Monday, September 19, 2016

Hacking Education

The term "hacking" has a sorted history in that it often referred to the actions of people who were technologically astute but often had criminal motives when it came to computer systems that were not their own. However, in 21st century slang in the computer world, the term has taken on a new and more interesting meaning. This new meaning basically states that "hacking" refers to a procedure or a way of doing something that:

  • Demonstrates cleverness or ingenuity
  • Solves a meaningful problem
  • Is not a common or well known solution to the problem
  • May not be the most straightforward or appropriate solution
MIT hacker, Phil Agre states that:

"In fact, hack has only one meaning, an extremely subtle and profound one which defies articulation. Which connotation is implied by a given use of the word depends in similarly profound ways on the context."

So, if we apply the above definition to bringing about change in the monolithic institution of education, rather than being a negative thing, hacking education is exactly what needs to happen. As Phil Agre points out, in order for this to happen in an effective manner, we have to ask the following question:

" In what context do we hack education?"

"How can we apply change to education that demonstrates cleverness or ingenuity, solves meaningful problems, that involves uncommon or should we say creative and innovative solutions to problems and that mentors students in the attitude that the most straightforward or seemingly appropriate solution may not be in the end the solution that yields the greatest possibilities for further development?"

Hacking Curriculum Organization

The compartmentalization  or silo organization of subjects has trained students in the mindset that the knowledge of the disciplines are completely separate and not interdependent for the advancement of knowledge. Educators have tried to overcome the mindset in ways that show the importance of other subjects to the furtherance of knowledge in their discipline by presenting students with the problems that involve the need of the knowledge of other disciplines but still receive the same type of question from students regularly:

"Why do I have to do Math when this subject is History or why do I have to know Science to do this problem when the subject is English?

For students, they do not see the reality of the interdependence of knowledge to solve problems because the silo organization of knowledge is what they base their reality on. As long as we maintain this type of silo organization of curriculum, students' ability to solve real world complex problems, an important skillset that in the 21st century they need to master in order to become effective agents of change, will elude us.

Therefore, if we want to hack the curriculum in order to bring about change what ideas must be brought forward that:
  • Demonstrates cleverness or ingenuity?
  • Solves a meaningful problem?
  • Is not a common or well known solution to the problem?
  • May not be the most straightforward or appropriate solution?
There are good signs both in the university communities and in some education organizations globally that the need to move away from the silo concept of education to one that recognizes the cross disciplinary nature of knowledge is happening. Unfortunately, it is happening only in one grouping of disciplines that being the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The writing of S.TE.M. curriculum is an important step and the proposal of extending STEM to include the Arts is an even better step forward but if it remains within a "silo-based system" without a configuration change, it will be only "band-aid" solutions that neglects a larger problem. There are still other disciplines which should recognize that they have complementary traits with each other and need to seek cross curricular harmonization.

In this "hack" of curriculum, solving a meaningful problem means that applications within a curriculum that are superficially, contrived problems that don't go beyond the classroom are out and the identification of complex real world problems that emphasizes meaningful collaboration among the students as well as with stakeholders outside the school are in. This means that the role of the educator takes on a new dimension which replaces roles that are no longer in sync with the needs of 21st century society. This means a renewed emphasis on and real world application of critical thinking skills.

One thing to understand clearly is that hacking education will lead to a cascading effect of changes that will bring learning and teaching in sync with the real needs of 21st century society and the creative and innovative skillsets that need to be nurtured in learners will finally be able to overcome the penchant drive of the "command and control" mindset that is entrenched in education.
Hacking the curriculum has implications for the way that we design irresistibly engaging learning experiences and also how we assess learning in the desired context of life long-learning.

Next --Hacking Teaching in Brick and Mortar Schools and E-Learning

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