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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Technology in Education: Open Education?

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Times, the are a’ changing. I can honestly say I’ve learned more from the internet than schools and a lot faster. It makes me seriously question the value of good old brick and mortar schools, I’m here to make a case for open education.

I don’t need to tell you anything about classic education, I’m sure you’ve all suffered through it or maybe were lucky enough to take some joy in being force fed your education by people who don’t know you and for the most part don’t give a crap about helping you achieve your goals. I know there are a ton of great teachers, I’ve had the privilege of meeting quite a few in my life, but I feel it’s important not to put to much blame or praise on someone who affects your life a minimal amount compared to how much you affect yourself. If you’ve had a teacher change your life congratulations, I know there are exceptions and not everyone goes through the same things I did but for the most part teachers aren’t there when you decide what your going to do with your life and how your going to achieve it. Classic education is fine for some but as technology becomes more and more prevalent in our day to day lives and information is everywhere and free to access, classic education becomes this slow, factory worker making factory that slows down the potential of millions of children each year.

Some people are adamant and think that their children must have a bunch of papers from different schools in order to succeed in life. The problem with that is what if you start going to school for say Computer Science and decide halfway through that you’d rather go back to what you did in high school as a hobby, Building Tables (I know it’s lame but it’s an example lay off). I’ll tell you what happens, you end up wasting a ton of money getting lazy because you really want to work on that chair building empire, and spend your precious study time building a business you could’ve already had running. Then your business takes off and you get rich and quit school wondering why you didn’t just quit after the rush of that first chair build, get a part time job, and dedicate all your Computer Science homework time to this in the first place.

Open education in my definition and opinion is good logic brought to learning everything I’ll give you an example. Lets say you need to learn how to read, well on YouTube alone there's thousands of videos, and some series and playlists all set up to do just that, at any age level. So if you have a child and their learning how to read, sending them to school will get it drilled into their head sooner or later most likely at some pre-determined age that’s ‘normal’ and accepted as such, but if they had an iPad 2 playing cute videos, they might learn a little faster, and if they don’t at least it saves them the embarrassment of being behind their classmates and abnormal or ‘slow’.

The benefits of an open education are pretty clear in my opinion, even from the simple example above. My biggest beef with the current brick and mortar education is it’s class system.  Which forces children to either feel too privileged or like a complete loser by determing ‘scientifically’ at what age someone should know something. This can led some children to be left behind and feel stupid and others to feel like they’re actually getting a real education because the get good grades, good grades are a cakewalk just check out this valedictorian’s take on what she learned in high school:

Everyone learns at a different pace and more importantly has unique talents. I think it defies any kind of sense to think that all people should know this or that by a certain age. Einstein was 26 when he created his special theory of relativity. Michal Jackson was a world famous pop star by the time he hit 18, and Mark Zukerberg created the world biggest social networking site by the time he was 24. So does that mean everyone has to achieve these goals by that age? Are the billions of us who don’t own the worlds largest social networking site, created a theory that changed physics or mastered multiple instruments failures?

I know some of you are thinking “well those are exceptions.”  That’s true but that’s also kind of my point. If these exceptions exist and they do, in droves. Then classic education is fundamentally flawed, a waste of time and just plain illogical and wrong. The proof is in the exceptions. Einstein finished all his classical schooling and even earned a degree to teach physics and mathematics, and as we all know he became the worlds finest physics teacher, it’s what he’s known for after all…I’m joking of course Einstein never made it as a teacher and instead got a job famously as a patent clerk. There’s no question Einstein's education played a role in his discovery of E=MC2 but it was mostly the reading he did on the side and his determination. Like I said classical education works for some, I just think those it works for can get along fine in an open education environment.

Jackson and Zuckerberg, well those two never needed classical education and learned everything from hacking. Jackson hacked together new dance moves, songs, music videos and concerts to become the biggest pop star in history, and Zuckerberg hacked together a website that became the biggest social network in the world. Both from interests and talents they had as children.

I’m not going to pull any punches here and just let you know how I feel about classic education in a nutshell. All schools are nowadays is baby sitting centers for the young and detention centers for teenagers. Although some schools are embracing technology in the class room, it’s not the point at all. The point of open education is the same as open source software, education should be free, controlled by the people who are experts in their fields teaching others because the love it, not by hired experts who are motivated by money and for the most part lack passion. There are people out there who would love to teach children but feel they can’t because they suck at one subject and can’t get a degree, there’s hackers who would love to work security for your company but you won’t hire them because they lack a PhD. This is the world that classic education has created, here in the U.S we churn out good employees and not talented, motivated, skilled people. Those are the exceptions.

Simply put, classical education disgusts me for a number of what I think are valid reasons.

Open education can be a good supplement for classic education, if you have kids I ask you to please show them that there are tons of resources for them to learn online, they can even take free mini-exams with no pressure to test themselves and see where they are on certain subjects. You can show them there’s different ways to solve a problem and with a little research they might find an easy approach to something they thought was impossible, they don’t always have to rely on the teacher they can take some incentive and its actually pretty easy to crank out those A’s.

I myself took a class in Mathematics for programmers last year at school (I know I know but I mostly go ‘cause I’m bored). When I started I knew enough math to be in basic college mathematics, in other words I could count and add according to my entrance exam. The class covered everything from Algebra to Calculus to Theory proving through mathematics, I ended it with a B no cheating I swear. I don’t say that to brag, I’m using my own stupidity as an example. I learned that much math without having to spend 3-4 years in school, I’m far from being a mathematician or even an expert in any kind of math but I know tons of tricks thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and the hundreds of math sites I visited during the course. If I came across something I didn’t understand I could look it up online, if I didn’t understand it from one source I had millions others to choose from, not just one teacher. My point? If you can access the web, you know advanced math concepts such as proofs and set theory, I don’t care how bad you are at it now. This makes it easier to find answers for work you don’t, get it over with quick, learn a little and get back to building that chair empire!

It’s not cheating in the least, the point of homework is to use all the resources you have at home to complete the assignment right? Don’t hate on your kids if they don’t have to deal with actually reading Moby Dick ‘cause they can just read about it, watch videos and write their report based on that, hell if anything they’ll probably learn more about Moby Dick. Herman Melville and whaling than you did when you just read the book.  There weren’t thousands-strong Moby Dick forums at your school being constantly updated were there? Did any of the kids at your school start a Moby Dick fan club that links people from all over the world?

The least we can do until we take control of our educational system is make it easier, by using technology for our children (well yours, I don’t have any) and letting them ‘cheat’ their way through subjects they have no interest in, not everyone needs to know physics, it’s totally useless to someone who wants to be an actor.

I’m going to end this now, but I promise I will write more on this subject in the near future I have some pretty good ideas on how parents and students can take back control over what they learn and what they don’t want to waste their time doing, children have interests that come and go but sometimes those interests lead to something amazing, we should be encouraging them to get as deeply involved in their current interests as they can and technology allows them to do that on a global scale.

Please feel free to email me or post in the comments if you want links to resources that can help you better teach your kids at home.

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