Saturday, December 8, 2012

Future Perfect?

A graduate student left Steven Johnson's Future Perfect in my mail box last week. I am logging my first few reactions and puzzlements as they relate to the topic at hand- education.
Before I get to education I would like to talk about knowledge. This is a feature I find lacking in much of the modern popular writing and even news. It is the lack of deep historical knowledge while cherry picking what the authors seem to remember from high school or early in their college days.

Steven Johnson juxtaposes traditional hierarchical governments with his modern peer network ideas. I am not opposed to looking at peer networks and their power to solve problems, but if you start from a historical perspective you should more than a high school textbok understanding of events as Braudel and others referred to the longue duree. I would actually hazard a proposition that peer networks and hybrid networks were more common historically than strong centralized states.

But enough about history. The book ignores education for the most part (very disappointing). Towards the end Johnson mentions that Obama's department of Education seems to rely on peer networks- but no evidence is provided in any way. He does talk a bit about merit pay for teachers but the discussion is short and lacks extensive examination of the evidence.

So why discuss Johnson through the lens of educational progress? I think that there is a potential for peer networks of teachers students and parents to disrupt educational process and product in helpful ways. Much has been discussed about the power of students working together in loose networks to learn both on and off line. What has been ignored to a degree is the power of teachers to do the same. Communicate and create a wiki-riculum or open-source curriculum. Not  anew idea and I have discussed before in this blog. Recent work I have been doing with some schools highlights the difficulty in unleashing the power of peer networks in schools.
1. The first one is compensation. I believe that in many cases teacher's compensation (material and otherwise) is so comparatively low that they do not pass the threshold (as suggested by Dan Pink) that allows them to contribute without the promise of financial gain.
2. Mandates and regulations inside educational organizations prefer centralized control limiting teacher's ability to find utility in materials produced by peers. These mandates are often a results of public pressure leading to politization of education standards and measurement. The price paid in this highly regulated and centralized system is limited innovation.

At the same time we must recognize that peer-networks in education must be studied. The best place to start may very well be in existing structures such as Edutopia. Thi is my first reaction more thinking required.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On Being Puzzled

A few weeks ago I found "The Room" from Fireproof Games for my iPad. It is a beautifully executed puzzle game but that is not the main point. I enjoyed playing and marveling at the quality and challenge of the game play. What I didn't expect was the excitement and joy that my two younger sons had helping me advance. Oren (8) and Itai (6) were full members of the team and we all had great ideas moving us forward at different points. Their joy in discovering another clue or opening another section was hard to contain- and they literally broke into a dance when we figured out a particularly hard puzzle.

The series of small joys at each step solved reminded me very much of Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You". The way video games can reward our brains in small bursts is almost unparalleled. To me this is what a learning game should be like. I try to avoid the term educational as it invokes unpleasant memories of unimaginative drill games. Well it is a learning game...
It teaches to think creatively, look closely, experiment and persist. These are skills that transfer well to any open ended problem that artists and scientists attend to. My play with my boys added another dimension, namely learning to work as a team: we take turns, practice patience, share victories and most importantly never play without the others.

We have since moved to new puzzle games not all of them as visually pleasing but the effects are still the same. They now insist on daily common gameplay and I happily concur. We are creating habits of mind and family bonding. I can only wish that we will find ways to combine this superb game play with content that reaches educational standards.