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Open Education

Updated on May 26, 2011

Technology in Education: Open Education?

Times, the are a’ changing. I can honestly say I’ve learned more from the internet than schools and a lot faster. It makes me seriously question the value of good old brick and mortar schools, I’m here to make a case for open education.

I don’t need to tell you anything about classic education, I’m sure you’ve all suffered through it or maybe were lucky enough to take some joy in being force fed your education by people who don’t know you and for the most part don’t give a crap about helping you achieve your goals. I know there are a ton of great teachers, I’ve had the privilege of meeting quite a few in my life, but I feel it’s important not to put to much blame or praise on someone who affects your life a minimal amount compared to how much you affect yourself. If you’ve had a teacher change your life congratulations, I know there are exceptions and not everyone goes through the same things I did but for the most part teachers aren’t there when you decide what your going to do with your life and how your going to achieve it. Classic education is fine for some but as technology becomes more and more prevalent in our day to day lives and information is everywhere and free to access, classic education becomes this slow, factory worker making factory that slows down the potential of millions of children each year.

Some people are adamant and think that their children must have a bunch of papers from different schools in order to succeed in life. The problem with that is what if you start going to school for say Computer Science and decide halfway through that you’d rather go back to what you did in high school as a hobby, Building Tables (I know it’s lame but it’s an example lay off). I’ll tell you what happens, you end up wasting a ton of money getting lazy because you really want to work on that chair building empire, and spend your precious study time building a business you could’ve already had running. Then your business takes off and you get rich and quit school wondering why you didn’t just quit after the rush of that first chair build, get a part time job, and dedicate all your Computer Science homework time to this in the first place.

Open education in my definition and opinion is good logic brought to learning everything I’ll give you an example. Lets say you need to learn how to read, well on YouTube alone there's thousands of videos, and some series and playlists all set up to do just that, at any age level. So if you have a child and their learning how to read, sending them to school will get it drilled into their head sooner or later most likely at some pre-determined age that’s ‘normal’ and accepted as such, but if they had an iPad 2 playing cute videos, they might learn a little faster, and if they don’t at least it saves them the embarrassment of being behind their classmates and abnormal or ‘slow’.

The benefits of an open education are pretty clear in my opinion, even from the simple example above. My biggest beef with the current brick and mortar education is it’s class system.  Which forces children to either feel too privileged or like a complete loser by determing ‘scientifically’ at what age someone should know something. This can led some children to be left behind and feel stupid and others to feel like they’re actually getting a real education because the get good grades, good grades are a cakewalk just check out this valedictorian’s take on what she learned in high school:

Everyone learns at a different pace and more importantly has unique talents. I think it defies any kind of sense to think that all people should know this or that by a certain age. Einstein was 26 when he created his special theory of relativity. Michal Jackson was a world famous pop star by the time he hit 18, and Mark Zukerberg created the world biggest social networking site by the time he was 24. So does that mean everyone has to achieve these goals by that age? Are the billions of us who don’t own the worlds largest social networking site, created a theory that changed physics or mastered multiple instruments failures?

I know some of you are thinking “well those are exceptions.”  That’s true but that’s also kind of my point. If these exceptions exist and they do, in droves. Then classic education is fundamentally flawed, a waste of time and just plain illogical and wrong. The proof is in the exceptions. Einstein finished all his classical schooling and even earned a degree to teach physics and mathematics, and as we all know he became the worlds finest physics teacher, it’s what he’s known for after all…I’m joking of course Einstein never made it as a teacher and instead got a job famously as a patent clerk. There’s no question Einstein's education played a role in his discovery of E=MC2 but it was mostly the reading he did on the side and his determination. Like I said classical education works for some, I just think those it works for can get along fine in an open education environment.

Jackson and Zuckerberg, well those two never needed classical education and learned everything from hacking. Jackson hacked together new dance moves, songs, music videos and concerts to become the biggest pop star in history, and Zuckerberg hacked together a website that became the biggest social network in the world. Both from interests and talents they had as children.

I’m not going to pull any punches here and just let you know how I feel about classic education in a nutshell. All schools are nowadays is baby sitting centers for the young and detention centers for teenagers. Although some schools are embracing technology in the class room, it’s not the point at all. The point of open education is the same as open source software, education should be free, controlled by the people who are experts in their fields teaching others because the love it, not by hired experts who are motivated by money and for the most part lack passion. There are people out there who would love to teach children but feel they can’t because they suck at one subject and can’t get a degree, there’s hackers who would love to work security for your company but you won’t hire them because they lack a PhD. This is the world that classic education has created, here in the U.S we churn out good employees and not talented, motivated, skilled people. Those are the exceptions.

Simply put, classical education disgusts me for a number of what I think are valid reasons.

Open education can be a good supplement for classic education, if you have kids I ask you to please show them that there are tons of resources for them to learn online, they can even take free mini-exams with no pressure to test themselves and see where they are on certain subjects. You can show them there’s different ways to solve a problem and with a little research they might find an easy approach to something they thought was impossible, they don’t always have to rely on the teacher they can take some incentive and its actually pretty easy to crank out those A’s.

I myself took a class in Mathematics for programmers last year at school (I know I know but I mostly go ‘cause I’m bored). When I started I knew enough math to be in basic college mathematics, in other words I could count and add according to my entrance exam. The class covered everything from Algebra to Calculus to Theory proving through mathematics, I ended it with a B no cheating I swear. I don’t say that to brag, I’m using my own stupidity as an example. I learned that much math without having to spend 3-4 years in school, I’m far from being a mathematician or even an expert in any kind of math but I know tons of tricks thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and the hundreds of math sites I visited during the course. If I came across something I didn’t understand I could look it up online, if I didn’t understand it from one source I had millions others to choose from, not just one teacher. My point? If you can access the web, you know advanced math concepts such as proofs and set theory, I don’t care how bad you are at it now. This makes it easier to find answers for work you don’t, get it over with quick, learn a little and get back to building that chair empire!

It’s not cheating in the least, the point of homework is to use all the resources you have at home to complete the assignment right? Don’t hate on your kids if they don’t have to deal with actually reading Moby Dick ‘cause they can just read about it, watch videos and write their report based on that, hell if anything they’ll probably learn more about Moby Dick. Herman Melville and whaling than you did when you just read the book.  There weren’t thousands-strong Moby Dick forums at your school being constantly updated were there? Did any of the kids at your school start a Moby Dick fan club that links people from all over the world?

The least we can do until we take control of our educational system is make it easier, by using technology for our children (well yours, I don’t have any) and letting them ‘cheat’ their way through subjects they have no interest in, not everyone needs to know physics, it’s totally useless to someone who wants to be an actor.

I’m going to end this now, but I promise I will write more on this subject in the near future I have some pretty good ideas on how parents and students can take back control over what they learn and what they don’t want to waste their time doing, children have interests that come and go but sometimes those interests lead to something amazing, we should be encouraging them to get as deeply involved in their current interests as they can and technology allows them to do that on a global scale.

Please feel free to email me or post in the comments if you want links to resources that can help you better teach your kids at home.

The Importance of Technology in Education

Out future by no small means, depends on the education of our youth. I’m not talking about formal education (although it’s importance for status is not lost on me) I’m talking about what children are learning, from books to blogs, what are our children absorbing?

Is Technology Making us Less or More Intelligent?

With all the articles and books about how twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites are leading to short attention spans and dumbing down planet you would think technology is destroying society. 

Honestly I think it just depends on how your using it. The internet can be a window of discovery a portal of decadence or a way to communicate, a phone can be a great organizer or a deadly distraction. The point is that like all other things it’s not the item it’s the intended use. People (especially young people) in other countries are getting tons of practical use out of their computers, cell phones and other gadgets. Facebook has helped change elections and twitter has freed people from tyrants just as two examples.

When you look at my homeland, the good old U.S of A, people here use their tech mostly for trivial reasons, a lot of us merely own things to show off to our friends, and when children do start spending more time learning the wonders of tech and trying to figure things out or play with new apps, their usually met with a resounding “stop wasting your time go outside and play!” So what are the benefits of going outside to “play”?(more on that after)

So I think that technology is making us better as a planet. The point when all information is available anytime anywhere will mark a time in which scientific advancements happen by leaps and bounds on a daily schedule. And it’s going to be the youth, the ones with the short attention spans and anti-authoritarian views who end up creating this situation.

Einstein Go Get Your Football

So here is where we face a difficult question. What would the world be like if Einstein had people around like many of us do, people who would say things like; “Why do you waste your time thinking about these thins Albert? You should go outside and play” or “Your wasting your time, your not getting anything done all you do is think?”  and he gave into them, believed them?

Would he have became the great physicist he did?  Probably not. My point is simple some people like to go out and play others like to discover and learn and others still like to do both. Technology can play an important roll in the education of all these people.

So How Does Technology Help Us Learn

Well the obvious reason is the availability of so much information archived, organized and ready to be devoured. But there are also a lot of subtle ways technology teaches, things we take for granted. A simple example is google maps, a great tool for directions and finding restaurants can also be used to see living conditions in other countries, learn about geography and give people an idea of places they might otherwise would have never seen. There’s also eBooks, which can save communities ton’s of money on textbooks and help the environment.

