Perspectives of the future and prospectives about the role of the Net in Educational Innovation

On Friday May 15th, 2009, I took part in a round table about Educational Innovation in the framework of the ForumRed’09, a meeting about education, the Net and the collective web organized by the School of Communication, University of Seville (Spain).

The round table was cleverly chaired by Juan José Calderón and participated by Julen Iturbe, Tíscar Lara and I.

After a first exposition from each of the participants about the topic of the title, Juan José Calderón would drop his questions on the table and then they’d be more or less answered or commented by some or all of us. What follows are the notes I took during the event, unedited, uncut, as raw as they came. They are nor complete or comprehensive, so important data might be missing. My apologies to the other speakers for not make justice to their insights here — fortunately, the event was taped and will hopefully be soon released online.

Tíscar Lara

Should we be talking about teaching innovation or about student/learning innovation? Isn’t it the student the one that is innovating? Where are people socializing one to each other? Where is learning innovation happening? What’s the role of expanded education? Of informal learning? How do we integrate these phenomena?

Isn’t there a crisis in the segregation of roles between teachers and students? How do teachers learn? Aren’t teachers also learners, and learners that are learning on the Net?

Ismael Peña-López

We’ve been living in a world based on transaction costs: enterprises (the transaction costs of production and distribution), political parties (the transaction costs of direct democracy), schools and universities (the transaction costs of gathering all knowledge)… The Internet cuts down to almost zero most costs of transaction related to knowledge management. And, hence, the need of intermediaries: end of some industries? end of political parties? end of universities?

A new role for knowledge workers: to monitor knowledge, to hub it towards third parties, to enable these third parties and empower them in knowledge management terms.

Julen Iturbe

We’re living a shift from a lab that acts as a simulator for entrepreneurs towards real engagement in the economy and real entrepreneurship. The student is empowered with a more active role enabled by this crisis of intermediation and the fall of transaction costs.

  • A change in the idea of student: responsible of their own learning processes. There are no handbooks, no syllabuses, etc.. It is the student who defines the syllabus and seeks their own learning resources.
  • The teacher is no more a teacher but a tutor, and normally an entrepreneur themselves.
  • The classroom has no more sense in this model, especially as a physical concept that increasingly implies constraints (of time and space). Students can design physical spaces themselves according to their own needs.
  • What’s the sense of time? How do we measure the amount of hours required for a specific “subject”? How do we fit all the hours spent — offline and online — working on a project/subject?

No maps for these territories?

Juan José Calderón: there are new territories for which we have no maps [a statement which reminds me of William Gibson’s No maps for these territories]. What should we do? Are we in a crisis?

Julen Iturbe: there are (new) generations that feel comfortable enough without maps. That even feel uneasy when the whole path is paved and would rather have more freedom to define their own ways.

Crisis? There’s increasing evidence that students know more than teachers or experts at large.

Ismael Peña-López: I see three “evolution” patterns (simplified):

  • Darwin: species change as better phenotypes survive and worse phenotypes extinct
  • Lamarck: species change by adapting themselves to the environment
  • Meteorite: a meteorite directly kills species by overturning the landscape and some species survive and reign

We have to assume that a meteorite will fall on some “species” (e.g. paper journals, the distribution of CDs). And that some other “species” might just die out and leave no trace (one or two generations of “digital immigrants”). But we have to work the Lamarckian path so to minimize casualties: learn to learn, learn how to map territories or live in unmapped ones, teach competences that enable skills acquisition, bridge old an new… No revolution but evolution.

Tíscar Lara: think with a mobile phone logic: traditionally, switches have one and only one purpose (turn on the radio, switch on the lights, connect the washing machine). But mobile phones have keys with several purposes or functions. And trying to teach each and every function of a single key is useless. We have to teach the rationale behind the multifunction switch. There is no need to know the whole map of features, but learn how to take decisions with incomplete information, and learning in the process.

Put the focus on the purpose, and then discover the tools that can help me in achieving this purpose. And this is risky, and we are risk-averse, reluctant to change. But we have to learn to live with risk and failure. And we have to acknowledge that we are living in critical times, which will help in surviving this crisis.

Collaborative networking

Juan José Calderón: Are we ready for collaborative networking? Can we produce open content?

Julen Iturbe: content will increasingly be open, and this is an unstoppable trend. We should, nevertheless, put the stress on the difference between information and knowledge. In social networking sites the focus is in the “social”, and it is not about content, but networked people. And we learn not through content, but through people: content (publications and so) are but means to identify and reach people.

A problem with the actual system of acknowledgement of diffusion of science is that it is not related with the reality. The practitioner and the scholar do not share the same agoras where to exchange knowledge, and open publications seem to be bridging this chasm.

Ismael Peña-López: we are prepared to collaborate and teamwork and is has historically been this way. The problem is that we are assigning two different goals (diffusion and assessment) to the same tool: journals/papers/essays.

Open content has made diffusion quick and free, and creates tensions with the other goal: assessment. We should focus on assessment methodologies, which are dragging collaborative work as we do not know how to assess it (or are not able to).

Tíscar Lara: we have forgotten how to collaborate and teamwork. And we have to teach again how to, teach how to get over learning routines, already known and comfortable to be carried on.

On the other hand, scholarly journals have played havoc on knowledge diffusion in two ways: On the one hand, they are more focused towards assessment/accreditation than to diffusion. On the other hand, it does not catch knowledge that is produced outside of the system.

Indeed, we should acknowledge all the effort to produce and publish/diffuse knowledge made outside of the traditional/mainstream means, and use it to give credit.

Next steps?

Juan José Calderón: how to go on? next step? what is going to happen?

Julen Iturbe: use the judo philosophy: benefit from the energy and novelty that the student is bringing in, use the “difference” to approach the “different” (the new practices of the younger students).

Ismael Peña-López: we should try not to do the same things in different ways, but novelties should come with no disruptions. An option could also be radically innovative changes but in controlled and piloted projects, in just part of the subject, in just part of the traditional activities, in parallel lines (the revolution within).

Two key aspects for this approach to succeed:

  • the sandbox: a place where to experiment without blowing up everything if it fails
  • the wildcard: a person, or a team, whose only purpose is to be available to help others’ innovation, with relevant information on state of the art instructional technology and methodologies, being able to set up a “sandbox” in hours/days, etc.

Tíscar Lara: promote “full-contact”, because of the idea of contact, of hands-on. Try to bring back emotions and personal interests into the classroom. Try to avoid knowing our students once they’re given their marks… way too late for corrections. Build spaces where to just meet, as persons.

And the web 2.0 (blogs, social networking sites, etc.) do provide valuable tools to make this contact happen, to build affective links and emotional learning. And, by this, break the artificial rivalry between teachers and students, and amongst students and colleagues themselves.

See also:

Julen Iturbe: Innovación Educativa = Bronca.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Perspectives of the future and prospectives about the role of the Net in Educational Innovation” In ICTlogy, #68, May 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=2222

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