A thought struck me as I was trying to come up with a suitable topic to write about here today. Information Technology has not changed schools at all. Yes, it has made research much easier and more efficient. And word processing is not the chore it once was. But whilst technology has fundamentally changed the way the world is viewed, it has not fundamentally changed the way we learn. We still exam in the same way, and we are still expected memorise and learn in the same way. My key point here is that schools need to catch up or risk being made redundant.
The key promise of technology has always been to help make the lives of its users easier and more efficient. One of the major problems however with technology is its power to disrupt, disrupt old ways of teaching and learning but also disrupt one’s routines and lives. With the ubiquity of increasingly connected devices today, one would think that computers have made all our activities much more straightforward. The fact of the matter is, however, whilst much of the world has advanced into the digital age, humans are still only able to process information in an analogue fashion. The constant distractions made by such applications like Facebook, are welcome when one has nothing better to do, but inevitably end up becoming a drag on time when one has a dateline hanging over his head, and simply reflect most people’s inability to simply sit down and write for an hour or so straight.
My premise is that ultimately, schools lack the ability to prepare students for a world where they are always connected and expected to be available 24/7. Whether it be via text message, Blackberry or phone call. Education has for hundreds of years been all about learning the necessary skills for that particular area which you have an interest in working in. This has changed on some level in that research can be conducted easily and quickly over the Internet, and lower level tasks can be outsourced quickly or just as quickly performed by one’s self with little effort.
One of the biggest problems with education on a whole then is the role of examinations. Whereas it remains one of the most essential means to test a student’s academic ability, the modern world rarely expects someone to sit down and plug away at a task for hours on end that he or she has spent months revising for, only to forget what happened in the past three hours ten minutes after the exam, and find out that he was wrong in the narrowly defined parameters of the examination. The modern world has moved beyond that and requires a method of testing more in line with the nature of work today. Am I saying that we completely do away with exams? No, that would be ridiculous, but perhaps testing of one’s abilities should involve more cooperation among students, more time given to thresh out ideas and an opportunity to express an opinion rather than repeat what has been learned previously under controlled conditions. An exam hall, the place where one is to be at his most creative and most ready for work is one of stifling boredom and one that I feel will completely disappear in the next ten to fifteen years.
At the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson made the claim that schools kill creativity by placing an overwhelming focus on being right. (See TED) My contention then is that technology has the power to resurrect that creativity, but only if one knows how to use it. Out of the box, every Windows PC possesses a video editor, every Mac, a video editor, an audio editor and a photo editor. There are countless websites available to create your own content, from one that would transform your face into a Simpson’s character to a comprehensive system of blogging for which one can post his thoughts, creations, ideas however misguided or wrong they may turn out to be. If schools are to succeed in educating the next generation of students, schools must teach students to use the tools of the internet and a curiosity as to how new services and new paradigms in the web can help foster that creativity.
Testing should also reflect this paradigm shift in the way which technology shapes our world. Why are we not allowed to use our laptops to take an exam? When everyone knows that in the real world, should be we require a quick refresher or an analysis of an issue we would simply pull up Google or the various specialist databases that are available online. The fear, of course, is that students will cheat with these devices available to them during an exam. My response then is that our conception of cheating has to change. Yes, wholesale copying and pasting of another’s opinion should be forever be labelled as a despicable act of intellectual dishonesty, but maybe opening up the exam hall to the bounties of modern technology will allow students the leeway to be much more creative and much more productive in the exam hall.
An even more revolutionary suggestion might be to open up exams to collaboration. Allow people to bounce ideas off each other during an exam, allow the flow and exchange of ideas, possibly through instant messaging, or another monitored form of communication, let people draw on each other’s shared ideas and build on them during an exam, the so-called Open Source method. This is the way anyone is expected to work today and should we not be tested on our ability to collaboratively create a better piece of work? This may cause difficulties initially but I believe will be much more reflective of the way society works in this day and age.
My ultimate claim is that it is no longer enough to be educated. One has to possess the technical know how to use technology in any size and form in any line of work. This coupled with the need to be widely educated rather than deeply educated more than clearly indicates that the old ways of focusing on purely scientific ways of measuring talent should be de-emphasised. Technology can help aid such an education, to create discerning learners, ones who will not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.