This is the second of several newsletters that I have been motivated to write by the document AI and the Future of Learning: Expert Panel Report, a 27-page article on the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education (Roschelle, Lester, & Fusco, December 2020, link). The report is based on the work of 22 carefully selected experts in the field of AI in education. AI is a powerful change agent, but is only one component of the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). And ICT is only part of what needs to be considered as we work to provide learners (that is, all of us) with a good and ongoing lifelong education.
It is easy to say that we want to improve education. It is much more difficult to get wide agreement on what constitutes education, what would constitute an improvement in education, and what we actually can do to achieve widespread implementation of improvements. This newsletter presents some of my thoughts on these challenges.
As I think about improving education, I am always drawn back to the issue of what the nebulous “they” should do versus what any concerned individual such as you or I might do. The “they” is groups, organizations, lawmakers, schoolboards, for-profit and nonprofit companies, and so on. As you read this newsletter, pause from time to time and think about its relevance to you and to what you currently are doing to improve education.
It is clear to me that significantly improving education will require a large number of “theys” as well as a large number of individual people working to better achieve the goals that are mutually agreed upon. The individual people, such as parents, teachers, siblings, and others who work directly with children are an essential component of any project to improve education.
No two human brains—even those of identical twins— are actually identical. In education, the “one size fits all” approach has some merits. However, we have long known that this is in no sense optimal. It has long been understood that people vary considerably. I am reminded of the following quote from Plato, approximately 2,600 years ago:
“When you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that one man may acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other, after much study and application no sooner learns then he forgets?”
The individualization of each child’s education begins in the womb, and it continues throughout life. Just think of the differences in life experiences that each child has during the early years before beginning formal schooling. So, as we work to improve education, we are faced both by the individual physical and cognitive differences of children, and by the differences in their educations that began well before birth and continue day after day, both inside and outside the school environment.
We humans are endowed with very good brains. Your brain is active and learning every day, 24 hours a day. It continually is receiving and processing information from your external and internal senses, and from information stored in your brain. For millions of years, prehumans and humans were educated by a combination of learning through the schools of hard knocks, imitation, and apprenticeship. The types of schools we are so dependent on today did not exist.
Schools were developed to help students achieve certain learning objectives that take quite a while to achieve, ones that can be taught reasonably well and at a reasonable cost to groups of students. The first schools were designed to teach groups of children reading, writing, arithmetic, and history (Rank, 1/13/2021, link). People who were qualified to teach such a curriculum were in short supply in those days. Since then, people throughout the word have decided that schooling is an inalienable right of all children.
Over thousands of years, the goals of education gradually increased. In 1987, my colleague Dick Ricketts and I collaborated on a book-writing project. After many years of being a secondary school teacher of social studies and history, Ricketts entered my University of Oregon graduate program in the field of computers in education; he received his doctorate in 1985.
The book we wrote, Goals of Education in the United States, included a list of 14 goals in education being used by current K-12 schools. I have lightly edited the original list from time to time over the years. The updated version is available in the IAE-pedia (Moursund & Ricketts, 6/12/2020, link). Quoting myself (David Moursund) from the updated book:
The early part of my teaching career focused on teaching math and uses of computers to help solve math problems. I built on this background as I first began teaching teachers in summer institute programs funded by the National Science Foundation. At that time, the goals of education seemed clear and simple to me. They were:
This still seems to me to be a good way to think about math education. But, the teachers I was trying to teach soon taught me how naïve I was. As I moved more and more into being a math educator, computer educator, and teacher of teachers, I gradually came to understand the complexity of education and the wide range of goals that help to define and drive our educational system.
What follows are very brief statements of the 14 goals presented in the article cited above. I have moved what originally was the twelfth goal, dealing with computers in education, to become the first in the list. I have added a comment about how each goal currently is being affected by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). You can think of each of these comments as presenting a challenge to current and future teachers. Probably you have heard the trite statement, “Computers are here to stay.” The issue of what schools should do about computers is not going away.
G1. Information and Communication Technology (ICT): All students have appropriate knowledge and skills for using our rapidly changing ICT as well as related technologies relevant to their lives and our world.
