Children of today have access to the same sources as their teachers do. Apparently professional knowledge is significant but above all, the teacher 3.0 makes his students go through the experience of learning from each other. The traditional division of roles (the omniscient teacher vs the unlearned student) is no longer relevant. He will initiate the dialogue with his students. Pedagogic skills will be an important tool for the teacher. He will learn more about the experience, the way of thinking and the behaviour of young people. Conversation with colleagues, parents and the world around him, will give him access to a diversity of information, inspiration and ideas.

4. The teacher 3.0 is a catalyst for student talents

Students live in a competitive society. There seem to be plenty of opportunities but there is a risk of ‘unwanted inequality’. The teacher 3.0 will look for possibilities to bring all children to great achievements. He pays attention to the complete child and its total development. He views the intrinsic motivation of the child as the base of his guidance. By working together with his collueges and his peer, he will be able to adjust his actions in order to match the abilities of the students.

5. The teacher 3.0 explores

Through his exploring attitude, the teacher 3.0 tries to get a grip on the unsteady reality around him. Where ever needed and if possible with the help of others, he will search for creative solutions for the – occasionally tough – everyday practice. He will continually work on the effectiveness and efficiency of his teaching. He is not afraid to experiment with innovative methods, technologies and different sources. He will connect these experiments to practice-based research. He will translate the findings of this research to distinct improvements which will be tested and evaluated.

6. The teacher 3.0 is a role model for ‘life long learning’

The half-life of knowledge becomes increasingly short. Knowledge and learning is more and more about the ability to find solutions for new issues. That’s why the teacher 3.0 will have to actively keep learning. This will partly be done in a self-taught manner. It is easy to have access to countless high quality sources through the internet. The teacher 3.0 studies, reflects and arranges to get feedback on his work, for instance through supervision and group intervision. He will remain working on his personal development in a self-steering and enterprising manner. This way he can excel in view of his own professional career, but also for the benefit of his students and the organization he works for. This also makes him a role model for his students.

7. The teacher 3.0 is not afraid to share ánd to ask

Developments go fast. It is impossible to do and to invent everything by yourself and to keep up with everything. That is why the teacher 3.0 actively uses his network where he can ask questions, shares his knowledge and contributes to joint projects. The present times offer unprecedented opportunities to make our knowledge and ideas accessible, for instance through networks and the Internet. Where ever relevant, the teacher 3.0 will contribute to joint products for education. This makes him an active member of a co-creating society. That is the power of being connected.

8. The teacher 3.0 uses technology based on his vision on learning

New technologies and media (like digital black boards, games and social media) offer a lot of learning facilities. However, the teacher 3.0 will not be directed by hypes. With his vision on learning as a starting point, he will critically assess the possibilities and will creatively translate them to the goals he wants to achieve with his teaching. When ever technology doesn’t actually add anything valuable, he is not afraid to say “no” to it. This will not always be easy, because you cannot always know in advance what it is exactly that you are turning down. To make conscious, deliberate choices may well be one of the most important new competences of today’s teacher.

9. The teacher 3.0 works smartly

Technology should make your job easier. The teacher 3.0 uses opportunities to computerize his tasks in order to be able to spend as much time as possible on activities that really matter: direct contact with students. Whenever possible he will use digital testing methods or video recordings of his lessons as a reference work for his students.

10. The teacher 3.0 focuses on his passion and his talent

The life of a teacher 3.0 uses up a lot of energy. There is so much to keep up with, to think about, to try out… and you are never done. Never done? You can only keep that up when you are motivated by passion. The teacher 3.0 is genuine and credible, an important criterion for working with today’s students. He realises that external influences may constantly distract him from his passion. For instance by new regulations, protocols, shifting in activities. Sometimes he will have to stand up for himself and set limits. He will look for the meaning of his work, and will question himself about his true motive. He is aware of which activities he truly enjoys. He finds happiness in his work, in working with students and collueges and in sharing his passion with his peer.

11. The teacher 3.0 is not afraid to be unique

In every school there is a need for wide oriented specialists, ánd specialized generalists. The teacher 3.0 views his profile as a capital T: imagine the specialism to be the vertical line going into the deep and the horizontal line being the widening. The teacher takes authority from his specialism, his expertise. One can get unique, profound knowledge from him. He will think cross curricular. He knows how to make the wide connection between his expertise and the developments in his environment. With his ‘T-profile’ he will contribute to his school in a unique way.

12. The teacher 3.0 takes pride in his profession

As a teacher, you may sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean. But even Einstein, Gandhi and Picasso at one time started out as little boys at a random school, somewhere in this world. Society can have high expectations of education. It is time to stop the blame and shame. The teacher 3.0 knows he makes a difference. He takes pride in his profession.


Erno Mijland is a journalist/writer, and trainer/speaker on learning and technology. Rob Mioch is managing director of professional education at APS national center for innovation and school improvement, the Netherlands.

Scale it sideways!

One of the key points we make in Invisible Learning is that new technologies and new possibilities for social configurations are expanding the ecology of options we have for learning. “Schooling” is no longer limited to just schools. Rather, we can now learn in formal environments, online, informally, and serendipitously. Moreover, we can leverage technologies to remix these modes together — so, for example, it is now possible to have a meaningful and recognized learning experience at coffee shops, city parks, bowling alleys, etc.

