TED Book Chat

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Live Chat today at 4pm Eastern: "Why School? How Education Must Change When Information and Learning Are Everywhere"

Author Will Richardson will be joining us for a live Q&A today at 4pm Eastern!

Continuing with our series of TED book chats, for the next week and a half we'll be discussing Will Richardson's new TED eBook, "Why School?"

Traditional educators, classrooms, and brick-and-mortar schools are no longer necessary to access information. Instead, things like blogs and wikis, as well as remote collaborations and an emphasis on 'critical thinking' skills are the coins of the realm in this new kingdom. Yet the national dialogue on education reform focuses on using technology to update the traditional education model, failing to reassess the fundamental model on which it is built.

In TED's new eBook, "Why School?", educator, author, parent and blogger Will Richardson challenges traditional thinking about education—questioning whether it still holds value in its current form.

The book is available for Kindle, Nook, and iOS devices (which have a great new custom TED Books app):

Kindle copy: http://www.amazon.com/Why-School-Information-Everywhere-ebook/dp/B00998J5YQ
iOS app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ted-books/id511071050?mt=8

You can also read more on Will's blog: http://willrichardson.com

So, let's get things started... when information is everywhere, what is the purpose of traditional schools?

  • Sep 28 2012: I'm currently taking my Bachelor of Education and we've been having a lot of discussions about this subject. There has been a lean towards more inquiry based learning here in Canada, more specifically in BC. There is less focus on teaching students subject material and more focus on teaching students how to learn and how to determine if information is reliable or not. Teachers trying to get students to simply memorize information is pointless. Since information is constantly changing for my subject area, physics, there is no point in me teaching straight facts. Its better to teach students how to learn for the sake of learning. That will prove to be more useful overall.
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      Sep 29 2012: This has been very much the case for at least a decade in the US as well.
  • Oct 8 2012: I am sitting with my class waiting for the buses to arrive to take them home. I work in the largest district in Missouri by square mile. It also happens to be one of the poorest as well. School for my students means something different than school for many others. It is a clean, healthy place where they can get food to eat and people that care about them. I worry about how the idea of schools may change where school itself is no longer a physical space, but an online learning environment. This would be devastating for my community. What are your thoughts, will we see this happen?
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      Oct 8 2012: That's the point of the book, that we need to change schools but not do away with the powerful learning that happens in physical space, face 2 face classrooms. I'm not convinced it can be replicated online, especially for young kids. Learning online is a huge part of what we want kids to do, but it still needs a foundation that local spaces can only nourish.
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      Oct 8 2012: Vital perspective! Thank you for adding it to the conversation. I see one of the lasting values of schools as community hubs that provide healthy relationships with kids--that includes taking care of shelter and food.
  • Oct 8 2012: Hello there :)

    My name's Saulo and I'm from Brazil. I'm currently 17 years old and I'm quite fed up with this archaic and outdated system we have at present. It's not endemic in Brazil, though. It happens in every corner around the globe. People wrongly assess diplomas alongside with formal education being more important than the practical application of that matter per se. They just care about whether you have a diploma or not.
    I'm on my penultimate year of high school and it's being really tough to keep up with this. They oblige us to load our brains with lots of information we're most likely not to ever use! Scarcely have we time to even think about what we're learning, as we are expected just to do well on a standardised test that pretends to value how intelligent or likely to succeed we are. That's totally wrong! I learn a lot of things from books, people, the internet... Furthermore, school doesn't teach us the necessary tools we need to learn, it only teaches us how to perform well in a test. It doesn't set us for life. I strongly feel that I've wasted many years of my life stuck in a classroom :(

    In a nutshell, I'd like to know whether it's really necessary to go through all of this (finish high school, go to college and follow a well-worn path that has been previously set for us to take).
    The thing is, I aim to become a successful entrepreneur, I fancy learning by any means, but I'd far rather if it were in a more intimate and informal way.

    Thank you for your attention, greetings from Brazil :)
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      Oct 8 2012: Hey Saulo...thanks for chiming in. Looking forward to my visit to Brazil in January!

      Certainly, many have become successful via dropping out and following their passions. It's still a more difficult path, however, but I do think it's opening up more and more. There is a huge groundswell of creativity and innovation here in the states, and I think as schools do more to nurture that, the learning experience will get better and better. Whatever you do, don't lose your passion to succeed!
    • Oct 8 2012: Well spoken young man for 17 (compared to most US teens), and good questions.
    • Oct 8 2012: Perhaps you should apply for the Peter Thiel Fellowship.


      And I see many young people are using college campus with all its infrastructure labs, equipment, people etc. to incubate their Startups. Good luck!
  • Oct 8 2012: Will,

    I am a vice principal in a secondary school in Ottawa, Canada. I just read your book over the past couple of days. It really hit home, because our board has invested heavily in the instructional coaching model. At the secondary level, this has involved a coach working with groups of 4 to 6 teachers in a school - typically full days, every other week. The work involves co-planning a task, observing one teacher deliver it in their class, and debriefing around student artifacts. The task usually involves a critical thinking strategy.

