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TL;DR: With mobile devices and social media, we can be guided by the spirit of the hacker to change education for the better.
Computers have had a profound influence on every aspect of our lives. From the way we communicate to the way we think about our place in the cosmos, microprocessing technologies have increasing importance in our continued growth as a species. They are intimate parts of our everyday lives through which we share our stories with our friends and family and, in turn, have a window into the lives of others around the world. These evocative devices extend our reach in ways we’ve never known before, and it’s time we embraced this nascent power to reshape thinking and learning.
The digital paradigm supplants the print a bit more each day. The world of print has helped us evolve as species. From nomadic hunters and gathers, though the invention of language, to the technology of the mass-produced book, the way we think about thinking has always been intertwined with the technologies of print and the book. The book stands proudly as a symbol of knowledge at the foundation of our educational system: it records the facts of the natural world, the narratives of human striving, and the aspirations in our genesis. The book contains the stories of humanity. It tells what we think and shapes how we think it. It’s a technology derived from humanity’s taming of the natural world; it and the institutions built upon it have had a good run.
The educational system is built upon the book, and in many ways remains stagnant because of this fact. Both the book and the classroom, in theory and practice, are top-down media: i.e., information flows from the author(ity) downward to the passive receptors, the audience. If you think about it, this is how most media in our society has always worked: experts build content for mass consumption. Top-down media has constructed our entertainment industry, is increasingly the model of government, controls our religious institutions, and provides the accepted model of education. This message is in the design of the whole institution of higher education, but my interest here is the classroom.
The design of the traditional classroom has an obvious focus or front: the professor stands behind the podium with the chalkboard prominent for illustrations of the educator’s lecture. The lecture is the key delivery mechanism of the classroom: the educator professes a wisdom to the students who all sit quietly in their rows of desks trying to capture the essence of the lecture in ink scribblings on dead trees. Knowledge, then, is transmitted in the act of writing down the professor’s ideas — in assimilating them enough to later turn around and give them back though some sort of exam. This flow is one-way, top-down — not a discourse or dialog. The teacher is not interested in what the student thinks about the material, only whether she can replicate the original message. Traditional education, then, is not about creativity or the individual student’s passions; it’s about curbing those for the more serious endeavors of formal education and the pursuit of knowledge.
I’m happy to say that this educational model’s days are numbered. With digital devices and a ubiquitous network connection, students hold the power to hack their educations in the same device that has revolutionized our social lives. By teaching students to use these devices and platforms in ways that allow them to pursue their own interests, develop their own personal learning networks, access the wealth of human expression that makes up the Internet, and creatively add their own voices to our multifarious narrative is the essence of HackEdu. Teaching and learning has been top-down too long, stifling individuality and creativity. It’s time to empower students to build their own knowledge and develop their own ways of sharing that knowledge with their personal and professional communities. Rather than teach them how to act like students and the functionaries of a corporate world, let’s instead encourage them to pursue their passions, promote the various ways they can share what they learn, and guide them to realize their own voices to become thoughtful and responsible citizens of the world.
HackEdu advocates a cyclical flow of knowledge, though active participation, creative collaboration, and civic responsibility. As communities of teachers and learners, let’s flip the classroom by using digital tools to create our own paths to knowledge. Challenge the old models by actively constructing individual knowledge that uses creative ways to engage and express. HackEdu demands a digital (r)evolution in education that allows us to become the thoughtful, critical, and responsible citizens of a new age. The essays in this book are about taking these first steps.
- This post was originally going to be part of an ebook written for Inkling. I decided that my posts would be more accessible on the web. Originally written on June 8, 2016 for LitMUSE.