Just as wise investors diversify their investment portfolio, so should we build diverse portfolios of our schools. This means that we should not invest too heavily in any one strategy. If we do not know with any precision what the future will be, we cannot have one-size-fits-all schools. We need to expand our ecologies of options.

Many times we find something that works. Perhaps a new pedagogical technique …or, maybe a new type of school. One of the first things we often ask ourselves when evaluating an innovation is: How do we scale it up?

FORGET SCALING UP.

WE NEED TO SCALE SIDEWAYS IN EDUCATION.

Scaling up is how we industrialize ideas, and employ them within a top-down managed system. This works in an educational monoculture, but not in a diverse ecology. Rather than industrializing our best ideas, why not share them horizontally? That is, let’s invite people and schools to adopt them if they work for them?

Scaling sideways invites co-creation. It is dialogical.

The question we need to ask is, how can we facilitate broader horizontalized communications and sharing of best practices, etc., between schools in a diverse ecology of options? Perhaps this means that top educational leaders, governments and other interest groups need to focus less on managing; and focus more on attending to the chaos and uncertainty of a more dynamic educational ecology.

And, let’s make sure to invite the kids into the horizontalized co-creation. We are all white belts when it comes to understanding and acting on our futures. We do not have any role models to draw from. We have never been to the future before.

We must engage kids in this conversation now. Knowmad Society is their’s, but it is up to us to build it together.


Note: Adapted from my plenary talk at the Onderwijs en ondernemen “op expeditie” conference in The Hague, Netherlands on October 6, 2011.

Uffe Elbaek on social entrepreneurship

Uffe Elbæk is a social entrepreneur, politician, and cultural leader in Denmark. In his knowmadic career so far, he founded the KaosPilots school in Århus, organized the World Outgames 2009, and the Change the Game consultancy. Currently, Uffe is running for a seat in the Danish parliament as candidate from the Social Liberal Party (Radikale). Last week, we met up, and he shared his views on social entrepreneurship in the “fourth sector” (metaspace where government, private, and non-governmental organizations converge):

In the Invisible Learning project, Cristóbal Cobo and I revealed that the development of soft skills are critical for success in Knowmad Society. In an era where the useful lifespan of information and personal knowledge decreases at an exponential pace, soft skills are increasingly seen as critical to help individuals navigate and lead in a perceptively chaotic and ambiguous world. When posed with the question of which skills and competencies are critical for successful social entrepreneurship, Uffe cited four key competencies from the KaosPilots program:

  1. Meaning: If you don’t understand what you’re doing and why you are doing it, your activity will fail. It is important to create meaning through what we do.
  2. Relationship: Today’s society requires more teamwork and sophisticated communication and problem-solving skills. Building good relationships with the people you work with is critical.
  3. Change: You have to be able to unlearn what you already know so that you can learn what is important in a changing world.
  4. Action: You need to produce solid, visible results.

Update: In September 2011, Uffe was elected to the Danish parliament. On October 3, he was appointed the Culture Minister of Denmark. Congratulations, Minister Elbæk!

Read more on Uffe’s work:

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!

Review: Empowered (by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler)

Book: Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business
Author: Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (2010)

Back in August, Josh Bernoff tweeted an offer for a free copy of his new book, Empowered, in exchange for a review at Amazon. I enjoyed his previous book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, co-authored with Charlene Li, so I took him up on the offer. Somehow, there was a delay in getting the book to me, and the text did not arrive until we were well into the fall semester — not a good time for a review. So, this is a little bit late, but better than never.

Over the past couple years, I have used Groundswell in my “Designing the future of education in Society 3.0” course at the University of Minnesota. In the book, Li and Bernoff write on how to integrate professional activities (and the activities of the organization you work with) into 21st century-relevant frameworks. In a way, it is a roadmap for transforming organizations from industrial to knowledge and innovation-based social frameworks that value personal knowledge and expertise:

“Simply put, the groundswell is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other instead of from companies. If you’re in a company, this is a challenge” (x).

Empowered builds on these ideas a bit further, focusing on new media and how they impact traditional businesses. Specifically, the book focuses on what they term HEROes: “highly empowered and resourceful operatives” — geeks and other social media savvy people that can help an enterprise navigate the Groundswell. The concept is simple. Rather than trying to manage your technological and social media footprints at the enterprise level, business managers should work to attend to their employees’ and customers’ use of novel technologies. Whereas disgruntled employees and customers can use social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc.) to do harm to a company’s reputation (intentionally or non-intentionally) with relative ease, companies likewise need to learn how to leverage social media to build their brand images.

Empowered is more of a manual with suggestions than clear answers on how to cope with social media — and, given the rapid rate of evolution of these technologies, the authors’ less-prescriptive pathway is welcome. What the book lacks, however, are game changing perspectives on how to lead in the world of the Groundswell. In other words, the text seems geared toward organizations that are trying to catch up rather than those that are leading social futures.

In a world of expanding knowmadic and do-it-yourself opportunities, this book is likely to leave organizational leaders scratching their heads, wondering how they will possibly keep up with their employees. Can they keep up in an “empowered” world?


Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

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.