How can we use our systems savvy to help us understand how to mix together technology tools and organizational practice in a way that supports today’s learners?  This is part three of a set of posts around helping students (all of us) navigate the future of education.  At the end of the first post (second here), I posed this question and contacted experts in educational technology for their comments.  Prof. Pedro Hernández-Ramos, Department Chair of Education, Coordinator, Science Technology, Environmental Education, Mathematics (STEEM) Program at Santa Clara University provides this response:

Interesting and challenging question. Here are a few quick reactions:

  • The challenge is no longer making resources available. There are more and a dozen "open universities" online, starting with the first big one, MIT. Way beyond making syllabi available but EVERY course on their campus, including videos, lecture notes, etc. So why doesn't every enterprising Indian or Chinese student just go to the MIT OpenCourseware site and "take the classes" from there? Because the lack of what I call "situated support" at the local level makes it very, very hard even for motivated individuals to put themselves through such a course of studies. Why again? In part because we forget that "all learning is social" and just having access to information (a textbook, MIT courses, thousands of videos from Khan Academy, etc. are not enough in and of themselves.
  • One strategy is to position these resources as complements to poor or limited educational infrastructures anywhere in the world--so long as there is adequate Internet access. Sadly, outside of most developed countries, and especially outside urban centers in developing countries, Internet access is incredibly expensive and very, very slow--forget about streaming video! Figuring out ways to have a few fast access points (say, "learning centers for teachers" where they could quickly and efficiently download lots of resources for use offline) distributed throughout places where the Internet (wired or wireless) either doesn't reach or is too slow/expensive is one possibility. Shipping servers or even DVDs with terabytes of educational resources is another option, and there are people trying this in places like Africa.
  • Other than the "extreme" cases in other parts of the world, how do you convince a teenager in Silicon Valley to go beyond the textbook and give him/herself access to even a few carefully selected resources that will make their learning experiences that much better? Strategy #1: Require it in the context of "old" school, which means that the teachers doing so have some measure of institutional support from principals, parents, peers, etc. The innovators end up with arrows in their backs quite often.
  • Strategy #2: Create a huge buzz about it so that the kids flock to it and stay there. One example is the website Whyville, because it makes learning about science and other school topics way fun for kids. (Of course, this means that someone has taken the trouble to approach the problem from the kids' perspective, not just from an institutional perspective aiming to "make the information available" and hope for the best.
  • Strategy #3: Meet the kids where they are and transform the institution of "school" radically. One example is a new school in New York city organized entirely around kids' learning to be producers of video games. Well, it turns out that to get the cool graphics to work you need to understand math, and to get the motions to look real you have to understand physics, and to craft a good storyline for the game it helps to write well and know a bit of history, etc. Break the mold and re-create it.

As someone with a few arrows in her back, I'm hoping for Strategy #3 at my own institution and as we think about lifelong education for everyone.  Do you have examples of educational institutions that have been disruptively transformed -- or examples that you think are ripe for disruption?