Comment added January 2021. Ever since computers began to be available to students in their schools, people have been debating the question of what students should be learning about computers and their uses. For many years, the focus was on what came to be called Computer Literacy. Giving it a name has helped some, but there remain widely varying ideas as to what constitutes computer literacy (Moursund, 2016, link). The debaters face an added challenge in that the depth and breadth of the relevant computer technologies continues its rapid growth. For example, although the term Artificial Intelligence had already been in use for years, definitions of computer literacy usually did not include a discussion of AI. In the following comments for the remaining goals, I have not placed an emphasis on the more recent progress occurring in AI. I will discuss this topic in later newsletters of this series.
G2. Security: All students are safe from emotional and physical harm. Both formal and informal educational systems must provide a safe and secure environment designed to promote learning.
Comment added January 2021.We have long had an issue regarding who may have access to student records. In recent years, there have been a large number of instances of computerized databases of all sorts being broken into, and often stolen or damaged. This has happened to some student databases in schools. Because such stolen student records can be used to do emotional and physical harm to students, safeguarding these records has become a major challenge to schools. Individual teachers play a role in this safeguarding.
G3. Values and Diversity: All students respect individual differences and the traditional values of the family, community, state, nation, and world in which they live.
Comment added January 2021.Computerized communication and language translation systems contribute to making the world smaller. It is becoming increasingly important that our students learn to think and to act both locally and globally. I believe that, in some sense, each individual school should be integrated both locally and globally.
G4. Sustainability: All students value a healthy and sustainable local, regional, national, and global environment, and they knowingly work to improve the quality of the environment.
Comment added in January 2021. The goal as currently stated focuses on environmental sustainability. Environmentalists usually are interested in having an environment that supports both humans and a very wide range of other life. However, this goal can be rewritten to have much broader applications.
For example, people who are supportive of having free, fully integrated, high quality public schools are showing their interest in the sustainability and improvement of our current free public school systems.
People who are supportive of all children having the basics that support a decent quality of life want to sustain and improve efforts to provide all children with good housing, food, clothing, health care, education, and so on. A common approach to any sustainability issue is to gather data on the past and present current situation, and then to analyze this data to detect positive and negative trends. Computers now are used routinely for storing and analyzing such data. This process continues by examining current activities that may improve or degrade the current situation, and then collecting and/or creating proposals designed to lead to sustainable improvements. Computers and computer modeling are now routine aids to such work.
G5. Full Potential: All students are knowingly working toward achieving and increasing their healthful physical, mental, and emotional lifelong potentials.
Comment added January 2021. Today’s computers add a new dimension to the mental potentials of its users. We have long known that, in some situations, two brains are better than one. Computer-based “brains” are not the same as human brains, but in an increasing number of situations people routinely are making use of this type of second brain. An inexpensive electronic calculator can be thought of as a special-purpose computer. In some sense it is brain-like, in that it can perform calculations that take humans considerable learning and practice to be able to do the same calculations with just the simple aids of pencil and paper. The next newsletter will look more deeply into some of the brain-like capabilities of computers. Students need an education that incudes learning to use such second brains as a valuable resource in each area they study.
G6. Basic Skills: All students gain a working knowledge of speaking and listening, observing (including visual literacy), reading and writing, mathematics, logic, and storing, retrieving, and communicating information. All students learn to solve problems, accomplish tasks, deal with novel situations, and carry out other higher-order cognitive activities that make use of these basic skills.
Comment added January 2021. These basic skills have been overriding goals of education for a very long time. Teaching the knowledge and skills that enable students to make effective use of the potentials of ICT in each of the basic skills areas is an obvious way to improve students’ capabilities in these areas.
The steadily improving capabilities and availability of computers leads to the question of what now constitutes a basic skill. Is reading and writing cursive still a basic skill? Some schools no longer consider it to be one. Is using a word processor that includes a spelling and grammar checker now a basic skill? How about reading and writing multimedia documents? How about being skilled in learning from Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning (HIICAL) materials?
