Best Of: Education

Posted by on 08.11.2009 in creativity, education

Becoming a subject and future panelist for the UWO Online Journalism class’s EduPunk team has thankfully put my ass into gear. Education strayed off my radar for a bit; but looking back, a lot of what I’ve written is even more consistent with EduPunk than I knew.

Sometimes these cut-and-paste sessions make everything more coherent…

Creative Learning (June09):

Universities will be around for a long time. Many people (if not most) will continue to prefer being taught in a structured and in-person environment, but there are a lot of big question marks about what other ways people will learn in the future… especially, creativity.

There’s a paradox when it comes to learning and trying to teach creativity. By definition, creativeness can’t be taught. It can be nudged and facilitated, but ultimately, creative mastery means independence. There’s no way to design an education for creativity. It’s something a student has to want, has to take the initiative towards, and has to keep investing in over the course of years.

… The web is a perfect place for engaging in that kind of education, where hard stats are available and feedback can be unsolicited and open — often from unexpected places and people we would have never thought to ask — dialog is spontaneous and new role models are always just a few clicks away from being found and followed.

Universities will work out something great eventually, but until then I’m not inclined to wait around for them to figure it out. The opportunities are all here, already available for anyone with enough creativity and initiative to learn…

Education & Creation for ‘Web 3.0′ (Oct07):

The mistake back in 2000 was to conceive the web in limited terms of commerce by consumers. By now we’ve learned to think in terms of experience by users. But now that isn’t enough either. To continue growing we need to conceive the web in terms of education by creators.

Create Your Own University (Aug09):

In other words, we can simply commit to doing things online that are not trivial; we can create things that retain enduring value for ourselves and our communities.

Most obviously, there are opportunities for artists, writers, musicians, social entrepreneurs, etc., to nurture projects and enterprises that support our offline endeavours…

Of more universal value is our emergent ability to take responsibility for our own continuing education, and in the process — unlike in the past when “self-teaching” meant being socially isolated, with little to show for one’s labour — we can cultivate relationships and representations (i.e. measurable accomplishments) that allow us to actually use what we’ve learned.

Education is About Getting Out of the Way (April09):

I’m worried by attempts to shoehorn today’s round students into the rectangular holes of yesteryear.

Most of the proposed solutions seem to take the form of top-down programs and incentives — as if education is inherently unpleasant, as if people won’t be willing to learn unless we entice them, or trick them with some extrinsic reward.

When we tell people what to learn and make the purpose of education something outside of it, the fundamental lesson learned is how to be taught: “don’t learn unless someone tells you to.”

Learning is not the same as being taught.

Education until now has been about teaching — which is to say, it was about the teachers, administrators, and the curriculum. Education of the future will be about learning. — which is to say, it will be about students and the opportunities they will have… the opportunities they will create for themselves.

Education of the past was about preservation. Education of the future is about potential — and the potential to generate potential… and the potential to generate potential potential…

We’re all students. It isn’t just a platitude anymore. We’re all learning to learn with the new tools made available by the web. The new models for education don’t exist yet. We have to discover and create those — and it’s often the youngest who are best positioned and equipped to make those discoveries.

What we need now is genuine passion for learning. At the very least, don’t get in the way...

Big Education (Jan09):

Instead of opting for one side or the other and reducing it down to a ‘right to strike’ vs. an ‘obligation to educate,’ I’m inclined to think that York University is probably just too damn big, with too many administrative layers and office-holders, not enough room for good sense to make adjustments and soften the edge of policy, which leaves too many nooks and crannies for professional frustrations to germinate and grow and replicate into widespread outbreaks like they’re dealing with now.

… The big universities like York might be going through a phase of adjustment — learning to develop strategies for coping with large workforces, composed as they are now of people who expected a little more professional autonomy but are coming to find that job security in the 21st century means being beholden to the dumb laws of the almighty organization…

But there’s no law that says education has to happen within institutional parameters, nor does it have to result in some kind of certificate, nor even must it be taught.

Ironically, by pushing the contemplative arts out of Big Education, they may actually go through a kind of renaissance, finding revitilization as individuals who truly live for it to have to struggle for their opportunities and working resources. It introduces a greater degree of chance, which in turn generates variety, which in turn feeds the process of enrichment and genuine creativity.

