This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See
and the end of this newsletter. All back issues
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is the first of a
series of IAE Newsletters that will explore educational aspects of the
current cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob
Sylwester (Newsletter # 75) and Dave Moursund (Newsletter # 76) provide
two introductory articles. These will be followed by a series of
invited articles written by a broad selection of experts in the field.
For the most part, these invited articles will focus on cognitive
neuroscience. However, Dave Moursund will provide Information and
Communication Technology follow-up commentary to the articles. In
addition, readers are invited to send comments on an article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
These will be posted at the end of the related article in the back
We encourage you to tell your colleagues and students about the free
IAE Newsletter. Free back issues and subscription information are
available at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.
an Appropriate 21st Century Education The Roles of Cognitive Neuroscience
and Computer Technology
University of Oregon
"Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other
people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out
your own voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your
heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to
become. Everything else is secondary." (Steve Jobs, talking to the
Stanford graduating class.)
This is the first of a series of two dozen IAE Newsletter issues that
will explore various elements of the educational issues that will
confront our society during the 21st Century. The principal focus of
the series will be on the dramatic developments currently occurring in
the cognitive neurosciences and computer technology. These promise to
play an especially significant role in reshaping educational policy and
The authors of the articles are all widely known and respected for
their work in the area in which they write. They were asked to select a
general issue that they consider important to 21st century education
and to discuss the elements of it that they consider especially
significant to educators. Some authors will focus on simply exploring
the issue itself, and others will also suggest educational
We invite you to join in with your comments on elements an author did
or didn’t cover–to fill in gaps and/or provide another perspective,
as it were. Email your comments to the IAE Newsletter editor, Dave
We’ll begin to post the comments we get several days after a column is
posted. They’ll be placed at the end of the archived
When the entire series is complete, we’ll incorporate the articles and
selected reader responses into an online book that we’ll post for
downloading at no cost. We hope that this preliminary discussion will
help lead to the eventual development of a comprehensive 21st century
theory of education.
This certainly isn’t the only current search for the elements of what
21st century education could and should become. For example, Edutopia
is also running a series of articles (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-leadership-overview-ken-kay).
The new Learning Resource Network (http://www.l-rn.com/welcome_video.htm)
at Johns Hopkins University provides a clearinghouse of educationally
significant developments from several disciplines. What will occur over
time as the literature expands is that an increasing number of
educators will get involved, and a bottom-up consensus will eventually
emerge. Nothing new. Bits and pieces merging into a complex entity
describes how biology, technology, cities, and democracy develop and
About 100 years ago, events (some of which helped to precipitate World
War I) led John Dewey to argue that the development of democratic
values and skills in school would become at least as important to 20th
century education as the mastery of the 3Rs. Further, the classroom
itself could serve as an excellent laboratory for developing them,
since it provides a dozen year-long opportunities for students to
interact with a couple dozen non-kin in the solution to group
management problems. He argued in his early 20th century
publications that the existing authoritarian classroom
and instruction model should thus be replaced with a democratic model
that he called Progressive Education (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey).
The current high stakes standards and assessment programs suggest that
the authoritarian model of education didn't die, but rather has come
back with a vengeance. Our educational system continues to resist
change even when it is much needed, as it is today because of rapid
culturally and educationally significant advances in science and
technology. These new advances alas, can be used to empower students or
misused to maintain existing political and cultural constraints.
Towards the end of the 20th century, many educators and researchers
sought to free our educational system from the shackles of Behaviorism,
which viewed our brain as a black box that would never be understood.
An initially small group of educators were excited by the emerging
field of cognitive neuroscience. They began to explore how we might
teach students about the human brain and adapt instruction to this new
knowledge. Some of the early speculations look foolish now, but false
starts are a part of any innovation. As more educators became
interested, the field matured and the level of professional knowledge
about our brain and cognition increased.
At the same time, computers were continuing to increase in capability,
decrease in price and size, and demonstrate their potential as aids to
learning and problem solving. The cost of computers and the amount of
staff development they initially required slowed their assimilation
into schools, but computers became broadly used as a powerful change agent outside the world of education.
And now it's the 21st century and WOW! The pace of change has certainly
Since the turn of the century, neuroimaging technology has discovered
credible answers to many cognitive mysteries, and new discoveries are
occurring at a previously unimaginable rate. Renowned cognitive
neuroscientists, such as Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart (2006), John
Ratey, (2008) and Stanislas Dehaene (2010) are writing books that
directly address the educational applications of their research. Other
scientists are contributing chapters to books directed to educators
(Sousa, 2011). Graduate programs are introducing educators to the
biological base of our profession. Professional organizations, such as
the International Mind Brain and Education Society (http://www.imbes.org/)
are shaping the emerging field of Educational Neuroscience. Commercial
educational programs that purport to be based on cognitive neuroscience
research are expected to provide convincing independent research
evidence to support their claims. The future of Educational
Neuroscience looks promising!
Moreover, students are growing up with routine access to the Internet
and Web, computerized social networking and texting, a wide range of
computer-based entertainment venues, and steadily improved computerized
aids to learning. Who could have imagined the key role that cell-phones
would play in the emerging democratization of the Middle East?
The next article in this series will focus on the manner in which
computer technology is currently impacting educational policy and
practice, and what we might expect in the coming years.
References and Resources
Kelly, Kevin (12/1/2010). Evolving the
Technology is changing the way we conduct science. The Scientist.
Dehaene, S. (2010). Reading in the
brain: The new science of how we read. New York: Penguin.
Posner, M. and Rothbart, M. (2006).
Educating the human brain. Washington DC: American Psychological
Ratey, J. with Hagermann, E. (2008).
revolutionary science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little,
Brown and Company.
Sousa, D. (2010). Mind, brain, and
education. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree.
Robert Sylwester is an Emeritus
Professor of Education at the University of Oregon. His most recent
books are: A Child’s Brain: The Need for Nurture (2010, Corwin Press)
and The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy (2007, Corwin Press).
He wrote a monthly column for the Internet journal Brain Connection
during its entire 2000-2009 run (archived:
and is now a regular contributor to IAE Newsletter.
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