    I mention all this because I think this approach will get at a meaningful classroom practice, which can bridge us to the new paradigm envisioned in Why School.
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    Oct 8 2012: The purpose of "traditional" schools was to train a labor and managerial class. That purpose is now defunct. "School" needs to be reframed through the question "how do we best support learning?"
    • Oct 8 2012: Suporting education and learning is being discussed during the presidential debates and I think that both candidates are thinking about how they can do this.
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        Oct 8 2012: I wish I could agree. I don't think either candidate really sees the education world in any real different light from the one we've had for 100+ years. They want to make it better. I want to make it different.
        • Oct 8 2012: I totally agree with you! Education doesn't seem to be important to either candidate. We all know testing is not the indicator of learning. We need educators making these decisions...not politicians.
        • Oct 8 2012: There was so much hope that Obama would see it different, but no child left behind morphed to a race to the top...left behind or last in the race, both are disappointments.

          If exams - high stakes or otherwise - remain the focus as the key product of a high school education we are going to be spinning wheels that so desperately need to get some real traction toward meaningful systemic change. Did I read that some cities or boards in the States are voting to drop out of the testing process? Do students at High Tech High have to complete the same tests as the rest of the students in California?
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      Oct 8 2012: And the problem is that the answer to that question is not quantifiable and sortable and rankable. But it is the absolute correct question.
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        Oct 8 2012: It's only a problem in the frame of our current thinking for how assessment has to occur!
      • Oct 8 2012: I was wondering if you have reached out to any experts in terms of Performance, Authentic, and Ipsative forms of assessment who understand this new conversation around Education Transformation. There are a relatively confined set of (traditional) skills that children need to learn as well as new literacies, competencies, and dispositions that will help them thrive in a 21st century world of constant change. Is there any way that these experts can point the way to reconciling the standardized measurement of chosen learning outcomes, as we promote a very diversified and holistic vision of what students will produce and learn?
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          Oct 8 2012: It's hard, because the expectations and tests and results for "success" are so ingrained in our tradition around education. We're asking people to rethink it, not tweak it. Tough argument for many.
    • Oct 8 2012: Truer words were never spoken.
      We teach kids how to perform well in standardised tests, but do we really prepare them for the real life?
      Do we give them the necessary tools to do so? I don't think so.
      Students are prepared to be robots, mindless workers instead of thinkers, doers.
      By the time we understand this, I hope it's not too late.
  • Sep 28 2012: I am an educator with 20 years experience from middle school to college and I agree we need to rethink the entire purpose and goal of education. We know it needs to become more collaborative, performance-based (as opposed to test-based), and interdisciplinary. Let's use these great new technologies to teach skill and drill through game-based curriculum while using our teachers to supervise application of these skills in real-world scenarios.
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    Oct 8 2012: Thanks, Everyone!
  • Oct 8 2012: Will,
    If you were building a new high school or middle school today what aspects of construction or design would you consider to support your vision and idea of what school should today and the next 25 years? From the learners perspective what would that building look like? I'm referring to school as a noun instead of a verb in this case.

  • Oct 8 2012: Information and learning may be everywhere, but not access to information and learning. How can we create more access to online learning, and real life learning within communities; learning networks?
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      Oct 8 2012: It's a great question, and I wonder why this isn't more of a topic during this election season. Broadband is growing, but it's not where it needs to be. Mobile devices connect us, but they are not the best for creating and sharing complex artificats of our learning.
      • Oct 8 2012: It seems as though we are unwilling to invest in our infrastructure. This would add thousands of immediate jobs while laying the foundation to our future.
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      Oct 8 2012: Digital equality is an important topic that we aren't talking about enough yet.
  • Oct 8 2012: Will, can you give an idea of how your vision of "school" would work for students with moderate to intensive special needs? As a teacher of students with special needs, I try to incorporate PBL and inquiry based lessons as much as possible, but struggle...
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      Oct 8 2012: Depending on the needs, it can be difficult, I know. But allowing all kids to pursue learning in the context of what they have an interest in or a passion for is the starting point for all of this. Certainly, we need to provide access and the full range of opportunities that technology brings to kids who have obstacles to overcome. But I really think we can make much of that more engaging to kids at every level if we nurture their passion for learning rather than extinguish it with the current, content heavy curriculum.
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    Aja B.

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    Oct 8 2012: And, when it comes to basing tests on "googleable" facts like your Gupta Empire example... students have been complaining (rightly so, IMO) about this for at least the decades since I was in school. :) What do you think is the main reason schools continue to stick to this style of education? Is it just that it's so much more cost-effective than measuring actual knowledge and skill?
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      Oct 8 2012: It's because that content mastery stuff is easy to measure, plain and simple. How can you easily measure perseverance, creativity, ability to find and solve problems, etc? While those things are more important than wide content mastery now, they are much harder to measure.
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        Oct 8 2012: Those things are best measured through relationships between teachers and students. Unfortunately, we are not in an age of trusting such information.
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          Oct 8 2012: Yeah, you would think we'd trust teachers to tell us what's happening in terms of learning and our kids. Funny thing is, the best predictor of future success is not SAT or test scores; it's GPA. Shocking! ;0)
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        Aja B.