It is clear to me that the definition of basic skills needs to be expanded to include even more effective uses of the wide range of computer capabilities already in wide use in our country and other parts of the world. The next newsletter will focus on the issue of what capabilities and uses of AI now need to be considered basic skills. As an example, the use of GPS is a basic skill for me as a car driver, a skill that I learned on my own. This suggests that we need to consider which basic skills can be self-taught when needed, and which ones might well become part of the required school curriculum.
G7. Setting and Achieving Personal Learning Goals: An alternate title for this goal is Self-assessment and Self-improvement. All students learn to self-assess, set personal goals based on these assessments, and work to achieve these personal goals.
Comment added January 2021.My personal observation is that students are relatively good at self-assessment. It is in this skill of setting and achieving goals to improve themselves where many students are weak. But, consider the frequent situation where a student sees other students making enjoyable uses of a Smart Phone or a more general purpose computer. These students often realize that they can gain the same skills by taking advantage of personal help from other students and/or from their family and friends. There are many useful computer skills that one can learn this way. An important part of this observation is that many students currently are being asked to learn school content that they do not believe is worthwhile or useful to learn.
G8. General Education: All students have appreciation for, knowledge about, and understanding of a number of general areas of education, including:
Comment added January 2021. This goal does not specify any particular level of knowledge and skill in the various disciplines. Each of these disciplines can be studied to the level of a doctorate and beyond. Nowadays, there are well over a hundred different disciplines in which one can earn a doctorate. This reminds me of the quotation from Samuel Johnson, a British author and father of the first comprehensive English dictionary, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” A key unstated part of Johnson’s advice is to know enough about the topic to be able to read and understand the information one can retrieve. With the Internet and Web, a person can access information on essentially any topic. But this is quite different from being able to understand and make effective use of the information one can retrieve.
There are other topics that I believe need to be added to the above list of disciplines traditionally introduced to precollege students. The most important of my additions include AI, Brain Science, and Future Studies. And don’t forget that each of the disciplines named in the bulleted list above is an area of continuing research. The totality of human knowledge is growing rapidly, and the amount one human can learn is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of this total. This suggests the need to add just in time learning to the curriculum.
G9. Lifelong Learning: All students learn how to learn and also learn how to make effective use of what they learn. They have the inquiring attitude and self-confidence that allows them to pursue life’s options. They have the knowledge and skills needed to deal effectively with changes that affect them.
Comment added January 2021. Each of us is continually changing, and the world we live in is continually changing. No matter how long a person goes to school, the person cannot gain all of the knowledge and skills required in order to deal effectively with the huge variety of problems, tasks, and other situations encountered in daily life.
Fortunately for each of us, part of the change going on in the world is the development of computer-based aids to learning, solving problems, and accomplishing tasks. The Web and Computer-assisted Learning are two such computer-based aids. A human brain is inherently a lifelong learner. Computers provide access to many things a person might want to learn as well as access to aids to learning. For me, this suggests that part of a modern education is to help students develop a high level of skill in using these resources.
I like to draw a parallel between this situation and a very long-followed aspect of schooling. Since their beginning, schools have emphasized learning to read and reading to learn. What computers have brought us is access to much more material to read, and a combination of access to multimedia to be read, to a wide variety of aids to learning, and to aids in solving a wide range of different types of problems.
G10. Problem Solving: All students make use of decision-making and problem-solving skills and tools, including the higher-order skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. All students pose and solve problems, making routine and creative use of their overall knowledge and skills, and of currently available technologies.
Comment added January 2021.Problem solving is an important part of every discipline that students study in school. ICT is a very powerful aid to problem solving across the curriculum. Notice that the original statement of G10 mentions the use of currently available technologies.
From their very beginning, computers were developed as an aid to problem solving. Relatively early on, good progress began to be made in developing computer-based aids to learning, and this progress is still continuing. Thus, part of assessment of student progress in their schooling certainly must include determining their progress in solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and learning through the use of computer technology. Personally, I believe we should have closed book testing, open book and open notes testing, and open and connected computer testing as parts of ongoing student assessment. I consider all three of these to be important components of authentic assessment.
G11. Productive Citizenship: All students act as informed, productive, and responsible members of countries, members of organizations to which they give allegiance, and as members of humanity as a whole.
