11 September 2012

The bling approach to the school of the future

Be the first to share

Recently I have been exploring developments on the impact of new technologies on the future of education, particularly in high schools. The latest trend in education is all about tablets, of course.

My provisional assessment is that there is a lot of bling: shiny objects promoted all around us make us focus on the tools rather than on the didactic objectives.

With this post I want to open my reflections and initial analysis – in twelve hypotheses – to a wider audience. Comments are highly welcome (no registration needed). Italian readers might also be interested in the Scuolalvento blog for more discussion.

  1. A technology-first approach thrives. The dominant Silicon Valley driven ideology is one of technology fixing all problems – institutional, social, cultural, educational. By bringing in tablets and iPads in particular, we will be “more successful at engaging our students,” we will “better prepare them for the future,” learning will be “more collaborative, co-creative, hands-on, and ‘fun’,” and we can “open up the classroom to the outside world.” These assumptions are largely unquestioned, even though the discourse is not strong on educational and didactic objectives.
     
  2. There are dominant but untested preconceptions about schools, learning, teachers and students. The ideology above gets reinforced through the messages we get about schools (out-of-date, closed-off from the real world, stressed), learning (hierarchical, old-fashioned, boring), teachers (tied to an antiquated paradigm of learning, really looking forward to new tools), and students (digital natives, experts, but unfortunately without the right tools). Little is said about the value of existing and often quite interactive educational methods, or about the lack of technical skills of students (who are experts in Facebook, but often not on text editing a history paper or doing an advanced search in Google.).
     
  3. There is a boom of iPad and tablet deployments in schools in rich and less rich countries alike. From Italy to the USA, from Thailand to Belgium, from India to Russia. Little information about these deployments is available beyond short announcement texts on school websites and local newspapers.
     
  4. Little research has been done on educational impact. Although deployments have occurred for at least two years, there is a nearly total lack of serious research that evaluates them, particularly on their educational and didactic impact. This stands in strong contrast to the sizeable size of research done on e-learning.
     
  5. Governments are pushing hard. Government ministers and heads of institutions want to be seen as modern and ahead of the times. Funding a tablet deployment also creates better media coverage than increasing the budget for teacher training. Digitization finally allows for more quantitative data on the qualitative activity of learning, which is something governments, managers, and bureaucrats tend to like.
     
  6. There is a lot of money to be made. The spending on education is huge: not only by governments and institutions, but also by parents. No wonder that companies like Apple and Pearson (the publishers) are so active in the field. Even Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation recently unveiled Amplify, its new educational division “dedicated to reimagining K-12 education by creating digital products and services that empower students, teachers and parents in new ways”. (Listen to this WNYC broadcast).
     
  7. Apps, e-books and software are often of dubious quality. While these tools definitely enable interactive visual gimmicks (zooming, 3D panning, videos, clickable contents), these are often inserted for their seductive value rather than for their educational impact.
     
  8. Other digital tools are not part of the debate. Tablet deployments are often argued for as isolated interventions, with limited discussion on how this all relates to interactive whiteboards or simply the web. In fact, with all the smartphones and computers in the homes and hands of high school students, it is now entirely possible for the teacher to create a totally free, open source WordPress site that students can update on the fly. Moreover, they can be made highly interactive due to the large quantity of (free) online plugins available. It is an attractive zero-cost intervention, yet very few bring this into the digital education debate.
     
  9. Teacher training and resources are lacking. Teachers are literally left to their own devices. The tools to support them and their schools in deploying and effectively running these implementations are few and far between.
     
  10. Initiatives to support schools and teachers are rare and often quite local. Few governments have set up structures to support their schools and teachers with this new challenge (this Australian one is an exception), and initiatives are often driven by teachers (like this Belgian one), or independent associations that are anchored in civil society or local companies (e.g. this Italian example). These initiatives are local or regional at best, and little exchange takes place between them.
     
  11. We are facing a bubble. There is such a huge discrepancy between the hype and the reality that we could face a backlash. Schools and teachers are increasingly complaining. Results will be less impressive than expected. In view of all this, it is not impossible that many initiatives will soon be shelved.
     