The problem isn’t that the tech doesn’t exists, it’s that people are not making good use of it. Only seeing the simple and basic ways it can be used and not using things to their full potential. Companies do all the time, but schools and more importantly communities need to start making better use of all the available resources, the only downside to not doing it is that our children will grow up facing a world they can’t excel in because their youth was spent playing Angry Birds for the simple reason they didn’t know about all the other fun things they could do with their iPhone.

Add to that the idea that this device is so damned expensive you’d better treat it with respect and you develop a culture of children who fear tech, like it’s some kind of god. There is no reason a child should be afraid to break shit in order to learn something new.

So Finally

What is the importance of technology in education…?

Well, you see, that’s the problem. Technology is not seen as important by educators. It’s pretty much to a point where the students who are interested in the subject know more than the teachers. They go online, talk on message boards, download apps and sometimes (when applicable) they create their own versions of/for the things their interested in. They live and breath their interests and the teachers can’t keep up.

Along with the short attention spans this makes for some wildly knowledgeable students, who get impatient when they can’t have all the answers at their fingertips. It’s creating people who can learn a whole subject on their own to the point the can start living off of what they love to do before they even finish college. It’s creating people who are accustomed to not having to memorize facts they can google and therefore are better critical thinkers.

So to end this. All I want to say is technology should be vitally important to education, and until it is, the educational systems of our world will be stuck at dial-up speed while the students go 4G.

More On Open Education

This is how I think education should be structured in the future and my case for open education.

In it’s simplest form, Keep Up is merely a collection of philosophies on educating people. At it’s most complicated I hope it becomes a way for communities to take back control of their educational systems.

Core Ideas of The Keep Up Philosophy.

1. Learning and teaching should be organic

Basically this philosophy states that all learning should be done in a manner which is comfortable to the student. People who want to learn should not all be lumped together and expected to learn the same things, at the same time, and all in the same way. People are different and respond to different stimuli.

I believe that younger people (under 10 years old) should be taught the basics, reading, writing, and math are integral as it’s fairly difficult to learn anything else without at least a basic understanding of how to write, read and calculate simple numbers.

I think after someone has an understanding of how to read, write, and do math, they should be able to think critically and learn things without very much supervision.

2.  Learning Should Not Be Graded

I know it’s a stupid idea. We are a VERY competitive culture, the most common thing you hear is “how will my child's education help them compete in the job market?” Nobody seems to give a shit about helping anybody anymore or contributing to society. People are taught from childhood that the most important thing they need to do is compete, and it all starts with school and grading. I think it’s bullshit let me tell you why.

In the REAL world no one EVER gets graded on what they learn. They either make use of their knowledge or don’t, and failures don’t simply mean repeat and try again. They mean you have to seriously look at what you were doing, where you made the mistake, fix it and in the process you learn how to avoid making the mistake again.

Also collaboration is not considered cheating in the real world. If someone else has the answer there’s no need for them to hoard it to themselves as it’s oftentimes much more productive to share what you know with others. To let them “cheat” off your work so they can work on a part of the problem their more interested in. Schools create an atmosphere that leads children to think that ideas are valuable products to be sold and kept secret. Basically their being taught fuck the world get yours and get out. This does not a productive class of citizens make.

The biggest downfall to grading children however is it makes them feel like their to blame for failing something their not remotely interested in. It makes them feel like their responsible for the shortcomings of the educational system they have no real control over. And that leads to dropping out, falling down a spiral of failure you can’t escape, and ending up feeling depressed because you think it’s your fault for not understanding.

3. Communities Need to Take The Power Back

The final philosophy is this. Communities both large and small need to stop relying on the government or private interests to educate us. We have all the resources, and capabilities to put education in the hands of the people who are most qualified to teach, those who love to do it.

I feel like people who are already professionals in their fields and already blogging, writing tutorials and making videos should be the teachers of the future. I think they’re the most qualified. They’re already working and have made and learnt from their mistakes. So they should be the ones explaining what's useful and not useful to know if your interested in a particular field.

I think that parents should be more aware of the materials on the internet they can use in order to help their children explore their interests, and I think teachers should  have better resources to find up-to-date relevant information on the subjects their teaching. 

Overall I believe we now have a freedom we’ve never had before, a freedom to educate ourselves, where we previously had to rely on books and school for information we can now download it to a device of our choice and have it read to us by a text to speech converter.  Instead of having to show up to school everyday responsible children can show up when they want to, and have their class streamed to them live at home or record and watch it later when the don’t or can’t make it to class.

This is most important philosophy of keep up. As it is this philosophy that “sticks” the rest of the ideas together. This is the idea that allows people to achieve their goals at a rapid fire rate. We need support, we need love, we need education and we need to work together. Beyond that anything is possible.

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