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        Oct 8 2012: Do you think the era of sending kids to a classroom to all learn the same information simultaneously is coming to an end? I'm trying to picture what wide-scale free-form learning might look like, and all I can come up with is something like homeschooling... or "unschooling"!
        • Oct 8 2012: It must come to and end!
          We're all different! How come they think we should learn pretty much the same stuff and be expected to reach a specific score on a standardised test?
          I'm on my penultimate year of high school here in Brazil and I'm quite fed up with it by now. I study at a private school, as most public schools here suck.
      • Oct 8 2012: So I wonder what's the answer? We're going to run up against a strongly held assumption around measurement that makes up the modern (Western at least) world view. Do we continue to communicate with our communities about increasing local involvement in schools? Do we get into epistemology and discuss the limitations of reductionism, etc.? or do we just try to demonstrate the promise of local teacher judgements and build trust that way?
  • Oct 8 2012: For those children whose education and future employment opportunities and lifetime earning capacity has been handicapped by having spent the last 14 yrs in a frankly inadequate educational system that turned out to be a waste of time (and for some, money too), what will society or government do for these kids to either compensate them for the loss, or remediate the situation?
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    Sep 27 2012: the whole world is behind when it comes to the gadget fad and it's most noticeable in politics, commerce and the law. schools are actually doing well compared to them (in NZ anyway).

    education models depend on the country. information has never been so opinion-like and the lines between propaganda and information are blurring fast.

    iDevices won't solve the problem of where to send kids while their parents are working.

    teachers are even more important as children need support and guidance even if they are using an expensive touch screen.
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    Sep 27 2012: The world of education is miles behind in the application of technology - I wrote to the UK secretary of state for education 20 years ago about this - fell on deaf ears of course. The change away from traditional education will only happen due to 'cost cutting' and the (current) lack of money to fund schools/colleges properly. Having three kids I can assure you that what they achieve through college/university further education is very little anyway (social skills and life skills of having to live on their own excepting).
    It seems crazy that we are still attempting to teach 'facts' instead of 'understanding'.

    So I have developed a new way of achieving what the kids really need for 'life & work'. It is essentially a very short 'hot house' training using theatre/technology/involvement/projects/role-play to create an amazing life changing 3 weeks. Called 'Super Fast Track' I hope it can be developed and used for every young person (anyone want to fund it?) see the detail for how it works:


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      Sep 27 2012: the 'facts instead of understanding' approach has been a direct result of assessment practice. removing the artificial yardstick that is assessment will go a long, long way towards freeing schools from the staid, linear approach they have had to education in the past.

      this bureaucratic approach to assessment is, of course, usually driven by politicians and ministers who seem to only want data (meaningless, if you ask me) that can be expressed on a simple chart so that they can justify funding (or more accurately, funding cuts).

      for younger students, there needs to be guidance and support (even in this wondrous age of 'free' information). this does not have to be a Teacher (as in the profession) but one thing i have noticed is that many parents feel removed from the education process, thinking that they had best leave it to the folk with the qualifications.

      herein lies the real shift that needs to happen in education - realising that education is not something that can only be correctly administered/delivered by a degree-ed person in a classroom but in fact, mostly is and should be, coming from parents.

      i have a feeling that people, these days, think they can replace the 'teacher' with a tablet and a contract with a tel-co.
    • Sep 29 2012: John, Thank you for posting the common sense thinking information. The "Supper Fast Track" program looks very interesting. The list of core skills and concepts are truly essential and should be learned by each individual. Best wishes for implementing this exceptional project.
  • Sep 27 2012: This is a little bit utopian, schools will still be necessary for one reason: People don't naturally like doing work. Even in school you have people slacking off all the time. Only a tiny percentage of kids actually like learning the rest just do their time.

    I'm sorry to say it but Education is complex and the more demanding the skills the more time, work and dedication you have to put into it. Just waving around things like "the internet will solve everything" is a bit of nonsense. Some people will be able to use the net, but most people won't get much out of it.
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      Sep 27 2012: in my experience, giving kids self-directed access to the internet generally means they end up playing games..
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        Sep 28 2012: It is true that games are more appealing than education. I'm a shameless victim of this case.

        However, I do think that education can be just as appealing as games. Stuff that I've considered fun are art, building stuff, web design, cool graphics/visuals, music, etc.

        I've noticed that a lot of kids like to play with tablets. There was a story that even a six-year-old illiterate boy can use the iPad intuitively, no learning curve required. And on the iPad I've seen a ton of kids play this game called Minecraft.
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          Sep 28 2012: tablets are easy to use but it seems to me that there is usually little benefit to things that are easy to do.

          granted, the new-entrant and junior school is the best place for tablets because of the interface.

          there is striking the balance between edutainment and real work when it comes to learning. a good teacher makes the lessons as fun and interesting as they can.

          my real beef with technology in schools is the enormous expense. schools are becoming "captive markets" for the gadget industry.

          ps. i love my video games too.
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        Sep 29 2012: "tablets are easy to use but it seems to me that there is usually little benefit to things that are easy to do."

