Friday, October 22, 2010

Sharing Our Way to Learning Innovations

I've been reflecting a lot this week on the concept of "sharing" and how it relates to learning.  I read David Wiley's fabulous "Openness as Catalyst for an Educational Reformation" in which he eloquently points out the learning doesn't occur without sharing -- never has, never will.  Despite the need for educators to share their knowledge to facilitate learning, academia fosters a contradictory possessiveness within an  professor -- "That's your intellectual property, don't let anyone else have it!"

While that may sound like a gross overstatement, I don't think it is.  I have shared many "ouch" moments after giving a passionate presentation about podcasting in education to faculty.  After demonstrating how simple it is share one's content with the world, I am met with a perplexed, wrinkled forehead and the words, "But that's my intellectual property.  I need to protect it."  I usually respond with, "Your ideas could change the world but they're meaningless if you don't spread them."  I've had a few success stories but, mostly, professors retreat back to their offices and continue to share content behind a password protected walls of Blackboard.

Wiley's article noted a recent incident in which a professor proceeded to press charges against a student for attempting to sell his lecture notes on the grounds that the student was redistributing his IP without consent.  Really? In Wiley's words, which I couldn't write better myself,
"What is the impact on learning when teachers knowingly withhold, conceal, and restrict access to knowledge or its representations? Conversely, what is the comparative impact on learning when teachers share, give, and are generous with access to knowledge and its representations? Perhaps most important, what is our primary interest as educators: facilitating student learning or commercializing what we know? If our primary interest is facilitating student learning, then education is our field. If commercializing what we know is our primary interest, then we shouldn't be educators."

Video Sharing Accelerates Learning & Innovation

I also recently viewed Chris Anderson's, of TED, thought provoking presentation about how shared videos are accelerating the pace of learning and unveiling intense innovations at lightning speed.  He used a practical example of a young boy who had mastered expert dance moves at an incredibly young age, all through watching videos online.  He himself is now a YouTube phenomenon.  While that may not feel like a world stopping example, I pause and think it's pretty terrific.  Video communicates much more information than text or audio and, of course, as it continues to become easier to make, share, and watch (now on mobile devices too), it's going to alter our learning patterns.

Here's a story from my own family that relates.  Last week my 8-year old son came to me and said, "Mommy, I want to make a wooden top."  Remember those?  The kind that spin after you pull a string.  Apparently he saw on in a movie.  I returned his idea with a glance conveying a blend of support and self-doubt, knowing I had no clue how to help him produce his great idea but still hoping to encourage him to pursue it.  He proceed to the garage to search for wood! 

So I called my dad who has experience with wood carving and asked if he could help.  He was silent for a moment and then said, "Let me think about this. Bring him over tomorrow."  My dad is 71-year-old retired research chemist and a passionate life long learner.  He reads endlessly but also listens to podcasts and watches online videos -- usually that pertain to quantum theory.  When I brought my son over the next day, my dad brought my son, over to his computer and had him sit in the chair.  An 11-minute YouTube video began to play on the screen, demonstrating "How to make a wooden top"  -- using only the tools my dad had in his garage.  By the next afternoon, the top was finished -- and it's impressive!  My son has brought it to school and shared it with everyone in the neighborhood.  His creative idea came to fruition -- thanks to my wise Pop and YouTube.

The Path Ahead

My son's story is a small but powerful example of how shared content has transformed learning, as well as the role of formalized education in the 21st century.  School is no longer needed to get information.  Think about that -- schools were developed to share information with the masses.  Now that "The World is Open," as Curtis Bonk wrote, what is the purpose of a formalized education?  Has the internet replaced the need for teachers and professors?  Absolutely not, but the role we play has changed.  As ATG wrote, "Teaching is Not About Knowing (Anymore).

In an open world information abounds -- which is amazingly empowering but also terribly frightening when we realize that our children today and many adults don't know how to navigate, filter, and think critically about that information.  And, in turn, the media swiftly continues to corrode the minds of Americans -- feeding us a bottomless pit of gender, racial and ethnic stereotypes that inform how we think about ourselves and value those around us.  I believe educators have the most influence on the direction of learning in the future. 

Participating in the sharing of our ideas can truly change not only more lives but the world.  We need the great professors to begin to record their thoughts and share them openly.  We need colleges and universities to integrate sharing into the tenure process.  Can you imagine how that would shift things?  Imagine if professors were encouraged to blog and post videos/audio recordings and textual representations of their arguments and ideas?  Still need it in book form?  Fine --  We need tenure to truly embrace the value of innovation in teaching and learning ...  and sharing is innovation.

When water is prevented from flowing naturally, it accumulates in large amounts until its power becomes so immense that it overflows its boundaries and devastates its surroundings.  Share and change the world.
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