Information Age Education
   Issue Number 128
December, 2013   

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.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, three free books based on the newsletters are available: Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments, Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education, and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

This final issue of the 2013 IAE Newsletter brings you best wishes from the editors for a Happy New Year. It also interrupts the current sequence that focuses on Complexity in order to introduce the new 2014 series on “Education for Students’ Futures,” and to invite our readers to contribute articles for this new series. The remaining three newsletters in the Complexity series will be published in January and mid-February of 2014.

Education for Students’ Futures
Part 1: Introduction

David Moursund
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon



During most of the year 2014, the IAE Newsletter will focus on “Education for Students’ Futures,” a series that will explore many possible futures for our educational systems. We are seeking authors who will contribute their ideas and speculations for major changes to improve the educational systems of their states, nations, and the world. If you have ideas that you want to share with a large audience, contact David Moursund or Robert Sylwester.

We will tend to be publishing contributed articles on a “first come, first served” basis. However, we will also be organizing the newsletters into a collection of short books to be published by Information Age Education. See examples of recent IAE Newsletter-based books at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Newsletter.

The unifying theme of the coming futures-oriented series of newsletters is forecasting and understanding possible educational changes that have the potential to significantly improve education. Changes might be in content, teaching processes, assessment, or some other aspect of education.

A “good” article will include one or more such forecasts, research to support the ideas in the forecast(s), and a discussion of what will need to happen in order to successfully implement the suggested changes.

Some Examples of Potential Newsletter Topics

Education Begins in the Home

We know that a great deal of a child’s education occurs in his or her home and comes from parents, guardians, close relatives, caregivers, siblings, and friends. As we make progress in improving the overall education of our population, we also improve the informal home education environments, and thus we improve the education of children.

We know that a successful policy of universal education and of providing every home with aids to education (such as making hard copy and electronic books readily available) leads to improvements in education. Via research we can compare and contrast this approach with one of providing all homes with easy access to entertainment-oriented television, Web-based audio/video, electronic games, and social networking connectivity. Which approach best supports improvements in our current educational systems? Is this wave of electronic technology entertainment negating progress in universal education?

With these, as with many other aspects of informal and formal education, we can ask, “What does the research show?” What can we do to better and more broadly implement changes in home environments that the research shows will improve our educational systems?

Changing Cultures

For thousands of years, a child grew up in a small clan or tribe, and assimilated the culture of this small group. Gradually, populations increased, travel became easier, and the “size” of a particular cultural group grew. Now we have cultural groups whose membership dominates an entire country or region of the world, and also constitutes a significant percentage of the population of many other countries.

In addition, we have new types of cultural groups made possible by computer technology. Social networking provides a good example. Facebook’s membership is more than a seventh of the world’s total population. Through Facebook and other social networks, a person may have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of “friends.”

We also have computer game cultures. Some networked computer games have millions of players immersed in the culture of a particular game. For players who are deeply immersed, the game becomes a part of their culture and everyday life.
 
In brief summary, many children are now growing up to be multicultural in the traditional definition of a culture, and also multicultural in terms of participating actively in multiple social networks and gaming networks. How does and/or should this affect our educational system?

Individualization of Instruction

Since the development of reading and writing, a small number of students have had the advantage of individual tutors. This one-on-one mode of teaching and learning is the “gold standard” of education.

As our societies made the decision to educate a much larger percentage of their children, schools were developed in which an individual teacher taught classes of a large number of students. This is much less expensive than providing each student with one or more tutors. However, it also is much less effective.

We now have the technology to provide students with “computer tutors.” A computer tutor has some characteristics of a human tutor, and it can provide a great deal of individualization. At the current time, many schools are providing students with a mixture of human-based teaching in classes of 20 to 40 or more students, combined with more individualized computer-based instruction. The computer-based instructional systems are becoming better and more available. What does the future hold for Highly Interactive, Individualized, Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning?

Open Computer Assessment

For our final example, consider the issue of “open computer, open connectivity” assessment. We now expect students to make routine use of computers when they are studying and doing assignments. Open connectivity is now common in the workplace and in the everyday life of a significant portion of the world’s population. Will it or should it become common in student assessment? This question provides a good example of past-oriented versus future-oriented education. We have a major schism between what is going on in our schools today versus what is going on in the everyday lives of children and adults outside of school.

