November 18, 2015
The Greatest EdTech Generation Ever – LIVE Blog of Justin Reich’s Keynote
Justin Reich is the co-founder of EdTechTeacher, the Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow, a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and a lecturer in the Scheller Teacher Education Program at MIT. Much of his thinking has helped to shape our educational philosophy at EdTechTeacher. To begin, Justin announces that he is going to recruit everyone into his generational project: to create the greatest ed tech generation ever.
The Story of the Rainbow LoomHe then launches into talking about the power of Rainbow Loom - one of the greatest tools in recent years to get kids excited about creativity. However, Justin says that the media subtext of the story fell more in line with, "Thank goodness! We have a way to get kids off of devices and creating artistically with their hands and engaging with their friends." The idea, though, that the kids had separated from technology was ridiculous as Justin shows a YouTube video that has been viewed over 30 million times on how to make a Rainbow Loom Starburst bracelet! The true story to tell about this phenomenon is that kids have connected online to see how many other kids might be excited to join this community of learners to make the most awesome Rainbow Loom bracelets possible. In fact, if you Google "rainbow starburst bracelet," you will discover that the official video from the company has been viewed only a fraction of the times as the one created by two girls. What this says to all of us, and to our students, is that this is the most exciting possible time to be a learner. No matter what you may choose to learn, you can do so via YouTube and other media. Increasingly, the perspective that young people, and people of all ages, bring is the notion that all learners exist within a learning commons. This perspective is shaping formal learning as well. As a researcher, Justin has been carrying this concept into his work with MOOCs. In all of the interviews that he conducted, what became evident was that the course did not serve as the central point of knowledge. For thousands of years, teachers have assumed that people came together under the guidance of the course but that is no longer the case. In reality, a course is just one node in the network of possibilities for how to make sense of the content. Increasingly, all students are taking this approach to their learning. The courses are not the sum total of people's learning experiences. Classes are just one node in the network of possibilities that students may encounter.
Be the Node!Justin makes his first call to action and asks all of us to begin thinking of courses as one node within the realm of possibility of learning. How can just one course become part of the larger network? For the first time, the concept of time to learn has shifted to a lifelong and lifewide experience. Increasingly, people need to learn throughout their lifespan, so one of the most important things that we can do is to equip people to become these lifelong learners. As educators, one of our most critical challenges is to develop students into these learners who can take advantage of both formal and informal education systems. In order to do this, people need two skill sets: be employable in the near term and be prepared to learn and adapt over time. In many ways, schools need to accomplish the goals of both vocational systems (prepare for specific tasks) and liberal arts systems (prepare to be thinkers).
What Drives Our Challenges?What does work in a networked world look like? By thinking beyond school, we can start thinking more creatively within school. To begin, Justin recommends reading Frank Levy and Richard Murnane's work, Dancing with Robots. Their argument is that the kinds of things that computers can do increasingly well will continue to change the skills that students need for the future in order to not be replaced. The cognitive demands of the labor market are growing exponentially as everything gains computational potential. As an example, Justin tells the story of the hot water heater in his parents' house. If it malfunctions, because it is digital, not only does he need to reboot it, but also call the only person in the area with the skills to repair it - a plumber who is also a computer programmer. From there, he talks about how lawyers are losing their demand as more and more people can complete legal procedures online. Computers can increasingly solve routine tasks, so the question becomes, what are the kinds of things that computers and robots can't do. There are two things that they can't do:
- Solving Ill-Structured Problems: solving the problems that require imagining novel solutions.
- Complex Communication: anything that requires social interaction with a human being. Think about the role of automated customer service. Any time a computer tries to pretend to be humans, it becomes laughable fairly quickly.
Gut Check - What Percentage of Your Work Requires Students to do Ill-Structured Problem-Solving?How much time do we spend as educators developing our students to do complex tasks? As the world changes, how do we shift our pedagogy and thinking?
What Changes & What Stays the Same?This does not mean that we need to get rid of all routine thinking, the question is how do we shift the proportion of the work that we do. Students still need some routine skills like multiplication tables, but some tasks may not need as much emphasis. As a concrete example, Justin introduces the interrelation of High Tech High and Most Likely to Succeed. While the potential exists for students to do amazing work and learn all of these complex skills, they are still assessed based on concrete, routine skills. There is tension right now as parents and administrators look at the valuable learning experiences as compared to the current logistics of our evaluation system.
Higher Education in a Networked WorldThe world of higher education is listening to these stories and thinking about what their teaching and learning should be changing. When Justin and Tom started doing EdTechTeacher workshops, teachers argued that creativity and alternative assessments sounded good in theory, but not in practice as students would need to sit in a lecture hall and take notes when they got to college. However, in the last few years, higher education has listened to the world of MOOCs, YouTube, and started changing. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, a meta-analysis paper published by Freeman et al., determined that 55% of students learned better through active learning rather than passive receipt of information via lecture. Justin then tells about the peer-learning strategies employed by Eric Mazur of Harvard. Abundant evidence exists that actively engaging students in learning experiences is more effective than having them passively receive information via lecture.
"Given our results, it is reasonable to raise concerns about the continued use of traditional lecturing as a control in future experiments."That statement essentially makes it unethical to use lecture as a control in experiments because it is so ineffective. All learning should be active as it has been proven to be exponentially more effective. At MIT, transformation has happened at an amazing rate as evidenced by MITx. This system did not exist a few years ago, and yet, as of last spring, 83% of students had participated in an online course so as to flip the curriculum and bring more students together to work on complex problems. The conversations about teaching and learning are extraordinarily exciting.