Looking to the West for Inspiration

Having been fortunate enough to visit a few of Asia’s most dominant economies in the last couple of years, I have been astounded by their drive for educational attainment. China is a shining example of how education has enabled millions of people every year to rise from near-poverty to join the burgeoning ranks of that country’s middle class. Making the grade means achieving a high score on the gaokao; a standardized test taken by about nine million Chinese students each June.
This Atlantic article does a nice job discussing the singular focus required to prepare for the test and how this myopic view has constrained the very economy it has fueled since 1986.  Despite students in Shanghai outperforming their peers around the world in math, science and reading, they struggle to demonstrate entrepreneurship and creativity. A recent report found that only 1.6% of Chinese college graduates started a business last year. This is a statistic that will have to change in order to reheat a cooling economy.
If you’re taking some solace in China’s plight and thinking that the US may enjoy this opportunity to bolster its own progress, think again. China and its neighbors are well aware of their educational systems shortcomings and working with the same feverish passion to correct their course. And, where will they look for examples of how to foster these new skills? Most likely, they’ll look west, specifically the US.  Despite the numerous reports of a failing US educational system, we are still a role model for entrepreneurship and creativity; a fact we should be proud of.

Shifting from Traditional Classrooms to Mobile Learning

As I browse through the latest in education news,  I can’t help but notice the number of articles and blogs touching on the growing interest of mobile device usage for classroom learning.

In a recent post by Edudemic, It was suggested that students who learn with their mobile devices can learn much faster than their peers and also may perform better on assessments. If this continues to be a trend, what a fantastic step forward this would be for classroom technology. But before we completely adopt the idea of mobile learning, I think it is important to think about some concerns associated with this notion.

Perhaps one of the largest concerns for equipping every student with a mobile device is the cost. In our time of economic uncertainty, this may not be feasible. A cost-effective alternative may be the idea of (BYOD) or “Bringing your own device” to school. While this may save on the cost for schools, BYOD may present another challenge, monitoring the student.

The amount of control a teacher has, or the ability to monitor how and for what purpose students are using their mobile devices for in the classroom is a great challenge.  If I’m allowed to bring my cellphone into the learning environment, who says I want to use it for learning? What’s to stop me from playing games or watching YouTube videos during a lecture? And what happens when students spend the entire lecture posting to Facebook or tweeting about how bored they are?

Schools and teachers need to have strict guidelines in place so that students can continue to learn while benefiting from advances in technology. Mobile devices can be amazing classroom tools for the future, but we need to have a concrete plan for effectively incorporating them into the classroom. If teachers cannot thoroughly monitor what each student is doing with his/her mobile device, maybe it is not always the best idea to use mobile devices for classroom lessons.

Smaller World: Technology and Today’s Learner

People claim the world is getting smaller. What they really mean is that their ability to communicate is getting larger. By the time you finish reading this post it’s likely that you will have also received at least one comment on your Facebook page, an email, an IM, a tweet, and possibly even joined a Google hangout or a Skype call. Communication tools have become available in every flavor of the rainbow.

Beyond the most obvious advances in direct communication technology, we also have new possibilities for indirect information sharing and presence awareness, keeping us in contact with the people, happenings, and ideas which most interest us. Our new found ability to obtain the exact information we need, at precisely the moment we need it, has had a profound impact on our productivity both at work and at play. In a predominantly knowledge-worker based society, readily available on-demand access to information has transformed our expectations of the essential ingredients of success. It has shaken up our long established traditions of formal education and reassigned value from process based learning to self-guided alternatives. Learners have been empowered to expand their horizons and find answers for themselves like never before.

For decades, educators have struggled to harness technology in the classroom. To their credit, they recognized its potential impact on learners, but there was no blueprint for fitting it into the pedagogical temple of our 20th century education system.  But that’s changing.  Much of our learning has now become self-directed, and learning now takes place anywhere and at any time of our choosing. The classroom is merely one possibility. In fact, self-directed learners may not need the classroom at all. Technology both empowers and accelerates this change, influencing how, when, and what we learn while equipping a new generation with both the tools and expectations to become successful as life-long self-guided learners.

While the rapid expansion of information available on the Internet isn’t a recent phenomenon, cloud based computing applications are multiplying the value of information in people’s daily lives by making information useful in amazing new ways, from just about anywhere. As personal technology in the form of netbooks and hand held communication devices grows increasingly sophisticated and open, the ability of Information Technology departments to tackle the requests of end users is completely side-stepped.   Learning Management Systems are not immune from advances in technology.  Any sacred mystery that once graced these bloated enterprise-centric systems has already been shamed by the proliferation of Sharepoint, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Dropbox, TeamViewer, and any number of similar web-connected resources, largely free to use, ridiculously easy to acquire, and miraculously powerful as tools to communicate, to share, to teach, and to learn. Open web based software has already arrived. Most industries have already begun to embrace it. The response from the LMS community has been to tack on interfaces to things like Twitter and Facebook but to completely ignore the fact that practically all of the learning is happening outside of the LMS. What the LMS vendors have failed to recognize is that it isn’t just technology that has evolved. People have evolved in their use of technology, in their acceptance of personal responsibility and empowerment as learners, and in their expectations of the learning process. It’s time for us to set aside our old notions of what constitutes learning.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.