        Can you give me an example of one thing that is not beneficial that is easy to use? Would this also imply that things that are hard to do are usually more important and more beneficial?

        I believe almost anything can be made easy enough to use with the right design. I'm sure there are some things that are inherently difficult by nature too, but there should also be good designs as well.

        "there is striking the balance between edutainment and real work when it comes to learning. a good teacher makes the lessons as fun and interesting as they can."

        Why does it require a good teacher to make something fun? Shouldn't there be a way to design the content to feel fun? Like couldn't you have Bloons Tower Defense 5 be a way to teach Resource Management and Business?

        "my real beef with technology in schools is the enormous expense. schools are becoming "captive markets" for the gadget industry."

        Yeah, I mean I hate it when people want to use new technology to teach something just for the sake of using new technology. That's just gimmicks right there, and it shows a lack of fundamental understanding of using a tool.
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          Sep 30 2012: I guess I'm talking about skill acquisition when I'm talking about easy vs hard. I saw an article in an I.T. magazine that pointed out that more 4 year old children can use an iPad than can tie their shoelaces. One is easy, the other is (relatively) hard for 4 year old's still developing their motor skills.

          "Would this also imply that things that are hard to do are usually more important and more beneficial?" - most definitely.

          One of the major skills of a good teacher is to be entertaining. This has been the case since teachers and students first started interacting. You might have heard this described as being 'engaging'. Jargon has changed more often than the fundamentals.

          Once a student is at a certain age, they may have acquired the skills to self-direct their learning in which case they may be able to use technology to further their own learning. You can bet that they needed a teacher to get to that point. (note: the word teacher does not have to mean a person with an education degree who works in a school and gets paid by some ministry of education. It can be any person that steps into the role - mum, dad, uncle, tutor, mentor, older cousin, friend).

          I can't tell if you are being sarcastic or not in your last comment but you don't seem to be addressing the quote. I'll try and break it down a little further for you.

          Digital technology in schools is expensive to acquire and maintain. You may not be aware that schools have very limited budgets and so until this issue is addressed adequately, you cannot expect schools to keep up with the costs of providing this technology to every student. No amount of TEDtalks will fix this one.

          You'll also find that another issue is the copyright/licencing issue. This is only just beginning to rear it's head and there will be many pitfalls for schools and individuals alike along the road to digital heaven.

          A craftsman can use a tool. Owning a tool doesn't make one a craftsman.
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        Sep 30 2012: "I guess I'm talking about skill acquisition when I'm talking about easy vs hard. I saw an article in an I.T. magazine that pointed out that more 4 year old children can use an iPad than can tie their shoelaces. One is easy, the other is (relatively) hard for 4 year old's still developing their motor skills."

        Ah I see. Well to counter-argue that, say if I was just learning how to program stuff, I don't want to learn how to code through punch cards and hand-write my codes. I mean sure, I'll learn to be a better coder because I would be much more aware of my bad practices, but I would also waste a lot of time trying to do that when there are better more efficient ways to code.

        "Digital technology in schools is expensive to acquire and maintain. You may not be aware that schools have very limited budgets and so until this issue is addressed adequately, you cannot expect schools to keep up with the costs of providing this technology to every student. No amount of TEDtalks will fix this one."

        They seem to be doing fine paying huge expenses on textbooks, I don't see why they can't just forgo those textbooks and use that cost for digital technologies. A Nexus 7 tablet is only 200 dollars, just saying. I've had to pay 300-400 dollars for textbooks that I hardly ever use.

        "I can't tell if you are being sarcastic or not in your last comment but you don't seem to be addressing the quote. I'll try and break it down a little further for you."

        My last remark was basically equivalent to your last remark: "A craftsman can use a tool. Owning a tool doesn't make one a craftsman."
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    Aja B.

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    Oct 8 2012: I'm afraid this fascinating conversation is coming to an end. Will, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us! I look forward to reading through the related books you mentioned near the end of "Why School", and I'll be continuing to follow your excellent blog. Such an important and interesting topic!