Comment added January 2021. Computers have made our world smaller through their aids to communication, transportation, and trading goods and services among nations. Personally, I like the idea that every person is by birth a citizen of the world. Have you ever thought about what responsibilities this world citizenship places on each of us?
G12. Social Skills: All students interact publicly and privately with peers and adults in a socially acceptable and positive fashion.
Comment added January 2021. All children learn about lies and lying. This is part of their education, whether or not they ever attend a school. ICT provides a variety of communication tools, and these tools offer new challenges to appropriate interaction among their users. Spamming and the creation of fake (false) news now have become major issues. Learning how to deal with this on-going problem is becoming an important basic skill taught in our schools today (Farmer, 5/31/2018, link).
G13. Assessment: The various components of an educational system that contribute to accomplishing the goals (such as those listed here) are assessed in a timely and appropriate manner. The assessments provide formative, summative, and long-term impact evaluative data that can be used in maintaining and improving the quality of the educational system.
Comment added January 2021. Computers now are used routinely in national and statewide standardized testing. Computerized assessment is now built into the Computer-assisted Learning materials that are being widely used in our schools. However, our schools are still deciding what to do about the idea of testing students in an open networked computer environment. That is, students are not routinely tested in an environment in which they are free to use computers as an aid to answering the test questions. I find this interesting, because increasingly students do use computers in doing their school work.
G14. Accountability: All educational systems are accountable to key stakeholder groups, including:
Comment added January 2021. Over the years, a number of people have worked to define these and other goals of education in terms of measurable behavioral objectives. My 12/26/2020 Google search of the term measurable behavioral objective produced about 5.5 million results. The idea of establishing goals for education and having measures of student achievement of these goals is well established. However, it also is clear that many students are not achieving the goals that their schools are setting for them.
These goals of education were developed over a long period of years. The first schools were designed to help a small select group of students gain knowledge in reading, writing, arithmetic, and history. It soon became apparent that students gaining these skills could immediately make meaningful contributions in government and business.
Now, move forward in time about 5,200 years or so to the time when the Industrial Revolution created a major problem of young children who were receiving very low pay and competing with adults for available jobs, including some jobs that were quite dangerous. Aha! One solution to this was to create child labor laws and to establish required schooling for children. This approach kept children from competing for adult jobs as well as providing a type of child care during the school hours.
Over the years, it has become clear that good schools combined with a high average level of education in a country will provide many benefits to that country. A good general education for all people also is an important component of quality of life. One measure of the quality of a country’s schools is how well the knowledge, skills, and experiences that students obtain in their formal schooling continue to serve them throughout their lives.
Farmer, L. (5/31/2018). Using LibGuide to recognize fake news. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 1/10/2021 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2018-234.html.
Moursund, D. (2020). Alfabetización informática cultural para educadores. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 12/27/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/Alfabetizaci%C3%B3n_Inform%C3%A1tica_Cultural_para_Educadores.
Moursund, D. (2020). Computer cultural literacy for educators. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 12/27/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/Cultural_Computer_Literacy_for_Educators.
Moursund, D. (2020). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 12/27/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.
Moursund, D. (11/16/2020). Thinking about the future of education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 12/27/2020 from https://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2020-293.html.
Moursund, D. (2018). La cuarta R (Segunda edición). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 12/28/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).
Moursund, D. (2018). The fourth R (Second edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 12/28/2020 from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/307-the-fourth-r-second-edition.html.
Moursund, D. (11/16/2016). Computer literacy in 1972. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/10/2021 from http://iae-pedia.org/Computer_Literacy_in_1972.
Moursund, D., & Ricketts, R. (6/24/2020). Goals of education in the United States. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 12/26/2020 from http://iae-pedia.org/Goals_of_Education_in_the_United_States 6/24/2020.
Rank, Michael R. (1/13/2021) Mesopotamian education and schools. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from https://www.historyonthenet.com/mesopotamian-education-and-schools.
Roschelle, J., Lester, J. & Fusco, J. (Eds.) (2020). AI
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Digital Promise. Retrieved 12/13/2020 from https://circls.org/reports/ai-report.
David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner). He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online (IAE Books, 2020, link.)
Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE) in 2007. IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of IAE and AGATE (IAE, 2020, link; AGATE, 2020, link.)
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