The New Education: E- Learning
When done well, education can be engrossing and transformational - but the current state of education is anything but "done well," and technology offers a number of solutions to the problems that plague education.
There is also a fundamental shift in the educational need of the students. The ability of an individual to commit facts to memory, the traditional approach to education, is far less important in an age where information is ubiquitous and easily accessible. A new approach is needed that accentuates communication, cooperation, and problem-solving skills.
The author also cites the system of "classes" of students as archaic and counterproductive. Students are all forced to learn at the same rate (in spite of individual differences), required to work independently (in spite of the fact that we work cooperatively in the real world), and made to compete with one another for grades on a curve (making competence comparative to others rather than the objective achievement of goals). He also dislikes the passive method of learning (listening to lectures) in favor of a more hands-on, active approach.
He provides a lot of anecdotes in support of those principles, and cites a litany of educational groups that share his opinions.
Teaching and Technology
Presently, technology is being used in marginal ways by education: the word processor has replaced the typewriter, the projector has replaced the chalkboard, the Itnernet replaced the library, and the videotape replaced the lecture. Each has made certain teaching tasks easier or more efficient, but none of this has been transformational: education is still passive absorption of information.
The LEON System
EN: This is another of the author's pet projects, so it's worth noting that his discussion will be tainted by his desire to promote it.
The LEON system is guided by the four classes of activities noted above: collecting (finding resources), relating (discovering practical application), creating (working projects) and donating (presentations and reports). The teacher is a guide and a resource for the students, and the students collaborate using information technology outside the classroom environment.
Students were encouraged to collect information from online resources, under the guidance of an instructor who would help them locate resources. Particular attention was given to evaluating resources (there's a lot of disinformation on the WWW) and analyzing the information they found.
The students worked in collaborative teams (learning to "relate" to one another) under the guidance of the instructor (a mentoring relationship) with the understanding their work would be presented to the class (an audience relationship).
The author suggested that pairs of students make for an ideal team size, as they more readily balanced the workload than larger groups and were more apt to work openly with one another.
Aside of brief weekly meetings, students interacted with one another via e-mail, instant messaging, and discussion groups. The instructor largely observed rather than participating, except when needed.
Students are required, with guidance from the instructor, to define their own projects and use the Web as a publishing medium for their work. It was felt that the public exposure provided incentive to put more effort into developing a "polished" project than an anonymous paper. The author notes that some of his student projects have been republished in online magazines and even professional journals, and has given the portfolio pieces that would help in their job hunt.
Publishing projects on the WWW is also a form of "donation" in which the students delivered their work to a "real" audience. The author cites some of the student projects that had real value (carpooling database for students, bookkeeping for faculty research, list management for a local charity, etc.).
As a result, he would sometimes receive requests for students to work on specific projects. He advised clients to me modest in their expectations (students being volunteers and novices), and allowed students the option of taking them on.
He refers to some states (Maryland, namely) that are now requiring students to perform community service to get a high school diploma, and feels that this is a "noble requirement" that is entirely feasible given this approach to instruction.
The author shifts back to his diatribe against traditional education and the minimal effort of teachers who are accustomed to traditional methods are willing to put into more hands-on and collaborative methods. It is still largely text book and lecture, with minimal use of open discussion, group activities, and "authentic" projects.
Aside of teachers, he blames administrators and even government, in setting requirements and using metrics that reflect the outdated mode of education. And the students are also partly to blame, having grown accustomed to the educational system and having devised ingenious methods of satisfying the requirements with a minimum of effort (and a minimum of learning).
A Science Fair Scenario
The author looks at a "hypothetical case" of a science fair (EN: one of the few examples of hands-on learning in the present system, albeit by individuals rather than collaborative teams), which merely reiterates the previous points in a narrative that is a bit too fairy-tale to be credible (EN: this is a really bad idea that undermines the credibility of the author's ideas.)
The Skeptic's Corner
The author does his usual bit of straw-man bashing as he paints those who do not agree with him as being small-minded and fearful of change. (EN: a lot to be learned from this author on how *not* to write a book. Taken together with the fairy tales, this puerile method of argument does his credibility more harm than good).