    To our participants, thank you as always for sharing your excellent questions. We hope to see you again soon for the next TED book chat!
  • Oct 8 2012: Hi Will,
    Regarding assessment. I understand we are completely rethinking education, here. And with good reason. Even John Seely Brown, in his long tail and learning as enculturation ideas, talks about a virtuous cycle between niche interest development and coming back to the "fat part" of the tail to learn that core knowledge and then students returning to their niche interests to apply it. He says a core curriculum based around critical thinking (and I would add literacy and numeracy to a point). Could Performance Assessments (I know they present many challenges for reliability, etc.) that are open ended and authentic provide some common ground between competing views on approaches to education?
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      Oct 8 2012: Yes. But again, the devil is in the details. how much of that "fat part" are we going to require and how are we going to assess it. That's the biggest question we're facing right now. Does EVERY child need EVERY thing in the curriculum? What, really, do ALL children need?
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    Oct 8 2012: I am against any strong normative statements about how schools and education should change. I think better way is to spot changes and trends already taking place and just direct it.
    Carl Jung complained about over-protectiveness of the European educational system (in a way that repressed talented students and favoured average) whereas he liked American approach that, in his opinon, focused on assisting inquisitive minds.
    With this indredible access to information, I think teachers will become imporant mentors on how to filter information and how to think analytically. Learning process will take place outside the classrooms as well and will be self-paced and individual according to the interests and abilities of children (students) - we can see that in the case of Khan Academy.
    One of my many questions regarding this topic is: What would Carl Jung of the future be like?
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      Oct 8 2012: I'm not sure Carl Jung would be happy with the current system that tests kids ad nauseum for most of their schooling years. But I agree with you that teachers will be even more important now to help students assit their inquisitive minds.
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      Oct 8 2012: Love the question. Carl Jung emphasized that our most important field of inquiry was psychology, correct? And despite his work and many other psychologists since him, we are seeing extremely high rates of addiction, personality disorders, and other mental health issues. So it would seem the Carl Jung of the future would be just like the one of the past, perhaps using slightly different language. He would emphasize relationships between healthy mentors and children, with time to be outside, grow food, and reflect.
  • Oct 8 2012: Today we face the complexity of social and economic opportunity presented by the globalization and internationalization which had huge impact on the higher education. Probably we will see more and more incompatibility in the whole education system. The reform is inevitable and irresistible.
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    Oct 8 2012: I am in the (apparently very rare) position of feeling that most of what I learned in school was, in fact, essential. It was a lot of information, but my understanding of the world today wouldn't be possible without that depth and breadth.

    I'm aware that my education was both excellent and fairly progressive, but it certainly fell squarely within traditional definitions of schooling -- what is your response to an honest opinion that that system worked for me?
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      Oct 8 2012: I'd say Great! But "worked" is relative. I had great teachers, great friends, and school "worked" for me, too. But it could have worked a lot better had I not had to study a whole bunch of stuff that was all in the service of the test and the curriculum. I've forgotten, as have most, about 80% of what I learned in high school especially because it had no real relevance to my life. What I could have done with that time... And now as a parent, I want my kids to develop as learners more than anything else.
  • Oct 8 2012: Will, taken to its logical conclusion, it makes me think that credentials at colleges and universities suffer from the same problems as you describe in schools. Many specialized programs can potentially also suffer from the skills-knowledge race Do you see that as well? Maybe, great teaching is great teaching in any environment, and post-secondary instructors also need to better model the way they network and collaborate in their field.
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      Oct 8 2012: The whole credentialing thing is getting interesting. Badges...MOOCs...etc. It's all going to change in the next 5-10 years in some pretty innovative ways, I think.
  • Oct 8 2012: My 2 cents to this very interesting discussion: see my TED talk from TEDxAmsterdamED (Education) of two weeks ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEDM3zzYN_I

    I talk about moving away from a (societal) system which is only based on achieving status, towards a new system which is built upon creating value. It's a very personal talk and was very well received. I hope you like it too!
    • Oct 8 2012: Claire, I look forward to checking it out. Every aspect of this discussion has helped me question the parts of the teaching practice we take for granted. Thanks.
  • Oct 8 2012: Giving students access to experts in various fields is a key factor to making constructivist, inquiry-based approaches successful. In reality, linking students with the outside world seems is not a possibility, unless the teacher is present and monitoring every interaction. I see the networking element of students with experts and the community at large as taking time. I am thinking grades 7-9 and realize that this might be less of a concern in high school. Do you know of any strategies of creating "walled gardens" for young teen aged children to start availing of those opportunities and assuring their parents and teachers that they are safe?
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      Oct 8 2012: Sure. Edmodo is one example. But I might be a bit more sanguine about the idea that we can teach even young kids to use and make good decisions about how to use online spaces for learning. We have a HUGE role to play in that.
      • Oct 8 2012: Great. Just set that up a couple of days ago for my classes. Good to know we may be on the right track! I know of examples of younger kids making their way on the net as well. I guess inviting experts to work with students online through Edmodo will be a possibility (and I will include that in the parent letter and forms).
    • Oct 8 2012: I'm confused. I thought the point of "constructivist, inquiry-based approaches" was that you don't need experts. Yes, you need experts (in both the subject and pedagogy) to design the activities and tools, but they don't need to be in the classroom. On the contrary, the students (with gentle prodding) become their own experts because they relate to the content without intermediaries. This works best in STEM fields, which have clearer right and wrong answers, but logical reasons why an answer is one or the other and ways to transform (debug) the wrong into the right.
      • Oct 8 2012: Max, I think some of the best potential for collaborative learning is when there is no clear right and wrong answer. Hope that helps.
  • Oct 8 2012: Will, do you see the end result of the Why School ideal looking a lot like the home education movement?
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      Oct 8 2012: No. I think schools, at least in the short term, still have a great deal of importance in communities and for families. In this time of two income earning families, the idea that even a majority of kids could homeschool seems doubtful to me. That's not to say that there won't be a lot of different constructs to what classrooms look like, however.
  • Oct 8 2012: "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed," said William Gibson in 2003. I'd like to argue that the opposite is true - we now have excellent methods of distribution, but the content itself is lacking. The first part is pretty self-evident; the internet connects people as never before.

