Learning in the 21st Century: Everyone is an Expert

I must agree with Margaret Wente in some respects this week. On Saturday, the Globe and Mail published her column where she had questions about the notion of 21st Century Learning. I agree with her in the sense that we need to be leery of what this means and if the learning which many claim happens, really occurs.

Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail

Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail

Like her, I am often skeptical of people who make a buck off of books, conference appearances, media outlets, and personal branding when it comes to this idea of 21st century learning. We are continually besieged by nonsensical statements or infographics concerning radical new ways of learning on Twitter and other social media venues – and these are rarely backed by academic research or at least are formed upon pedagogical foundations or philosophies of education. Today, for instance, I plunked in a search for #ISTE2014 and discovered a myriad of statements on Twitter that made absolutely no sense and/or stated the obvious (There have also been some amazing things I have learned from following this conference!). 21st century thinking in education often celebrates mediocrity and has promoted a real industry of snake oil edupreneurs.

But this is where the agreement begins to become problematic. Wente proceeds to tear a strip off of every educator in the land interested in a debate about what it means to learn and teach in the 21st century. Like many of her articles, she uses one or two sources which seem to fit with her logic and she rests her entire polemic argument on them. This is where things fall a part for her argument on 21st century learning.

Within Wente’s manifesto, there is a sense of “things were better when I was a kid” — in the 20th century. Granted, she might be right, but I might argue that her 20th century education has had her accused of plagiarism, where she has defended these allegations by suggesting she only seeks out one source and shares the same ideas and logic of other columnists. Huh? So you have no original ideas? Many educators these days are focusing greatly on the need for self-examination, critical research, and  complex argumentation which offer new knowledge — certainly aspects of learning when Socrates was around. Perhaps inquiry and having learning environments that are student-centered are not terrible bad notions after all.

Secondly, if Wente is so against this debate as to why and how we learn and that perhaps things were better in the old days, how does she explain the fact that we are experiencing an ecological crisis created by industrialized education for the purposes of greed and the exploitation of resources — including people. She cannot argue that changing the model as to how we teach and learn is unreasonable when the alternative is fundamentally destructive. It is clear by the attack on our biosphere that current practices have failed. This might be difficult to believe as we idle our SUVs outside of Starbucks, but we have surpassed three of the nine planetary boundaries as outlined by Rockstrom et al. Not pushing a new model of learning will lead to our demise.

What does she suggest? Education worked out for her, but at what and whose expense? And industrialized education does not work out for each student. Trust me, I actually am in classrooms.

Lastly, Wente gives us a perfect example of 20th century learning, as she does most weeks. She is quick to poo-poo any discussion of student inquiry or autonomy, but then offers nothing new. She does not push the debate or our collective body of knowledge concerning learning any further. All she has done is launched a grenade into an already negative environment. What do you suggest, Margaret? Simply stating that there is no evidence that some new models of education don’t work is not enough (take for example the idea of hope theory. There is a great deal of research in this area which suggests hopeis a key indicator for success).

I would argue that 21st century learning, and here I offer something from my own heart, is based on two very old ideas: global citizenship and ecological literacy. As Martha Nussbaum (1997) suggests, global citizenship is about the self-examined life, knowing a tremendous amount about the world, and having empathy for all people, and arguably all species and systems, on this earth. Ecological literacy suggests that learners understand that nature sustains all life, that we must account for the consequences of human activity, and that we are connected to a massive web of other precious systems. If we continue to leave these skills and attitudes out of the classroom, the 22nd century might be rather bleak.

Kwame Anthony Appiah eloquently speaks to this idea of global citizenship here in this video based on the notion of Cosmopolitanism:

These are critical skills required in any century if we are to survive and produce sustainable societies. I would hope that Wente and her readers might offer greater input into the debate as to how and why we educate and how we go about creating a better world. Our quota in education and in most fields for negativity has been met.

 

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Small is Beautiful

Recently in my Global Issues class, our learning community looked at E.F. Schumacher’s notion of Small is Beautiful. We read his infamous essay and watched the film below created by the National Film Board of Canada on his idea. What he suggests is a rethinking of the prevailing trend that unfettered economic growth is essential to the development of the species. We have had great discussions related to ungrowth, systems thinking, and the idea that we are all connected to every system and species on this planet.

Democracy Now! recently interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of a new book entitled the Sixth Extinction – a book identifying how humans are causing the largest mass extinction since the fall of the dinosaurs. Our investigations over the last few days got me thinking about my role as an educator and how I am to foster learning communities, not just learning environments, where learners can find opportunities for transformation that can address the issues raised by Kolbert and Schumacher. I find this even more challenging given that I am teaching the Global Issues course as an online course.

Small Is Beautiful: Impressions of Fritz Schumacher by Donald Brittain by Barrie Howells & by Douglas Kiefer, National Film Board of Canada

I have started to read at great length about how to create learning communities that are transformative from a virtual platform from the likes of Richard Schweir and Jay Roberts. Both of these scholars have really impacted my understanding of how we can foster ecologically literate communities. Thomas Steele-Maley and I, over the past year or so, have had critical conversations about how to develop these virtual communities, for which I am eternally grateful.

What I am beginning to understand, much like Schumacher did, is that vibrant and vigorous learning communities, whether online or face-to-face, need to be small, based on connectedness, and the transformation of knowledge. I love the way Jay Roberts puts it:

So, bring on MOOCS, bring on distance learning, flipped classrooms, and blended education. Use this new Gutenberg moment to supplement and highlight what transformative teachers have always done best– curating high impact learning experiences for the students in their care.

As opposed to MOOCS and giant groups of learners, I feel from my perspective that my online learning communities need to be intimate and small. We need to know each others history and create a collective identity while respecting each other as individuals. I am just on the beginning of my quest, but would love to hear what other educators and student have to say.

Student Responses

Commodity Snapshot – Demand & Supply


Here is the Commodity Snapshot from last Saturday’s Globe and Mail:

High on the Hog
“Hog futures have been rising as many consumers choose pork over more expensive beef, which is selling near an eight-year high. Disease outbreaks in Asia have also lifted North American hog prices.”
90.4 cents – Price, in US dollars, per pound of lean pork on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Friday.
15 – Percentage increase in the price of beef over the past 12 months.
7 – Percentage increase in the price of pork over the past 12 months.
21.1 million – Number of hogs slaughtered in Canadian packing plants in 2010.
Here is your task:
1. Represent this scenario graphically.
2. Provide a written explanation of the shifts and changes in supply and/or demand.
3. Email me a picture of your graph and explanation and I’ll post it.
4. Feel free to comment on what your peers are thinking….
Mitch

MitchAustinAustin

Mike
HogZoe
photo (4)Leanne
leanneKendra
KendraKate
KateJay
IMG_9462

What Do We Fix? (Econ)

Based on the introduction to Ha-Joon Chang’s book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and his RSA presentation below, there might be something wrong with our economic system. As students, however, what do we need to know about economics, capitalism, and western culture in order to fix what Chang perceives as broken? Is our economic system broken at all? Please ignore the first few minutes of his talk – he is somewhat fixated on the title of the book!