Her thesis is that we have had the internet for a generation now, and it’s time teach toward its paradigm: interactivity, creative interruption, flexibility of ‘work time’ and ‘play time’, and a stress on collaboration rather than individual hoop-jumping. The response from the tech-minded press is universally favorable. Response from the academic press? So far, the mute button is pressed (which might be relevant as I suggest below).
Full disclosure: I have only quickly surveyed my copy of the book for this article, and am building the story based on the reaction of technology journalists to it.
Professor Davidson first made a splash outside academia in 2003, when she convinced Duke University to give each incoming freshman a free iPod and to encourage faculty to find ways to integrate it in their curricula. The give-away/challenge proved wildly successful, at least among younger faculty – and now iTunes has a full-throated ‘iTunes U‘ to present hundreds of thousands of lectures and videos on the iPod platform.
Her bone to pick is that educational structures have ossified around models of specialization and rote discipline (all classes start at 8:30; multiple-choice testing; organizing individual students into institutional categories…) useful to turn-of-the-last-century industrialism (work shifts start at 8:30; pick one of the four levers; keep all bolt-twisters in one area of the factory, all polishers in another…). We need to free up our education just as the internet has freed up our opportunity to work collaboratively over distances and to pursue research over our lunch hour or after Dancing With The Stars.
Professor Davidson is well aware of the economic opportunism her call-to-action might inspire. Apple didn’t justgive those iPods to Duke, of course, and a tech-dump on a school system will mean great sales for a tech company but not necessarily a better education for students:
First, I have sympathy with the in-the-trenches teacher who is constantly being asked to change without a good reason for change, especially when a school district gets a windfall like “free iPads” without any sound curricular motivation. I am against simply dumping technology into a school system. The point is that technology alone, without a clear redesign of the learning it enhances, is not enough.
Second, I think one area of resistance by educators comes when we simply critique teachers for not adapting without offering them support and time for retraining and upgrading. In the business world, IBM happens to spend the equivalent of $1,700 per year per employee on retraining to help workers adjust to a rapidly changing environment. How can we expect teachers to change without similar investment in their future and in the future of our kids? (quote from Rebecca Rosen’s interview with her on TheAtlantic.com)
Which is why education and education training must embrace not her model (she expressly avoids the trap of offering a ‘model’), but technologies that will inspire young people as they will: in unpredictable ways that should be fostered rather than feared.
How academia will respond to her call is not yet clear. Long before industrialization, academics saw their jobs as taking a long-term perspective on ideas and influences. For example, I am fairly confident that neuro-biologist will question the impact of the last fifty years of technology on the last 50 million years of neuron evolution. Yet it is difficult to see her challenged on issues of being balanced and sanguine about the positives and negatives of a high-tech education. Whether society is ready to invest in the teaching of integrative technologies remains tragically murky.
Have a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend.