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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Future of Education

The Future of Education

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I've been asked to speak to a group concerning "the future of education." Given that I think future ed will be characterized by the use of technology and collaboration, it seems right to ask for thoughts in this forum. So, thoughts on "the future of education?" What it might be? What it should be? I should note in advance that any ideas utilized in my presentation will be attributed to their source.

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think one of the things we worry about a lot is motivation of students to learn and engagement. Yet we often accuse people of being unmotivated to learn or engage, but don't try (or ask) why that might be the case. Motivation has three basic parts: The Goal must be attractive (something they want to do or learn) The amount of effort to achieve mastery must be realistic (getting good results doesn't seem like it's impossible) and there needs to be a path to that success that also seems reasonable and doable with each small step towards the goal.
While different kids and families care about different things (think about Maslowe's heirarchy of needs- when food, clothing an shelter are big issues, so you think the kid/family is spending all their time worried about your assignment, or are they worried about whether they are going to be evicted? Where would your priorities be?) what can you do to make your classroom or subject mater more attractive and seem more worthwhile?
This is why things like project based learning work well for lots of students. They have an ability to place all the stuff we teach them in abstract ways and apply this in a context where it makes sense and gives then a real world outcome to help solidify learning. Just like you learn better sometimes when you poke at a computer rather than read about it, sometimes kids need the exact same thing.
You always have to look at motivation as asking the question- "What's in it for me?" and then "Is this reasonable to expect?" (The reason so many people give up on weight loss is while the goal of being healthier and skinny sounds and looks like a great goal, the effort and speed of results often lead people to put down the dumbbells (hard work, painful) and reach for the donut. (Right there, easy, sweet.) We're simple creatures, really. Immediate short term gratification wins over deferred gratification for abstract potential but not guaranteed results.
What can you do to make what you are teaching more engaging? As Rick Lavoie has said- students don't come with batteries included- part of your job is to make learning fun and engaging. Good teachers are good leaders and good motivators- you just have to figure out what makes each kid tick. For some kids, it may be social stuff, for other kids it could be grades, for other kids its creativity and self-autonomy and choice.

If you get a chance, Rick's book The Motivation Breakthrough is really fantastic and worth the read. If you want to hear Rick, I interviewed him over at the LD podcast a while ago- http://ldpodcast.com/2007/10/05/show-67-conversation-with-rick-lavoie/

Marshall Barnes's picture
Marshall Barnes
Founder, Director of SuperScience for High School Physics

I think Whitney has good points because the problem for teachers is how to deal with kids who aren't motivated and come from problem environments which have adversely affected them. So that's the teacher's burden. As a futurist, social scientist and innovator, my problem is at what point do I say "to heck with it" and take unilateral action to change that environment because no one else seems motivated or smart enough to do it themselves, even though their job description implies that it should be one of their main concerns. If you change the environment, and when I use that word I'm referring to the psychological environment that has a definitive causal link to negative and anti-social behavior and personal degeneration, you'll not only get better students, but lower crime rates, more entrepreneurship, fewer teen pregnancies, and more productive young people...

Bill Kuhl's picture

Whitney, Thank you for the interesting comments. I can really relate to your comments on weight loss, the fear of death was my motivation to change. Not that I was so heavy, maybe 225 for a man 6'3". In early 2009 I woke up in ICU having come close to death with blood sugar over 900. Doctors told me I was type 1 diabetic at age 51 and put me on insulin. I followed their orders on diet and exercise, I continued to improve. As I continued to cut down on the insulin, I began to think I was really type 2 diabetic, the doctor had to agree. My next goal was to get off medicine completely, which I did exactly one year ago. In one year my blood sugar has not been out of normal range.

Why can't more people do this, I don't know. They tell me giving up this or that isn't really living. I try to point out that there have been so many other positive things from my new diet and exercise; perfect weight, never an upset stomach, and just feel great.

I will check out the podcast for sure.

Bill Kuhl's picture

Whitney, I listened to the podcast interview with Rick Lavoie, very interesting. I will check out more of your podcasts in the future.

