Stuff that has me thinking!
Yesterday I blogged a little grizzle about the lack of $$ being spent on hardware and the "sausage sizzle" mentality of New Zealand schools when it come to thinking about hardware purchasing. Today I have been viewing some more of those fantastic TED talk presentations and had my view challenged on a number of fronts. Firstly I listened to Iqbal Quadir talking about setting up a cell phone network in Bangladesh. If you are remotely interested in poverty and aid issues he is well worth listening to. His point that challenged my thinking about $$ and technology was a diagram he displayed that showed the shift in power relationship and ultimately in productivity when countries receive foreign aid as donations versus helping people to become empowered and to solve their own problems.
Now don't get me wrong I'm not advocating taking away government funding from schools but maybe there is some power in schools having to work a little hard to get the things they really want and need. There are plenty of stories from older teachers about the wastefulness of the old system where schools were centrally resourced for many things. Schools would be sent new pianos when the old ones they had were perfectly fine. I'm now trying to think how his cell phone model could be applied to school technology. One way I see is related to another idea in much discussion at present and that is the idea of community. At present schools would be seen in most communities as a cost activity rather than a resource. What if this could be turned on its head somehow and schools could become community resources that helped generate wealth (I'm not just talking about $ here) for the community. On a really micro level I saw this a couple of years ago where one school I visited was trying to attract an artist in residence who they were offering free use of a space to in exchange for interaction with the pupils. I think there are many ways in which schools could break down the barriers that currently exist and be mutually beneficial for the community.
The other two videos I watched from TED were presentations by Malcom Gladwell and Barry Schwartz. These two talks were both fascinating. Essentially they were both talking about the same topic "Human choice and happiness" but from completely opposite angles. Gladwell talked about the fact that if you ask people what they want they often don't know or respond with something they already know about. If you offer them choices then we find that the responses do not fit into a normal bell curve but the data suggests different options are required to satisfy people's desires. Schwartz also talked about choice and happiness but concluded that more choices = less satisfaction.
As I was watching these two presentations I was reflecting on education and how the movement to increase student autonomy in learning fits in with these ideas. I'll have to reflect on this some more but I think that there must be a balance point somewhere in the middle where optimum learning conditions are created with sufficient choice but not too much to lower satisfaction and effect. Again at a micro level I saw this happen this year when my daughter's school surveyed parents about their preferred methods of receiving feedback on their children's progress. Did we want 1:1 interviews, reports, student led conferences, portfolios etc etc? Because we were asked what we wanted, many parents responded with ideas they knew about. Interviews were a popular choice. Student led conferences were a new and unpopular idea but the school decided to go ahead with them anyway. A recent newsletter reported that feedback has been positive. People didn't know they wanted this choice until they had experienced it. This is what Gladwell predicts would happen. I am extrapolating his ideas related to food to education here so the links could be tenuous but it is interesting to think about. Scwartz however would argue that too many choices would lower satisfaction.
If you can spare the time TED talk videos are well worth browsing through. These are top notch people presenting whether you agree with their ideas or not. Aubrey de Grey is worth listening to for his radical ideas about increasing life expectency.