Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Revolutionizing Education through Technology? My response to the youtube video.

I must admit, when my husband forwarded me this video, "This Will Revolutionize Education":  I was a bit skeptical about it's claim.  But, that was exactly the videos point. that in fact no technology has revolutionized education, in fact all change in education is an evolution.

First, as a historian, I have to put the word revolution in context.  When we think of the modern definition of revolution, immediately what comes to mind is the notion of an immediate, often bloody, change that has long lasting effects to a government when a people revolt.  The quintessential example in America of course, we believe is the American Revolution.  When we think of the American Revolution, in fact often we are told this story.  American Colonists, inspired by the Enlightenment thinkers and wishing to assert their own rights revolted against a harsh king and a parliament that provided them no say in government and abused their handwork and righteous efforts. After a profound declaration and a war, America emerged and grew into what it was today.  We will revisit this story for it has rather profound holes.

Perhaps, we remember as school children other major "revolutions"and we begin to revamp our view of term revolution as being quick, permanent, and completed turning what was the status quo on its head.  We think of the English "Glorious Revolution" which was in fact the result of many subsequent stages truly beginning with the English Civil War, where parliament essentially executed their king for not consulting them on taxation and war.  Following his execution, Oliver Cromwell, the real life epitome of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas (yes it was banned under him), reigned in near dictatorial form all of England in a period which the British at the time referred to as the Interregnum Intergerum. Then, upon his death and the failure of his son to successfully take control, parliament welcomes back the brother of the very kind they executed.  The gambler and statesmen, Charles II, who through frivolity and appearing lighthearted, won the country back to the kingship, as if they had ever been in doubt.  After his subsequent death and his brothers open religious conflict (as a Catholic in a protestant nation), his brother's daughter and protestant husband where invited to take over England.  So, as James the II had done once before, he dressed up as a female and sailed to France in the dead of night.  Undiscovered, and unharmed, he escaped.  England once more had a new King, William and Queen, Mary and with that came a contract, the English Bill of Rights, which guaranteed much of what was already in the Petition of Right, Charles I had been forced to sign and in the Magna Carta from long before. While now there would be a constitutional monarchy, this was not a revolutionary act.  It was a long drawn out evolution from what at times had been more absolutist government to more balanced approach.  Yet, it didn't happen over night and it certainly didn't come out of no where.

It is possible, the second you think of Revolution, you think of the grand upheaval began by the French Revolution where commoners stormed a military barricade that held gun powder and chopped off the man in charge of watching the Bastille, even after he peacefully gave them the keys at the Bastille.  Or the almost mock trails that existed for both Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.  Or the rather extreme nature of the French Revolutionary calendar changing the days of the week to add 3 more so no one would even remember which day was Sunday and religion could be erased with Saints of the revolution rather than Catholic ones.  Where a directory ruled the country and the guillotine was the form of justice.  You might think this revolution was clearly one where it was clear separating from the past and had a profound difference on France permanently.  I might disagree.  This revolution certainly came from many kings before, most notably Louis XIV, his grandfather, who had paid for Versailles, an epic palace built a mere 17 miles outside of Paris.  It was fraught with expenses for which the poorest in France held the highest burden.  Louis the Sun King's wars were costly and largely unsuccessful.  When young Louis XVI took over there were terrible farming seasons contributed to outright starvation and poverty at the level that was insufferable, especially to a population that thanks to much of the industrial revolution, was higher than it had ever been and relied largely on wheat to survive (yes read that gluten).  It didn't help that in an effort to get back at the British, teenage Louis XVI actually helped fund the American Revolution.  Yet, the French Revolution happened over a rather lengthy period, in stages that often contradicted each other.  In fact, historians still argue till this day whether the Napoleonic period afterwards was an extension of the French Revolution, or a separate period all together.  Either way, after Napoleon's demise following his invasion of Russia (note to all DON'T INVADE RUSSIA IT IS COLD), the Congress of Vienna, lead by conservatives put back a king on the thrown of France and other countries who during that time had been replaced.  This restoration of royalty, while not long lived, and the subsequent "revolutions" in France with various people, including Napoleon's relatives trying to reassert power, certainly shows that even the French Revolution was not a permanent solution that was immediate, despite how much the Jacobins wanted it to be.  It too was an evolution over much time, more than a generation, that enabled France to get to the Democratic structure that it has today.