Background

There is general agreement that the various educational systems throughout the world are not as good as they could or should be. Moreover, there are substantial differences in opinions as to what constitutes a good education. The opinions of the various major stakeholder groups change over time. In a time when the world is changing quite rapidly, the educational needs of people are also changing, even while many stakeholder groups stick to their long-held beliefs about what constitutes a good education.

I view each person as a unique individual who is both a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher. Every act of communication between two people helps both the receiver and the sender to learn. Through informal and formal education, each of us becomes better as a learner and as a teacher. Thus, educating a larger percentage of the earth’s population and educating them in greater depth can improve our overall educational system.

This short discussion suggests a topic quite suitable for one or more newsletters in the new “futures” series. Can we improve education through educating each student to be a better learner and a better teacher? What research helps to answer this question? What evidence do we have of successful wide-scale implementation of the specific instruction of all students to be both teachers and learners? We are eagerly seeking authors with knowledge on this topic who are interested in sharing their knowledge.

Past and Future Orientation

I think of education as a very complex and challenging endeavor for both professional educators and the rest of the world’s population. So, I often attempt to make broad, sweeping generalizations in an attempt to simplify things. For example, I tend to divide education into 1) education that is oriented toward the past, and 2) education that is oriented toward the future. Education oriented toward the past seeks to preserve and pass on history, culture, and lessons learned through the many thousands of years of human history. Education oriented toward the future seeks to help prepare students to be responsible and productive grownups in an ever more rapidly changing world.
 
During times when the world is changing little from generation to generation, an education that is strongly past-oriented serves the population well. The focus can be on making only slight improvements in doing what has been working reasonably well in the past.

Over thousands of years, the pace of human-related change has been increasing. Examples of major changes include the development of agriculture, the development of reading and writing, the industrial revolution, and the information age. To many of us, the current pace of technological change seems overwhelming. See What the Future is Bringing Us. We are also beset with changes such as rapid population growth, wide scale poverty, increasing environmental problems, global warming, and the potentials of worldwide spread of diseases. How do these changes affect our educational systems and our endeavors to improve education?

Improving Education

Reading and writing were invented/developed more than 5,000 years ago. Over the past 50 centuries humans have found reading and writing to be increasingly important, so now many consider them a human birthright to be provided via universal access to schooling that includes the teaching of reading and writing. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/deep-insights-into-problems-with-our-educational-system.html.

During these 5,000 years we have developed both technology and teaching methods that make universal literacy feasible. The printing press is an example of such technology. As might be expected, however, we have not decided on a “one, best” way to teach reading and writing. But, we have made considerable progress in bringing literacy to large populations of quite diverse learners. Our research has helped us to devise teaching methodologies that better fit the various needs of all our students.
 
The reading/writing example is illustrative of all technology-based change. A problem is identified. Human intelligence develops a way to address the problem. The pace and breadth of adoption of a proposed solution may be quite slow, but it also can be quite fast. The development and wide-scale implementation of polio vaccines provide a good example of a quite rapid implementation of a solution to a major medical problem. Our educational system has never experienced such a remarkable worldwide success. For example, see the seven-part IAE Newsletter series on Education and Health Care; the first article is issue number 45 in the list available at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.

Teaching all students to read and write does not solve the overall education problem, any more than teaching all students to cover their sneezes and wash their hands before meals solves all health problems. In addition, the read/write problem is exacerbated by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that can aid in teaching/learning to read and write–but can also significantly decrease some of the traditional needs for reading and writing (why read the book, just watch the video or listen to the audio recording). ICT often takes students’ minds and interests away from the usual schooling endeavors.

Final Remarks

We are living at a time in which the pace of change of our formal schooling system is not keeping pace with the pace of changes in the world. There is a growing schism between the potential and the actualities that most students face. Remember, if you have ideas related to any of these topics that you want to share, please contact David Moursund or Robert Sylwester. In addition, as each newsletter is published, you will have the opportunity to add comments.

Reader Comments

We are using the Disqus commenting system to facilitate comments and discussions pertaining to this newsletter. To use Disqus, please click the Login link below and sign in. If you have questions about how to use Disqus, please refer to this help page.

Readers may also send comments via email directly to moursund@uoregon.edu and bobsyl@uoregon.edu.

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.