I have been reading all of the writings of thought leaders the past few weeks about how to reinvent education in America. I have also read the blog posts from the establishment – those educators who have been hardended by the “system” over the past few generations, and feel that “outsiders will only seek to harm, not help, what ails their profession. I wholeheartedly agree that our teachers must be better trained, better compensated, and most importantly, given the flexibility to teach students how to learn, based on each student’s unique learning style. It will take years to come up with the optmal curriculum standards and revamped assessments, and during this time, our students will continue to be the ones who suffer the price of stagnation. The inflexibility in our existing system must be abolished. This inflexibility can be best illustrated by reading this distressing story about a 7-year old boy who inadvertenty brought a TOY GUN to school and was EXPELLED! His life has been forever altered due to the lunacy of our public school system. It’s time for America to wake up and demand systemic change. What can we do?
Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn have shown us the way, through their book: Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns. Additionally, we have seen a rapid acceleration in crowd-sourcing, or user generated “repositories” of new teaching ideas and products. For example, take a look at the Khan Academy, one of the most amazing learning portals created in recent years. And this is just the beginning.
What is the idea that can help teachers immediately? Create a destination that becomes the “Wikipedia” for learning. You want video lectures? Put video lectures there? Game-based learning products? We put them there too. 3D visualization tools by subject? Sure. Lets create a place where all of the best online learning products can be offered, and teachers, parents, and students can feel free to sample them either as supplemental learning, or as part of their curriculum. The Khan Academy is just one example of this. TED is a brand that offers a unique opportunity to bring together the best “learning ideas worth spreading.” It’s curator, Chris Anderson, alluded to the possibilities offered by crowd-sourcing in a recent talk he gave at TEDGlobal 2010, shown below.
Now Chris’s talk was more or less about video only. This is only a piece of the solution, just like Sal Khan’s offering, because students need real experiential learning options, all offered in a “blended learning” format. Each form of media (online textbooks, web products, online video, game-based learning, etc) has a role to play, and crowd-sourcing can bring all of this content together, in one place.
There are some interesting entrepreneurs trying to fill the void that has been created by the textbook publishers and the status quo. I have only mentioned a couple of examples – there are plenty more.
This emerging phenomenon, crowd-sourcing, might be the answer our students need. We just need to to break up the system that has been stifling such innovation in schools for many, many years. If recent documentaries have woken up mainstream America, then they have done their job. Lets start focusing on interests, not positions, and start listening to the most important stakeholders in education: students and teachers. Isn’t it about time we brought innovation into our schools, and ensure that our children will not be left behind in a globally connected digital economy? I think that time is NOW.