In a world full of answers you start your journey by asking the right questions
This was the brave new world of Hyper Reality that the world’s first portable computer – the Apple Macintosh – made available to us.
It was around that time that James Burke made the observation that the power of hyper media was not in the quality of the media but in the connections between the ideas that could be travelled by anyone who used hyper media.
He also made this observation
“The job of the educational system up till now, it seems to me, has been to fail people, not to educate them. Fail the majority so you can teach the few [because it’s far too expensive to teach everybody]… In modern times, the majority aren’t failed in the sense of receiving failing grades; they’ve been failed in the sense of not being encouraged to live up to their potential… Hypermedia systems could enhance, liberate, and augment human intellect, act as releasers and facilitators of what people already have in their heads… Give these webs of ideas to children and just say “play”… In the future, the ability to navigate and use information will be the hallmark and future of mankind”
Today I listen to the voices in the back seat of the car and I wonder… Are we there yet?
If my experience with students has taught me anything over the years it is simply this: The key to the success of hyper-education isn’t in providing them with their own computers it is in providing them with the self belief and the head skills to begin exploring these webs of ideas on their own across all media.
The real skill we need to teach them is to Fail Fast, Fail Often and Fail Cheap.
Don’t get me wrong Fail Fast, Fail Often and Fail Cheap isn’t the crude, dare I say barstardised, manufacturing theory the IT industry frequently employs to justify releasing substandard and untested product on an unwitting public. Fail Fast, Fail Often and Fail Cheap in the educational context is about teaching students to explore ideas and make connections between ideas using cheap, disposable everyday media.
For example, students don’t need a computer and the internet to make mash ups of words and pictures. All they need is magazines and newspapers and a pair of scissors. Students can learn more about the exploration and discovery of ideas and messages – and the impact of montage on those ideas – in a one hour session in the class room than they can learn in 12 months using MS Word, PowerPoint, a web browser, Flash, Premier or Photoshop. Just take any magazine, cut out a picture and dozen headlines and then juxtapose the headlines with the picture to reveal the new message. This simple trick teaches students about connections between ideas and how you can use those connections to manipulate and explore new messages.
Equally importantly it teaches them how to make those connections quickly and cheaply. But most importantly it teaches them that failure is an important part of discovering the best connections and that each new connection is another small step towards achieving personal success.
Learn that skill and your students will begin to see the world through new eyes simply because they are thinking about connections rather than just objects.
The reality is the technology has become a barrier to creative thinking. The computer is after all nothing but a machine, a tool that we employ to express ourselves. If we are not thinking creatively and open to explorations and the possibility of failing in our attempts to discover new things then it doesn’t matter how clever the tool is it will not help us to become clever. If anything it will only hide and distance us from our own limitations and stupidity.
Putting computers in classrooms achieves 3 things.
Firstly it sends out a clear message that achieving competence in a practical skill like programming, digital imaging or using a word processor is the highest achievement in education today.
Secondly it devalues the social experimentation between students and teacher – and students and students – that is at the heart of a great education. After all, working with a computer isn’t a shared experience. It is a one on one experience with a machine. It is purpose built to provide the illusion of interaction and connectivity. If you want to put computers in a classroom then perhaps you should provide them with a Surface table where they can explore things together.
Finally, it gives students access to the most addictive and interactive entertainment system mankind has ever built and if you think your children are not playing games on those computers in the classroom today then perhaps you are underestimating just how clever these young people are.
There was a time when computers were just calculation machines. Today, thanks primarily to the stupid network, they are connection machines.
As James Burke said 30 years ago… “In the future, the ability to navigate and use information will be the hallmark and future of mankind”.
The skills our children need to learn is how to navigate and use the unlimited supply of information that is now available to them. In a world of answers the real skill we need to teach them is how to begin by asking the right questions. The secret to that is to learn very early in life how to Fail Fast, Fail Often and Fail Cheap.