This post is part of an Intel-sponsored series of posts we'll be doing here at Techdirt on the topic of innovation. The series consists of a video interview of myself (which you'll see below), the post, and another video interview with an Intel representative and others. That second video, obviously, is content from Intel, but my video and what I've written here was done with complete and total editorial independence. We hope you enjoy the content and take part in the overall discussion.
I was excited to talk about innovation in the education space, because I actually think it's an area that is ripe for tremendous innovation and disruption -- which is really amazingly well needed. And yet, it's also a space that still doesn't get as much attention, and which I haven't had that much time to discuss, outside of occasional posts about cool things like Khan Academy
. First up, here's the brief video of me discussing some of my views on innovation in the education field:
What that video touches on briefly is how technology in the classroom is just starting to create massive education-changing disruptions that I don't think many people realize are already beginning. I talk a little bit about how if you set up education as being about solving a challenge, rather than just about "education," you have the ability to change how many students view education. When there's a real goal behind what they're doing, rather than just education for the sake of education, it can become more interesting and compelling.
But it goes much further than that. Already greater use of technology in classrooms can allow for a much more effective education system that lets students work at different paces. One of the problems with the system today is a basic operations
problem, in that it seeks to move all kids through in ~20 to ~30 (or more!) student chunks, one year at a time. But students learn in different ways and at different paces, and nothing in the current system really allows for that. You have some options for gifted kids that let them jump slightly ahead. And many schools have some extra programs for a few kids who fall behind, but the system does very little to make sure that most, if not all, of the kids really master certain subjects.
Technology will never make the system perfect, but it's reaching a point that it can have a massive impact. The role of the teacher can begin to shift from the talking head at the front of the classroom to someone who can help customize the experience for every student -- while also providing access to alternative explanations. That is, students can start to learn the basics not just from a teacher standing at the front of the room, but also from other teachers online or from a fun software program. Or even from another student. And the role of the teacher in the classroom can change, such that they have more time to work individually with certain students or in small groups to make sure that students really are mastering the subject, and not just getting by enough to "pass."
And the ability to learn alternative explanations of things shouldn't be discounted. All too often, we're taught only one (sometimes formulaic) way of doing something, when it's not the only way. A few months back, we wrote about how the way students are taught to multiply has been changing
lately -- but there's no reason why students can't be taught multiple methods to further cement the understanding. I know that when I taught (college-level) statistics, one of the most useful things was sometimes going "off-textbook" to explain a different way of coming to the same conclusion, and seeing how students would then
understand the original method, which had been more confusing at first.
One of the other lessons I learned in teaching (and in tutoring before that) was that the best way to truly master a subject is to teach it yourself, and have people asking you
to explain it back to them. This is why I'm not joking up above when I talk about the possibilities of having certain subjects taught by other students as well. You might think you fully understand a subject, but just wait until people start asking questions (similarly, despite quite a bit of study in the subject, my full "understanding" of certain aspects of information economics didn't become really clear until I had to explain them repeatedly via this blog). And, of course, it need not be students teaching students -- but you could have software designed to act like a "learning" student, where the student has to "teach" the software.
If done correctly (more on that in a moment), some of the classic debates on education can change as well. Without the "single talking head at the front of the room" model, the debate over "class sizes" becomes slightly different. Not that bigger class sizes is necessarily a good idea, but "class size" has really always just been a (sometimes weak) proxy for making sure students could get personalized attention. If you can create an environment where students get the customized and personalized attention they need, class size is not the issue any more.
Of course, all of this is dependent on the execution and implementation of the technology -- and there will be plenty of mistakes. I remember in the early days of PCs becoming "standard" in the workplace, there were a bunch of studies that came out saying that net productivity had gone down
, which some used to argue that computers on office desks were bad for productivity. What those studies failed to understand was that the big problem was that many companies were implementing the technology poorly. That could mean the wrong tools for the wrong jobs, or (more commonly) just not enough or improper training. In those situations, productivity was hindered, but for those who did it right, the productivity gains were unquestionable. Over time, as more people understood this, and more people were familiar with computers and software in general, the trend shifted, and we don't see those kinds of studies any more. I imagine the same thing is likely to happen in education (and it's started already
, in some cases). There will be some reports of failures, but the success stories will become more and more common as people see how much technology and innovation can really change education for the better.
Below you can see a video of Intel helping to enable just that kind of education in one particular school district