    But do we have the best content? Hardly. Instead, in the last decade we've ridden the wave of Moore's law to excellent technology, but our understanding of human nature has been left behind. We now have the technology to do what Seymour Papert wanted to do in the late 70s, when he wrote Mindstorms, but we're not doing it. Instead, the ed-tech "innovators" focus on repackaging old pedagogy, primarily lecture. The students' chance to explore the subject matter is defeated by trying to get the right answers. What Papert suggests in his book is that right answers don't matter nearly as much as the process used to obtain them. Humans do not think they way computers operate, so why do we treat online education like a file transfer?
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      Oct 8 2012: Thanks for the comment, Max. I'm actually just re-reading Mindstorms. ;0)

      I think we have amazing content stored on the Internet, but the job now becomes ours to find it, vet it, and learn from it. We can't be waiting for someone else, schools included, to be delivering it to us. Totally agree as to the dysfunction of the current system's attempt to teach and measure only a small slice of what can be learned.
      • Oct 8 2012: One of the key benefits of traditional education institutions is that they curate and organize content. By separating wheat from chaff and putting topics in sequence, they provide a much higher quality product. It's certainly true that some of the decisions they make need to be revised, but I think that there will always need to be someone doing the job. You can't just hand a kid an internet connection and say "learn something". Even once they can determine what's incorrect, outdated, biased, irrelevant, and so on, there's no way to know what to read or do with what's left.

        This is especially problematic when there's always the possibility of another great find if you look just a little bit more, which leads to skimming many pages rather than deep reading a few. Another benefit of the traditional university: once you've paid tuition and moved to campus, you're going to focus on what they give you.
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    Aja B.

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    Oct 8 2012: Will, do you think there's enough depth and organization for the knowledge currently available online to essentially "replace" classroom curricula? Could a high school student really get as far in physics with Khan Academy/etc as they would with a year of traditional education and materials? Do you see that level of freely available knowledge as inevitable?
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      Oct 8 2012: I do think there is enough depth of information...it's our job now to make sense of it and organize it whether as individuals or networks. And I do think that if the end goal is to pass a test of discrete skills, then online resources will soon (if they can't already) make that happen. Taking physics for the sake of checking the physics box is much different from taking it because you have a need or a passion to learn it, however.
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    Oct 8 2012: Agreed with you on that. But how does these changes can be done while at the same time, teachers are still with their "traditional minds" and still cannot adept to these modern changes?
  • Oct 8 2012: Or maybe I should have asked what SHOULD either society or govt do to compensate/remediate those children whose education over last 20 yrs was a complete waste of time/failure (thereby impacting their future job opps and earning capacity.
  • Oct 8 2012: Hi. I have a question. Can I buy those ted titles? If so for how much??

    Thanks (please reply)
  • Oct 8 2012: Do you see any value in teaching mindfulness and social and emotional learning in public schools? I am an eighth grade teacher in a public school. I currently have a master's degree in contemplative education and try to incorporate these skills into my classroom
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      Oct 8 2012: Absolutely. Read Howard Rheingold's "Net Smart" for a great discussion of mindfulness in learning these days.
      • Oct 8 2012: Thank you! I am also currently working on a curriculum to teach mindfulness to teachers through classes at a community college. I am trying to spread the word that it is up to the teachers. Parker Palmer has a great line for this: "Who is the teacher that teachers?" A teacher's inner life is projected back onto the students every day in the classroom.
  • Oct 8 2012: We recently had a discussion about this in our faculty meeting. Most of the teachers were very vocal about how changes need to be made. The problem is getting started. Also, the handful that didn't participate in the discussion are the ones who don't want it to change because they are afraid or really don't want to learn how to teach in a new way (especially when they are close to retirement).
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      Oct 8 2012: I'd be interested to hear what changes they were advocating...more student ownership over learning in the context of connected technologies?
    • Oct 8 2012: Linda, yes, I can understand your frustration. The approach in our board has been to invite teachers to work togther - maybe in learning partnerships with another teacher, where thy can support and challenge each other. Doing nothing is not an option. The teaching profession demands that teachers continue developing professionally - at least that is the consensus we are coming to in our jurisdiction - Ontario. Hope that helps
    • Oct 8 2012: Linda, there will always be those close to retirement who are afraid to change, even resistant to change. There are also younger teachers who were very successful in school "the way it was" and are afraid to change. I think we tend to let the naysayers dominate the conversation with their silence. Let them join when they are comfortable but do what you can to support those ready to try now. Nothing wrong with pilot projects until the others catch the vision.
    • Oct 8 2012: The key is to invite them to tweak their lessons, small changes, which can have positive effects. It is difficult to ask teachers to make huge changes all at once. Moving toward the vision of Why School can happen gradually, based on the vignettes Will included in the book
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    Oct 8 2012: Hi Will. How would you suggest to make a reform for education - changing it from the traditional one to the modern one in less developing countries?
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      Oct 8 2012: It's a great question, Muhammad, because access is at the heart of the learning explosion. But that doesn't mean that we can't move toward a more constructivist, inquiry based experience in schools nonetheless. The emphasis can't be on content as much as it is how to live and learn in a growingly connected world. As much as teachers can model this, the better.
      • Oct 8 2012: Will, this is a great point. I have just started undertaking a social media presence in the past couple of months. As an administrator, I figure that if I am going to police my students for cyber-bullying, etc, I need to be more familiar with the social media environment. It has come in handy a couple of times so far.

