Concerns about the coming education revolution

Just finished listening to a panel on the education at the AlwaysOn & STVP Summit at Stanford. The panelists were fantastic and really outline some incredible opportunities in the education space, especially under the Obama Administration.
James Shelton, the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Innovation and Improvement, US Dept of Education, had three opportunities he sees in the coming years.
1. Data systems & platforms that leverage cloud computing that require no infrastructure at the local level.
2. Unprecedented level of data will be available in schools, they need tools to understand and make sense of the data.
3. Providing access to rigorous courses to students that do not have local access. (AP in rural or Urban environments)

All of this has me personally very excited about the opportunities to improve both the quality and access of education in the United States. There is a hitch though that the panel did not explore…

As we look at the push to measure and analyze teacher and student performance we have to remember the key finding of Sutton and Pfeffer’s The Knowing-Doing Gap, organizations tend to encourage the behavior that they measure, or as sometimes related by Prof Sutton, “Be careful what you measure, you just might get it!”  This is especially pertinent for K-12 education.  Most assessments tend to focus on things that are easy to assess, testing facts, close ended problems, and route memorization.  Unfortunately these skills do not make America’s youth competitive in the global knowledge economy, especially when most any fact you’d desire to know is instantly accessible on the Internet via the new Oracles at Delphi, Google, wikipedia and the like.  In this future that is dawning faster than our education system can adapt, the skills we need to be developing and assessing in our students have to do more with open ended problem solving, creativity, and team work.  The three R’s are meant to be a foundation of education, not the whole house!  The challenge is that these necessary skills are more difficult to assess.  It’s harder to have a cram session on creativity or team building.  These are skills that are developed over time and practice.

Not to be one that tosses out a problem without potential solutions, I do see a few potential opportunities to both develop and measure these critical future facing skills our youth need to compete in the global economy.

Creative design contest such as those organized by US FIRST ( provide the experiences students need to both develop and demonstrate these skills.  FIRST can be expensive to participate in given the heavy hardware and corresponding travel aspects of the contest.  Online communities offer new possibilities of building and engaging student teams in shared creative endeavors .  Old (old because they were around while I was in school) organizations such as Creative Problem Solving or Bucky Fuller’s World Game, seek to engage students in the development of systems thinking and open-ended problem solving skills.  Both of these experiences could be virtualized in such a way as to scale the engagements to cover the entire nation.

In short, we need to prepare our children with the skills the need to participate in tomorrow’s dreams, not yesterday’s reality.  I would hope that the government and the rising class of education entrepreneurs would take up and drive new solutions into the market to develop, demonstrate, and measure these more complex thinking skills for our future leaders.

2 thoughts on “Concerns about the coming education revolution”

  1. I love this, especially since it reminded me of the way you interact with your girls, letting them explore, “learning” and discovering with them.

    It’s that whole giving someone a fish or teaching them to fish argument. We are a nation of fish eaters who think nets are connected computers. But I also think there’s something to be said for the old ways. I miss library research because I learned quite a bit on my search to answers, and because of that, I also retained the knowledge better. That’s the gap we need to cross in using technology to educate: make the discovery a part of the learning.

    I am a product of the old way. Gimme a test, especially a “standardized” one, I’ll ace it. Give me real thinking to do and I fall over from dizziness.

    (I also love that they mentioned infotainment from the 80s. Towards the end of high school, we were forced to watch French in Action. My French education basically ended the day we spent class time watching edutainment starring a gorgeous braless French girl.)

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