Speakers at the EDGEX Conference debated many tensions and challenges apparent in education today.
George Siemens evocatively questioned the use of the word “disruptive” and asserted that we should call for transformation instead. Given the broad societal transitions to a networked and complex ecology, he talked about how initiatives like Coursera, Udacity and the Khan Academy provided disruptions, but did not transform education.
Forces that are working to transform education have their drivers in economic change, changing perceptions of the university systems, changes in student expectations and needs, and demographic explosion in worldwide student population. In his opinion, there are some forces that may transform education – robots, new school models, cloud computing, new assessment models, new pedagogical models like the Massive Open Online Course and distributed research & discovery networks.
Putting the focus sharply on India, and its challenges of scale, equity and quality, he said that India has perhaps the chance to break from tradition and leapfrog over many of the milestones in the evolution of the traditional educational systems worldwide. That leverage of transformative educational research, was perhaps what excited many of the international and national speakers and delegates at EDGEX.
Bringing another tension to the fore, Stephen Downes talked about Education as a Platform. Instead of focusing on content, Stephen believes that the connections should be given primacy. Knowledge is something that is grown rather than acquired or ingested. Outlining some of the current challenges with MOOCs, such as the size vs. connectedness or the bootstrapping challenge, Stephen felt that their MOOCs were insufficiently focused on connectedness.
Education as a platform would encompass thinking on the personal learning environment and giving fresh meaning to assessments and learning analytics in a networked ecology. Dave Cormier brought a similar tension while talking on embracing uncertainty, using rhizomatic learning in formal education. Dave talked about the shift from content as curriculum to community as curriculum, and how the notion of rhizomatic networks could be brought to bear on the traditional learning mechanisms.
In the conference summary session, we wrestled with another important underlying tension – that of spaces between networks. Typically we build links between nodes in a network by the virtue of which spaces between the nodes get obliterated and become invisible. By argument then, the network should really be a continuum, rather than a set of discrete nodes.
Jay Cross had expounded on how we need to democratize learning. He talked about how the education behind the gates is finally starting to converge with real life in this network era. He bemoaned the state of training in corporate America, stating “training is dead”. He was tremendously excited about the prospects of informal learning to attack the problem of scale with quality in India. In fact, the same concept came up for debate in the conference summary session again – the fact that democratization, which is education by, for and of the people, was talked of more in terms of “for the people” rather than “by” and “of”.
Jay remarked that there is no one solution (and school is probably not the one, in fact schools can be at times non-democratic). Learning is seen as a key enabler for democratization. Stephen said that commercializing learning is antithetical to democracy. Les Foltos brought up affordability in both Indian and US contexts – are we as democracies making the commitment to make education affordable at high quality. The only recourse, then as Stephen remarked, is to rethink the concept of school.
An important tension was that between order and chaos. Do we want order from chaos or chaos from order? Stephen argued that the order exists in the eye of the perceiver and that order is not inherent in chaos itself. As Les Foltos put it, the tension is between the current traditional system that is extremely ordered and discourages risk taking and systems that encourage risk taking and are inherently chaotic. Clark Quinn argued that chaos could be imbued with values and purpose in terms of design and then one must expect movements to and from chaotic states. Dave Cormier highlighted the challenge of fostering creativity in students in chaotic systems and moving away from the tyranny of assessments. Rhizomatic networks are inherently both ordered and chaotic.
The next tension was around technology availability specifically around the requirements or conditions in which the theory of Connectivism could operate. The main challenge in a developing and less developed world context is the availability of technology – technology that allows networks to really exist on the digital scale. Both George and Stephen felt that technology was a sufficient condition, but in terms of theory, not a completely necessary condition.
There were tensions exposed in our thinking of design. Is design (as we know it) dead? The fundamental tension here was that design, as we know it, is focused on creating ordered and deterministic outcomes. Can there be design around complex, adaptive systems that can allow for environments that are emergent, self-organizing and adaptive? Grainne Conole discussed the conception of design, in particular leveraging the network construct, can design today prove useful in creation of open, participatory spaces for learning.
There was another tension in terms of design in the context of scalability. Inherent in traditional systems of design is standardization and bureaucratization of design processes. Dave Cormier raised the question of how we can distribute design expertise in a way that can scale. Grainne talked about more participative and innovative methods where teachers and experts are able to use design tools and processes based on networked collaboration techniques in a manner that is very different from business process like mechanisms that institutions typically follow.
Martin Weller, who had talked about digital scholarship in an open, networked and digital world, talked about his experiences in teacher education where he talked about yet another dimension – problems with using social media and innovative design. Les Foltos talked about physical challenges that teachers face in terms of the support they need to be innovative and risk taking. They also need to apply techniques and experience success in their contexts in order for them to believe the grand visions. Stephen brought in another tension – that of over design – and believed that design should be used as a syntax to be interpreted by individuals, in a minimally prescriptive manner.