        What I missed was your point in the book about how teachers need to model how they use on-line collaboration in their professional lives, so that students can learn how to do it effectively. Good point. I am already seeing many benefits of doing so, in the easy access to the thoughts of many professionals, who are grappling with the same challenges I am.
  • Oct 8 2012: People in America are receiving less schooling than people in Korea. By the time an American student reaches high school graduation, people in Korea have had a total of two years more in education. I think that is crazy. What about you?
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      Oct 8 2012: I think it depends on how you define an "education." My kids can engage in a whole host of informal educational and learning experiences that aren't counted in the traditional system. And I'm not convinced that more stuff, more content, more knowledge is better than spending more time on making and sharing and problem solving and learning about the world.
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    Aja B.

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    Oct 8 2012: Will, as I read through the WSJ description of the "one-room schoolhouse" of the future that you cited in the book, I was nodding along, thinking it made good sense, and that it's likely the direction we're headed for. But you think this is misguided... could you talk more about what you'd prefer to see in the future classroom? Would it be a similar setup, but without a traditional "curriculum", or would it look entirely different?
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      Oct 8 2012: I'm not convinced that sitting kids down in front of computers to work through a canned curriculum will do anything to help them become better learners. It might make them better test takers, but to me, that's the exact opposite of what I want classrooms to be. We need kids with adults who are getting them to go deeply into the things that interest them and develop lifelong skills and dispositions for learning in the process. That WSJ description is far from that, I think.
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    Oct 8 2012: Will, what are examples of schools or organizations that support learning that are working in your opinion?
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      Oct 8 2012: I think there are a few schools and thousands of individual classrooms that have started preparing kids for a world of abundance. Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia is probably the most oft cited school that embeds technology into an inquiry/project based learning environment that really helps kids develop the skills and dispositions they need to succeed right now.
  • Oct 8 2012: Does anyone have any thoughts?
  • Oct 8 2012: Thanks Will for your time! For those that see how education has changed and is still changing - this idea is attractive. How do help those who do not see this change taking place better understand and accept this new direction?
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      Oct 8 2012: Great question. That's why I wrote the book. ;0) I think the intellectual argument for change is compelling, but I think the emotions that go along with it are the tough part. I think we need to help teachers see these new contexts, then give them the time and support they need to see themselves as learners in these spaces first, and then support them in their transition to changing their classrooms. But it has to start with us.
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    Aja B.

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    Oct 8 2012: Hello all, we're about to get started with a live Q&A with TED Books author Will Richardson. To ask a question, simply post a comment in the above comment box and hit "Submit"!

    Will, thank you for joining us today! I loved your book, it really hit home on a number of issues I've been thinking about lately. I'm wondering if you could start us off with a brief overview of your background, and how you began writing about education?
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      Oct 8 2012: Thanks, Aja.

      I'm a former public school educator for 21 years, a parent of two teens, and a longtime blogger. That's really what started it...my blog and the kids. ;0)
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    Oct 5 2012: I don't think enough of us look at the application of theory as it relates to learning fundamentals. You can provide all of the information you want on the internet. It will never be a secure way to ensure theory is being understood along with the fundamentals that must be learned.

    Theory is defined as:
    The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another. - (Merriam Webster)

    We can read text on the internet in order to gain fundamental information about an idea or system of ideas. However, understanding the theory, or link between the internal concepts, cannot always materialize from reading. Even if we were to provide video based lectures the disconnect would still be present.

    I don't believe we should gamble with education. I do not see any real benefit to an abundance of information. You can have a lake with an abundance of fish...but can only eat so much. Humans need focus and structure in order to not only learn fundamentals but understand how concepts and ideas really relate to each other.

    Teaching a child politics online may remove any real value. This kind of teaching is cold and void of any clarification. People are left to form their own concepts, and the interaction between child and teacher is not present.

    I am not saying our current schools work correctly. I think that is the real concern here. We study the value of schools based on a horrible school system. I think that logic is seriously flawed.

    In order to increase the value of schools...we build better schools and pay our teachers more money.
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      Oct 8 2012: I think it's a gamble to not change the way we think about preparing kids to be learners. There are so many avenues to an education that didn't exist even a decade ago. We have to start looking at the who enterprise differently.
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    Oct 5 2012: Information IS everywhere and the potential for independent/free learning IS real. However, who/whom is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of this information? Expecting the public to "police" itself is not a guarantee. Also, many young people lack discipline and sporadic learning is lengthy and knowledge retention is an issue. Curriculums are another issue. They are assembled to pace the learning of a subject and to ensure completeness. Who/whom will provide this "free of charge"?

