Monday, 15 June 2015

Education should be learner led, facilitate unfettered access to best of breed materials, and ditto staff (teachers, facilitators, co-constructors) (Bonk, 2009)

Larry Cuban's recent post on school reform ("Educators’ Love Affair with Change") reminded me of the preface to my MA dissertation from 2010 - posted below.  Even though this is six years old (and for the first time in public here), it still feels very contemporary and perhaps even prescient given more recent developments such as MOOCs, the Khan Academy and Sugata Mitra's work:


“Whether you are a scientist on a ship in Antarctic waters or a young girl in a Philippine village, you can learn whenever and whatever you want from whomever you are interested in learning it from.”

From the cover sleeve of: “The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education”
Curtis J. Bonk
July 2009

The statement is not as outlandish as it might seem on first reading.  Curtis Bonk is making the point that technology, and in this case the Internet, and more specifically the services that are facilitated by the Internet, have made information available on a scale unimaginable to previous generations – and that it’s possible to harness those services in the pursuit of education, the gathering of information, and obtain assistance converting that data into knowledge.

I, too, have a strongly held belief that technology will transform the world’s educational systems, for the better.

Thus I began to explore, using this dissertation as a vehicle for that exploration, how university teachers use on-line learning environments in their teaching.  Originally the technology I intended to study was “Multimedia” (audio and video content), but it became clear later in the study that “Multimedia” must include text based content and therefore the study expanded to include attitudes and opinions towards on-line learning environments that by their nature are often heavily text based.

This might be an appropriate point to inform the reader of my background, to help them place my words and ideas and others concepts and notions into the reader’s knowledge landscape – to give a context to this dissertation.

Computers and me go back a long way.  I first came across computer equipment first hand in school in 1976 – firstly using a local council mainframe via a remote tele-type device and the second was an early micro-computer from Research Machines using a Z80 8-bit microprocessor.  I studied computer science at school, gaining 'O' level, 'A' level and then my first degree in the subject.  Hence my background with the technology is deep, wide and, perhaps in the IT industry, ancient; or in e-learning, even pre-historic.

I spent 20 years in the IT industry, became a classroom teacher of ICT from 2003 (following my PGCE) until December 2007, when I took up the role of a Learning Technologist.

Hence I have a good background in technology and education – and am currently finding my role as a learning technologist suits my experience and background.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the education system.  This paragraph is explicitly designed to be contentious in order to illustrate – and I admit that it suffers from the precise “Academic Liteness” I go on to accuse the educational establishment of.  Around 2005, whilst working as a classroom teacher, I came to the conclusion that the UK’s compulsory education system, especially provision from 11 years on is dis-educating our children.  During my time as a teacher I have observed children being taught how NOT to learn, sometimes as a side effect of the system evidencing how good it is at doing its job.  Notions of “Spoon Feeding” only scratch the surface of my dissatisfaction.  And now as a parent I see my own children suffer the same fate.  Parents remain trusting of the system to educate and/or contain their children.  Educators impose their attitudes and beliefs as to what is best from a frequently paternalistic and often “evidence lite” perspective.  Such approaches echo with Freire’s (1972) notions of colonial education, where the oppressed (children) are educated using the curriculum of the oppressor (education system).  I believe that to be effective, education must be driven by the desires and interests of the learner, not of the system.  There are initiatives in many countries that adopt this “Radical” educational approach, such as the Sudbury schools in the USA (Holzman 1997) and the educational philosophy of the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy (Thornton and Brunton, 2006).  In the UK, Summerhill School (Andresen et al., 1995) has shown both how successful the philosophy can be and how distasteful the educational establishment find the approach (the school has suffered a barrage of attacks from Ofsted (House of Commons Standing Committee G (pt 9), 2002) and the DfES (BBC News, 2000).

I believe the free and open educational resources that are mushrooming via the Internet (MIT, BBC’s Byte Size etc.) will evolve, Darwinian style, into the best of breed.  There is nothing any authority, government or educational stakeholder can do to stop this.  To prevent our learners, at whatever age, access to these resources in full, by overtly blocking access to, like the Chinese government, or implicit restrictions, like the UK’s education system demanding that our children attend the sort of institution a child from the workhouses of the 18th century would recognise, is wrong.  Further, these attitudes are dangerous to the prosperity of future society.  Curtis Bonk explores these issues in “The World is Open” – (2009:367-368) in which he suggests (demands?) that education be learner led, facilitate unfettered access to best of breed materials, and ditto staff (teachers, facilitators, co-constructors).

David Callaghan
December 2009