In fact, even the American Revolution was not so quick, not so simple, and certainly not so revolutionary.  Inspired yes by the Age of Enlightenment,  English Colonists living in America were actually pleading with the crown for quite a while to maintain the rights they believed they were due as Englishmen.  The war itself, at least the first two battles were actually fought before the Declaration of Independence (largely a plagiarism of Locke's 2nd Treatise on Government) was written. Among the rights they were in fact referring to where ones no less that Charles the 1st, the very one beheaded in the English Civil War, had been forced to sign into law as the Petition of Right, by nobles.  In fact, after the American Revolution and the subsequent "crowning" of a president, our "George" Washington replacing their King George, we wrote a document, the Bill of Rights, that is actually largely plagiarized version of the English Bill of Rights for which King William and Queen Mary of England had agreed to upon taking office during the Glorious Revolution in England.  Hence, these rights were far from "revolutionary."  Furthermore, even Edmond Burke, the most conservative philosopher and statesmen in Europe during that time actually supported the American Revolution, unlike the French, because he dubbed it exactly what it was a "conservative revolution" of men simply reaffirming rights they should have been given and that the status quo had given them prior to this.  So, the American Revolution, was far from "revolutionary" in the ways many have been led to believe.   Using the word revolution in commonly understood sense, really does make a lot of historic sense for an American to do.

Why do I begin with this?  Because the word revolution is largely misunderstood and before we begin to ask if anything really is an educational revolution or revolutionizing education, we must realize nothing comes out of thin air, it rides on the backs of lots of other failed attempts.  Nothing is permanent, and like all things it is a process, often long, hypocritical, and often those involved are themselves uncertain of the outcome.  I love when people attempt to tell me what education will be like in 10 or 20 or even 30 years, I just laugh.  How could they know?  Did France know what it would be like after it killed its king?  Did America know what would become of it when colonists threw tea into the harbor in Boston?  It's crazy to believe anyone has any clue.  What I do know without a moments hesitation is that it will be a rather evolutionary process and that I am enjoying being a part of that.

Now to the video.  The author claims that at each major technological finding, people claim it will be the next best thing to "revolutionize education."  I don't doubt that, in fact, I fully agree.  I remember how excited my teachers in the 80's where to get those apple 2e's into computer labs and start having us learn to use them.  I remember when IBM's became affordable and everyone thought teaching us DOC's and BASIC meant US children could beat the Soviet Union and win out on our economic rival, Japan.  It's very naive.   We weren't.  While both the Soviets and the Japanese fell out of fashion as our rivals, it was not because of our educational system.  We were a mixed matched heterogeneous group of kids from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and value systems.  Schooling isn't optional in the US.  These are really the main factors I rarely take studies from Scandinavian countries educational systems as relevant to helping us grow and learn here.  I will discuss this more in another post to come about testing and fallacies in comparing international test scores.

Is technology something we can use effectively in education?  Absolutely.  I can use a pencil effectively or ineffectively as well.   A blackboard can be effective or ineffective.  Of course a smart board too.  Do I think kids need to know about and be able to use many of the latest technologies to be successful thinkers and workers in our century?  Yes.  But, do I think suddenly school buildings will crumble, teachers will be replaced by robots, and the very notion of elementary school will cease to exist?  No.  Sorry, you totally lost me there.  We may change the way we standardize education to customize it more for our students, but schools already have begun do this without technology, i.e., Montessori, portfolio and standards based grading, and the growth of the unaccredited colleges.  We may spend less time teaching handwriting than we do typing in the future, but who knows, maybe typing will be replaced as well in the years to come.  The internet has definitely enabled our students to become more interconnected with the world around them and learn more things in areas that are obscure and interesting to them.  But, this doesn't mean we value expertise any less.  In fact, I'd argue the real experts today are even more successful than they were in past.  So no, wikipedia hasn't replaced your need to memorize essential information.  It's now more about how you use the information you know really well and how you decipher which information is more important than other information that matters even more, but you still need to know.  It's just now a given that you do.

What technologies have really changed education?  The printing press, international travel (spurred by inventions like the train, the plane, and effective commercial boats that can travel across oceans),  and international trade.  Those are probably my big ones.  If this was a history blog, or there is a demand, I could elaborate on this further, but those are my big three.   I like 3D printers, I love my macbook, I learn a ton off itunes university, and yes, I am all over the little bits.  But, I don't think any of this will revolutionize education.  Rather, I think education is still at the center of all learning and students and teachers will use these tools to assist them to grow as learners collaboratively.  So, I agree very much with the video.  The social aspect of education is fundamental and will not be changed even if the methods we communicate will be.  And, I don't apologize as an educational technologist at the least for it, I embrace it.