Thursday, October 22, 2009

Education Revolution About To Hit

Why am I blogging about the purpose of education, the legacy of John Dewey in education and correcting Dewey's errors, and the bafflegab errors of Eduspeak?

I am circling around to some propositions about education, most importantly that communications technology and the web have come to a point where education itself is ripe for a revolution. Thus when I encountered this comment today, it struck a chord:
We are at a point in history when our intellectual life has already been massively unsettled by technological advancement. The printing press brought the gospel to the common man and undercut the power of the priests. The camera brought pictures of war to the widows and raised questions about political and military leadership. Radio and then television and satellites allowed us to hear and see events far from our own lives and challenged the comforts of tribalism.

The internet combines all of those technologies with an always-there availability, and an individual programming capability that allows us to choose entirely for ourselves what we will or will not see. At this time in history critical thinking, a basic grounding in epistemology, and some moral foundation in the central value of truth, is absolutely vital.
The key fundamental innovations in internet, communications, computing and storage technoloies have led us to this point:
  • The cost of storing information electronically is free(*).
  • The marginal cost of communicating any such information is close to free.
  • If information is free, then any business resting on information is exposed to a massive tectonic shift. Like newspapers, like the music/movies/entertainment, ... or like education.
(*) You could take the entire public domain library of Google books, assume it is 1 million books of 10 million bytes each (PDF) and put it on a 10Terabyte storage machine. 1 TB hard drive is $59, so for under $1000, you can store 1 million books electronically, and display any one of them on a Kindle. So if 1 million books could be stored and viewed in this way for under $1500, the cost per book is ... 0.15c. Free. To put this in a profound way - the entire stored knowledge of the world's best library of 1925, say the Harvard University library, can be put on a desktop. Yet such an act, while an interesting exercise, is unnecesary, since that information is available already to any desktop now - via the internet. For free.

Now, having addressed the fact that the information itself is free, we are left with the simple point that it is finding information, selecting which information to consume, and determining the value of that information that is critical to our intellectual development and life. Information is abundant, but our time, attention, focus and thoughts can only be in one place at a time.

What is profound about the quote comment is the observation that the technology "allows us to choose entirely for ourselves what we will or will not see." We have 1 million books at our fingertips .... which ones to pick? And will the act of individualistic selection atomize a previous community of intellectual understanding? Will conformity of the intelligensia give way to a new form of tribalism? It leads us to have an understanding of heightened value in critical reading, selectivity in sources, and ability to see the 'forest' for the 'trees'.

The most important fact about education today is that it is NOT much different from 40 years ago. This glacial pace of change is deceptive, a function of ossified edu-cratic institutions and the limits of human social interaction that cannot glide down the Moore's Law slope as bits can. Yet a lecture from 20 years ago is far more out-of-date now than a lecture from the 17th century was in 1980, not in terms of the content, but in terms of the form.

The education revolution will not be televised ... but it will be googled, tweeted, blogged, you-tube'd, etc.

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