Friday, October 11, 2013

Innovation in Global Virtual Education---Part II

My last post may have seemed to some to be a rather harsh treatment of the brick n mortar school systems but what they still haven't learned is that the industrial model of education is a dead concept in this age and the ages to come. Young people are not widgets on the education conveyor belt any longer. The rock group, Pink Floyd, probably expressed it well in their protest lyrics "all in all, you're  just another brick in the wall".
With the rise of a new generation of young people, called Generation Y who were successors to Generation X, came the rise of the concept of the virtual school. As a side note, the fact that we would label generations of young people this way and even referring to some as a "lost generation" speaks to the sense of betrayal that young people felt. After they had gone through the system, did what was required only to discover that the skills that they had acquired did not result in gainful employment and the "good life" that they had been promised, led to disillusionment about their future. However, with the growth of the Internet, technology and the virtual world of education, the new "digital natives" have renewed hope about the future.

What we are seeing is the beginning of a new revolution in education on many fronts. Consider the fact that with an online school, state, provincial and national borders no longer have a high priority if at all. Students now can attend school by logging in from anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. The revolution that is happening will happen on a number of educational fronts:
  1. Revolution in the vision and purpose of education.
  2. Revolution in what is offered to students
  3. Revolution in the organization of teachers and administration
  4. Revolution in assessment standards
With respect to a vision of education, we need to ask ourselves where do we want the journey to take us. In the past, visionaries in education had a "rock star" persona, complete with "groupies" and various other minions who while in a state of idol worship, would do anything that the visionary proclaimed as necessary to the survival of education in the land. I remember one in particular who I  will only mention by the initials M.F. because I have a serious dislike for being sued for libel, that people would stand in long lines to hear. They were mesmerised by every word that he/she proclaimed and yet, failed to ask the question: where has his/her vision taken us?
The combination of vision and purpose must be matched by commitment that our young people will be the builders of a better society, that society for the good of the people will survive. In order for this to come about the vision of education must inspire young people; it must be about great ideas that will shape the future.
As an example, I once had the privilege of teaching robotics to young people in a school setting. What happened truly amazed me! I have never experienced such dedication to learning, such zeal for working as a team, such a readiness to help each other acquire concepts and such remorse that their study couldn't continue into the summer. I had to ask myself what happened. My conclusion was that the appeal was that we were dealing with a great idea in their future.

This of course brings me to the revolution of what can be offered to students in a global virtual education environment. Consider the following great ideas of the future but also consider the secondary ideas that also have great potential and appeal to young people:
  1. A virtual field trip that takes you inside the pyramids of Egypt. As a result of streamed video, you are led by an Archaeologist  who shows you the ancient writings on the walls. At any time on your virtual tour, you can stop the Archaeologist to ask questions even though you are thousands of miles away. Another possibility, is that as a high school student you are interested in going into Medicine. You take a virtual field trip to the operating room of a large teaching hospital where you watch cardiac surgery being performed. As the surgeon works he explains what he is doing and why. When the patient heads to the ICU, you get to ask the surgeon questions.
  2. Robotics and Nanotechnology--You sit in a virtual presentation given by a leader in Bioengineering as he/she explains how Nanotechnology will enable the miniaturization of robots to the point where they can be injected into the bloodstream. Then based upon their programming you could witness the destruction of a cancer tumour.
  3. As a student you gather with other students from other countries in the virtual environment to work on the design of engineering projects under the mentorship of a well known scientist in the field. The scientist along with your sponsoring teachers them do an assessment of your final product.
With a virtual environment, many of the barriers to creativity and exploration that existed in the past, are now gone.
Now the obvious question that has to be asked is how does this change the nature and organization of teaching. I will leave you with one thought that is a question that Peter Senge asked in his book titled:"The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization"(1990). "How can we hope to create an effective learning environment for students without first having created one for teachers?"
Wait until the next post for that.

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