Bill Kuhl

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Thanks Bill! Rick is a great guy with lots of insight!

Tim Grady's picture

As an urban educator, and a proponent of collaborative, blended learning environments, I appreciate the discourse I've found here around the future of education; so many of contributors' insights are spot on.

Motivation, culture (family, community, classroom, school), and human interaction are the keys to adapting our education to the future and to being the best in the world again. Culture is a technology, environment is a technology, well-planned social interactions are a technology. And these, not the wire-and-chip variety of tech (though I use them more than most), are what will change our educational environment to the ends we are all seeking.

Having said that, and being a "tech-guy" myself, I will say the bit about motivation has often been woefully misunderstood. Educational thinkers keep adapting the material to the students' mindset, seeking to captivate; as a result, edutainment has become this concept that bleeds into nearly every activity. Not to discount the importance of hooking a student, but my job, as I see it, is to adapt the students' minds to demands of the content. That means changing the values, habits, and beliefs of the students to the point that they value mastering their own attention, thinking critically to find key insight, and disciplining themselves towards excellence.

And all of that requires practitioners that understand how to deeply effect the values, habits, and beliefs of all the interested parties (students, teachers, parents, administrators, community). Without that, all the value of technology and collaboration is crippled by misguided attempt to constantly captivate our students, placing them and ourselves on a strange pedagogical hedonic treadmill.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Maybe we should move the motivation concept to its own thread.

I see motivation as being something that's an inherent interaction between teacher and student. If a teacher is in the front of the room, using a monotone voice, seeming disinterested and disengaged, as a student, what should I read into that? How do I pick out what's important when there are few verbal or physical cues to what the teacher seems to think is important and valuable in the content? On the other hand, if a teacher is truly interested in the topic and engaged with it themselves, that "Come look at this- this is really cool!" attitude bleeds over to the student- it's infectious.

I met Dr. Harold Edgerton, father of the strobe light, when I was 17. He had been one of my dad's teacher's at MIT, and we went to visit him when doing a college tour. Dr. E showed us around a lab like a kid in a toy store - he was a little over 80 at the time. He showed us some brine shrimp he had, amazed by the way they moved their legs, artifacts from his trips with Jacques Cousteau working on underwater photography and sonography- even at 80, he was enthusiastic and infectious about learning and exploring. he was still curious. And even meeting him has stayed with me as a goal- to stay enthusiastic and curious about almost everything, to try to know more and learn more every day.

That's the kind of spirit we need to show kids in school, regardless of subject matter. It's not about edutainment- it's about making them curious to go farther and find out more. Not delivering answers, but helping them figure out the puzzle on their own.

Games are addicting because they always hit that zone of proximal development- that puzzle that's just a bit too hard, and when you figure it out, you get a little rush of "I did it!" Schools and clases even like english and social studies should have moments of figuring out the puzzle as well. When more classes are engaging a child's curiosity and less seeming to use them as a captive audience, then we'll really be getting somewhere.

And this is not a curriculum debate, or testing debate or anything else. In fact, it's free. It's all about the attitude with which you approach the topic and lesson. And in the end, that's simple good teaching.

Marshall Barnes's picture
Marshall Barnes
Founder, Director of SuperScience for High School Physics

Wow! You met Edgerton? I wish I could show him some of the things that I've done with his strobe lights - I'm sure it would blow his mind! http://informalscience.org/project/show/1926 .

Then there's also the matter of that classified Navy research that I'd would have liked to ask him about...

Marshall Barnes's picture
Marshall Barnes
Founder, Director of SuperScience for High School Physics

@Don Elwell
Director, Greylight Theatre Collective/Grindlebone Arts
Posted on 2/09/2011 5:04pm
Technology as opposed to what?

"I think my problem with "technology" is that considering it as a separate topic out of social context seems rather pointless. Making fire with a flint and steel is technology. Blacksmithing is a technology. The utility and implications of given techniques are easily as important as the techniques themselves.
My Ipod makes a lousy fish lure."

If you attach a hook and line to your Ipod, and turn it on, it would make a pretty fine fishing lure, especially in those waters where the fish are attracted to light...

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