Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Computers Can't Do Faster: A Whole New Mind - Applications for Schools, Part 2

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the FutureIn part 1 of this series, I explored the notion of doing work that "can't be done overseas."  Inspired by Daniel Pink's, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, that first post spoke of the need for schools to remain financially responsible and resilient.  By practicing prudent financial management, respecting time, efficient use of human resources, and nurturing alternative revenue streams, the costs of operating schools becomes more acceptable, thus making your school a more realistic option for potential families.

In part 2,  let's take a look at how schools can not just maintain but increase their impact on the lives of students by "doing work that computers cannot do faster."

There are two key aspects to this idea for schools that I want to discuss.
  1. Identify the work that the school does (or the value provided) that cannot be provided by a computer.
  2. Effectively putting computers to work in schools.
Identify the work that the school does (or the value provided) that cannot be provided by a computer

An essential question that I find helpful is, "What is the human element of education and how do we maximize that part?"  This is a tough question because for quite some time the human element included (to a larger degree) content expertise and knowledge.  Today, things have changed largely due to computers - content is available 24/7/365 over the Internet.  This fact alone has forced educators to examine what the role of a modern teacher needs to become.

I am reminded of something a professor said in my first education course:
When you feel as if you do not have as firm a grasp on the content as you want, remember that you still know more about it than the students.
Sadly, that advice is no longer applicable.  Good teachers, and therefore good schools, must be better at "doing the work" that computers cannot do.  This work includes synthesizing various information to create options unseen by pure analysis, empathizing with students and families, and celebrate successes.  This developing paradigm for schools certainly does not ignore the value of content experts or strong analytical thinkers.  What is does demand is a greater emphasis on balancing these different approaches.  Schools are better of having scientists teach science.  I am not implying that anyone can teach anything because the content is available.  What I am suggesting is that those same content minded teachers need to also provide the "human element" to their classes in an obvious way.

In other words, teachers who teach STUDENTS first rather than SUBJECT first are usually in a better position to do the work that computers cannot do. 

Effectively putting computers to work in schools

Currently, I believe that technology's place in education is basically a tool that helps students and teachers with a list of "...tions" which I suggest are key components to the essential process of learning in the modern world.
  • Motivation
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Production
  • Investigation
  • Information
If we are going to put the cart (technology) behind the horse (learning), then any initiative involving computers needs to address the items on this list.  Effective use of computers in schools is simply identifying the effective (and essential) processes involved in school and applying the technology to those processes.  Make the computer work for you, not the other way around.

In conclusion

Computers are great tools for enhancing the educational experience.  The availability of information, ease of communication, ability to make connections, and speed of analysis are unmatched.  Schools that have relied on being the keepers of secret knowledge are finding (or have probably already found) that role is no longer sufficient.

Providing an educational experience that is also focused on the work computers cannot do, the human element, is more important today than ever before.  Employing computers to work for us to support motivation, collaboration, communication, production, investigation, and information is a key piece to your school remaining relevant in a technology enhanced world.
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