George Siemens and Dave Cormier ask about the future of education.  I’m probably a day late and a dollar short here, and my response will forgo  the cinematic stylings of Alan Levine.  Here goes nothing.

I hope education in the future will be a huge exercise in collaborative problem solving.  Everything starts with a problem to be solved, and students charge off to solve it, googling and microblogging as they go.   Survey courses as we know them will disappear. Instead, students will pick content sub areas that mesh with their own learning interests, learning about others from their classmates who choose them (What if almost every class were a seminar?) There’s nothing new about this. It’s been the future of education for at least a decade.  Perhaps the more important question is , “What will have to happen for this to become reality?”

Independent of George and Dave’s “assignment” 🙂  I picked up off the library shelf last week Postman’s The End of Education and Hirsch’s The Schools We Need (both published in 1996) in an effort for some balance in my educational reading.  I didn’t get very far before I discovered a very fundamental gap.  Both were written when information was still scarce.  It is, I imagine, reading an astronomy text that postulates a geocentric universe after Copernicus had been accepted. Some of the details are right, but it misses the elephant in the room.

When Hirsch and Postman wrote their books, I was a grad student, and despite the existence of the Internet, information was still de facto scarce.  When you went to the library you could at least use an electronic index to find which bound journal or book you needed to dig out of the stacks, but that was as far as it went. Contrast that with something that happened last week:

My daughter’s birthday falls in the middle of the work week this year.  We were trying to decide whether to have the party the weekend before or the weekend after.  Since we’re planning an outdoor party, my wife asked which date was least likely to have rain.  Ten minutes with Google and the NOAA web site led to historical rainfall averages by date, for the last thirty years in our city.   In 1996, answering the same question would have taken hours if I lived near a government document repository library and if they had the climate data.

The future of education won’t come to pass until teachers, principals, superintendents, deans and provosts have all “accepted Google”. Many of those leading educational institutions today were educated when information was still scarce and have a marked distrust of Wikipedia and Google (let’s not even start with Web 2.0).    In an unprecedented way, instructors no longer need to be the source of information in the classroom.  Now there are Google Jockeys.

Students will have to change just as much as teachers.  Many instructors I know who try a less centralized model report back that students, conditioned for years to memorize and regurgitate, are ill equipped for the freedom this new way offers them and the self-direction it requires of them. I think we’re  just starting to figure out how to teach that and how to assess it.