  12. Valuable opportunities definitely exist for players big and small. The opportunity is both on:
    • people-centred training – What is it that schools and teachers really need? And how to present and convey it in a way that really helps them and creates lasting, positive behavioral change?
    • the creation of tools where educational and didactic qualities and impact are the central drivers in their development.

    There is not that much happening in these two areas, and I think this is where governments and consultants, tech companies and non-profit associations can really aspire to claim leadership, if they so desire.

Be the first to share
2 March 2017
Understanding life’s speed from an anthropological perspective
The latest issue of the Cultural Anthropology journal features a new contribution to the journal’s Openings and Retrospectives section: an Openings collection, "Speed," edited by Vincent Duclos, Tomás Sánchez Criado, and Vinh-Kim Nguyen. In their …
28 February 2017
How technology gets us hooked
From a young age, humans love to press buttons that light up and make a noise. The thrill of positive feedback lies at the heart of addiction to gambling, games, and social media, reports Adam …
19 January 2017
Anthropologist Sally Applin on the automation of qualitative methods
Anthropology and its methodologies cannot easily be automated. However, both design and engineering based organizations are attempting it. Anthropologist Sally A. Applin argues that this is based in part on historic legacy systems, a misunderstanding …
19 January 2017
Don Norman on what Apple, Google and Tesla get wrong
Don Norman is a technological optimist. The author of The Design of Everyday Things and head of UC San Diego's Design Lab believes that artificial intelligence might only take the worst parts of our jobs, …
23 December 2016
ING DIRECT’s sponsored content in The Guardian on the value of CX and human-centred design
ING DIRECT Australia has published yesterday and at the end of November no less than 10 articles in a paid section of The Guardian on the value of customer experience and human-centred design, entitled "Being …
23 December 2016
Innovative PhD dissertations at Harvard use ethnographic methods to understand organizational culture
Three innovative PhD dissertations have been published at the Harvard Business School's Doctoral Program on Organizational Behavior that use ethnography and qualitative research to understand and map organizational culture: Curtis K. Chan Chan’s research (The Double-Edged Sword …
14 December 2016
Experience design and Big Data at BBVA bank
Over the last 6 months, Fabien Girardin has been working in a rather unique position at BBVA Data & Analytics, a center of excellence in financial data analysis. My job is to make the design …
15 November 2016
[Book] Sensemaking
Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm by Christian Madsbjerg Hachette Books March 2017, 256 pages Inspired by his work with companies like Ford and Coca-Cola, Madsbjerg's Sensemaking is a provocative stand against the …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

12 January 2017
Experientia’s CITYOPT project awarded prestigious French award for its sustainable development design

Following the 2016 Smart Innovation Award at “FIMBACTE Trophées du Cadre de vie”, the CITYOPT project has once again been recognized, this time in the prestigious French design competition: “Observeur du Design 2017”, in the Service Design category. In June 2016, CITYOPT won the first stage of the Observeur du Design. Now the project has […]

1 December 2016
More on upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Last month Putting People First announced the upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities in Nice France. Meanwhile we are pleased to announce the full event agenda (see below). This event will feature professionals from leading research institutes and industry gathering to present key initiatives which combine Energy Efficiency and Service Design […]

29 October 2016
Upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Invitation to the International Conference on Design & Sustainable Innovation for SmartCities Nice (France) 8 December 2016 On the 8th December 2016, the CITYOPT project will host an international conference on Design and sustainable innovation for SmartCities, at the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen, France. An open invitation to attend is offered to people and organisations who […]

28 October 2016
Experientia’s President, Michele Visciòla, panel judge for MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition

The 100&Change is an international competition and a landmark opportunity for thinkers and designers to tackle critical challenges affecting the world. Michele Visciòla will be one of the panel of expert judges who will select which project is worthy of the $100 million grant. 100&Change is the MacArthur Foundation competition – launched this year for […]

5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to “transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.” The article was written by Frank van den Driest and Keith Weed of a […]

29 August 2016
Experientia discussing ethnography and patient-centricity at EPIC 2016

This week Experientia joins our colleagues and peers in Minneapolis at EPIC 2016, the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in industry. The theme for the conference this year is Pathmaking, emphasizing the power of ethnography to create transformative innovation, growth and strategic success for companies, industries and communities. On the second day of […]

See all articles