Benefits of Bubbles & Crunches (Aug07):

After I finished school in the spring of 2000 I had plenty of time to digest the financial news and try to understand what was happening. I found more questions than answers, but those questions – questions which I was genuinely interested in, questions which I ‘owned’ –were what compelled me to pay attention to things in an organized and focused way: to take responsibility for my own education, to make a real investment in ideas.

Making that investment requires looking past immediate realities towards the deeper substance, meaning, or qualitiy of events, trying to establish real equity and a foundation for growth. Sometimes answers have to be postponed while we cultivate the ability to ask and answer the right questions — more effectively, more generatively, more sustainably.

… I took a risk with my personal education, and I’m taking a small risk now by putting these ideas out for public evaluation and criticism. Some of them will certainly turn out to be wrong; but no idea is guaranteed to be right, in the same way that no investment is guaranteed to be profitable; and even the best ideas and investments will sometimes lose.

But never taking any chances is guaranteed not to be profitable: it’s the riskiest and least secure investing style of all.

That was the first really readable thing I’d written on it, but prior to that I wrote what I called a Résumé/Manifesto — which was more of a formula-in-prose. Some of it’s unpleasantly technical, and most of it “tries too hard,” but it felt great to give birth to this big woolly baby I’d been burdened with for years (March07):

Education and progress can be understood as two modes or aspects of the same process; education shows us ‘the outside,’ progress shows us ‘the inside.’ Both give us greater perceptual awareness, conceptual proficiency, active involvement, and expressive subtlety; they help us define and maintain our relationship with the world. Thus we are better able to connect feelings to intentions, intentions to actions, and actions to consequences; education becomes discipline, discipline facilitates freedom, freedom drives progress, and progress educates.

But education and progress are not always successful in these terms. Historically, what we call “progress” has merely tended to be progressive. Some groups and cultures have failed – succumbed to evolutionary events – by either neglecting progress, or defining it within a too- narrow field, such as territorial acquisition or mechanical efficiency.

Similarly, there are educational routes that lead to developmental dead ends – a point beyond which a person’s education cannot continue. This may be the result of simply lacking the necessary skills (such as literacy or mathematics), but quite often this is a result of learning something too well – developing habits and expectations that prevent the individual from approaching a new field with the proper attitude or perspective. So the principal demand of education is that it should increase – or at least not decrease – the student’s willingness and ability discover and create.

I haven’t just been navel-gazing; e.g. Education and Design (Feb09):

Education and architecture may be my two favourite fields to trespass into (after philosophy, economics, journalism, management…) and right now there are a couple of interesting pieces from Metropolis Magazine that combine them.

The short one is “IDEO’s Ten Tips for Creating a 21st Century Classroom Experience.” Anyone familiar with John Dewey’s progressive theories will recognize most of the tips (e.g. “pull, don’t push” and “build a learning community”).  Dewey has not been without vocal critics for the past century (I think Kieran Egan recently is one of the most useful), but technology is giving us new resources to apply progressive theories effectively.

What interests me most about all this isn’t the specific ideas themselves but the deep affinities between early  pragmatist philosophy and current design practicesI wrote about this before. Primarily, they both orient themselves around the concept of “experience” — not the kind you list with bullet points on a resumé, but the kind that is always happening.

The other piece from Metropolis is called “Open-Ended Learning.” It’s more architecture-oriented, showing off some innovative schools designed to affect the educational experience. (Also see Bruce Mau Design’s Third Teacher project.)

Stages of Learning (May09):

When we talk about learning we tend to focus on the middle three stages: comprehension, articulation, and utilization — aka, rudiments & fundamentals, theory, and practice (usually all at once). That kind of education is fine if you’re just looking for a mediocre, good-enough degree of mastery. People who truly excel at something start learning well before their formal lessons, and continue long afterwards.

It All Begins With Education (Feb08):

Creative competence and self-mastery may be the most valuable resources of all: they bring all the other resources together; our ability and desire to discover and create are what make things into resources at all.

What I always come back to is the idea that attempts to face all of the major challenges and opportunities of our time should start by Keeping the Love of Learning Alive.