On Education Innovation

education software

Mar 2014

There is a well known proverb on the importance of education: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

But what does this mean in the times of the internet? What does it mean, when so many concepts and ideas on software are publicly available in the form of open-source software?

“Crowd”-education

Open-source software works, because groups of people with similar interests gather to teach and learn together. If we look at popular open-source frameworks, we can always see a mix of public criticism of features, public discovery of bugs and free exchange of information.

But also, less experienced developers often get valuable input from more experienced developers, by discussions in public chat rooms, on email lists or Q & A forums, such as Stackoverflow.

Having discoveries made by communities, and finding a common voice, is not only the strength of open-soure software, but also of general web movements, such as crowd-“sourcing”, crowd-“funding”, and “open” innovation in general. I think, we are just at the dawn of a time, where education will be driven by open communities too. For example, some impressive experiments for teaching programming can be seen in Pamela Fox’s Keynote at the Fluent Conference

Story-telling

We love good stories. How important it is to tell good stories can be seen from cultural studies. The two extremes might be the Bible on one side, and science-fiction on the other. Those “stories” teach us a lot about goals we should have.

The idea of stories in education might be related to the concept of “cognitive map” that prof. Marvin Minsky mentions in the context of the One-Laptop-per-Child project. Although knowledge is more and more freely available in the form of Wikipedia and Youtube, finding our “personal story” is far from easy.

Therefore, it is important to teach elements of a good story and how to identify those for your personal one. My guess is that good stories are the result of good questions, and we should practice asking questions, and see all kinds of variations in your personal “life” questions.

Knowledge clusters

To actually make progress in digital education, I believe we need close contact to universities and businesses that are offline. Our digital culture is a continuation of memes that were already at work for centuries (or even thousands of years).

We learn from each other in situations of direct interactions. It is one thing, to criticise people in an online forum under a pseudonym, but another to actually look someone in the eyes, and praise or criticize someone in the public.

Therefore, so called “knowledge clusters” are and will be very valuable. These clusters often emerge at the boundaries of universities and companies, and offer a chance to discuss ideas with experts in 1-1 interactions.

The Silicon Valley is a great example of having research funds spinning off knowledge and businesses from having generations of smart people teaching each other. Smaller examples can be found in local meetups e.g. for programming, or other kinds of gatherings for learning and sharing.

Education will change for sure in the next centuries, and the challenge is now to teach right values and respect towards discoveries coming from online and offline worlds.

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