    The foundation of learning and discipline must be addressed first. I can see this "free" learning for continuing education, but not for children. The additional information out there can be used as a tool for educators and as a resource for students. Certification and validation of information learned is also difficult. You go to a formal school, complete the courses and get a diploma. Employers can rely on that diploma as evidence of competency. Otherwise, they would have to absorb the expense of testing the potential employee to prove competency. Surely there are exceptions, but it's about the majority...
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    Oct 4 2012: after a 14 years schooling .i can say something about it
    what i learn from school .maybe i can write more words .and make more friends and have a school life ,wont work like those who have not go to school . lose my ability to earn .and charge money from my parents .lose resonsibility of feedind myself .and can not really know about the society . i think after that i will be back to the beginning .and have a learn of the socienty from the verybeginning .i think i should do something
    i cant always charge from my parents i can not .i think i should so something real .and do something to clean up that.
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    Oct 4 2012: one of the principal reasons that humans have evolved to the present state is because we have been good at cooperating socially. I fear that our new batch of students are loosing their social skills. I think that it is time for SOCIAL SKILLS to become a subject mandatory in today's curriculum. Please somebody tell me that I am not the only one noticing this.
  • Oct 2 2012: Teaching as a profession will never be replaced. No matter how far our civilisation progresses technologically, teachers will always be there teaching, because the aim of students has always been to be better humans and not a better computer. There are countless intangibles that teachers bring when they teach. Passion, compassion, various attitudes essential to social excellence that are learnt through indirect channels like non-directed modelling. No matter what anyone says, the highs and lows, the faults and flaws, those numerous years spent in classrooms are a big part of who we are, our learnt identity, and no one will deny that the teacher would always be the integral part of that environment. Sure, it could have always been better, like everything in life, there are bad teachers and good teachers but ask anyone who has had a passionate teacher touch their life, and they will tell you, a world without those people will not be a world where you want to live in. Watch Dan Pink's TED talk about motivation, and you will probably associate teaching as one of those professions that don't require monetary reliance for excellence. Teachers are those kind of people who are people centred, they care for the present as much as the future. They care about learning and enjoy those moments as their reinforcement. Given the right system, these are the kind of people that will find you your solution for the new age problem of Education systems. Open source curriculum, promise them immunity from political bureaucratic nuisances, cloth them, feed them, give them the tools they require to teach but most important of all, promise them a hand at making a better future for their children, a better tomorrow tomorrow for their love ones, and you will see a billion passionate teachers rise.

    But enough emotion already, what is teaching and what is learning? If we as a society can get together and get those definitions down, then we can start reinforcing quality teaching and learning.
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      Oct 8 2012: I agree that the last two questions you ask here are vital to discuss. I think in this world of abundant connections, teaching changes. Learning becomes more self-directed, more inquiry based. Much more messy and fluid than the structures of schools can accomodate.
    • Oct 8 2012: Ronald, thank you for that! You stated it very well. Your words need to be spread to the school community...mostly parents and the public.
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    Sep 30 2012: RE: "Yet the national dialogue on education reform focuses on using technology to update the traditional education model, failing to reassess the fundamental model on which it is built."

    Is this really the case. A New York Times article profiled the schools in Mooresville, NC, where laptop computers were provided to each child. The article indicated that the teachers was able to change their interactions with the students and that there was greater peer to peer learning going on.


    Additionally they are restructuring the costs to taxpayers which will further other innovations.
    "The district’s graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Attendance is up, dropouts are down. Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student — $7,415.89 a year — but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates."
  • Sep 30 2012: School and education can adapt but the governmental forces are slow to accept these changes. Schools don't need to provide all the technological resources for students, but they can use the applications. From grading of assignments, attendance and supplemental lectures these are things that can be easily tracked. The use of internet and technology should supplement education. Colleges use this already for graded discussion boards, grades, and assignments. They also use textbook online homework systems.

    The city I live in has a problematic school system. Its cycle in and out of accreditation and gets wound up with corrupted political agendas. The problems are that the schools still use the age = grade system. The classes include the bright, the new(immigrants) and the regulars. After they pass the grade the upcoming years' curriculum might not match what they've already acquired.

    The fundamentals stay the same but how to distribute it efficiently or with the most results should change. With discussion boards and supplemental lectures can utilize the technology and lessen the burden on teachers.

    The lecture can be used in an instance where some students perform less then proficient on a test. Then those students are required to take the supplement at home/library(then retest to proficiency). This could be implemented on apps for Wii, Xbox, PS3, computers, and tablets just by a streaming video. You can use this on many subjects. Especially science, math, and english. Then you can use the classrooms for projects that build mind creativity.
  • Sep 30 2012: The application of technology is essiential to the educational system. However, changing the dynamics of the system is far more pratical for sucess of the system than application of technology in the system. We need to standarize a system to rate teachers in a unbias matter, introduce langauges to students at lower grades (possibly at elementary school), focus on sciences, social studies, and the arts, and increase collaboration by creating better incentives for social interaction. Moreover, it should take more training to be a teacher with a direct relationship to pay to comprensate the training.
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    Sep 28 2012: Traditional Education is very good at creating social environments and face to face social interactions, and that's where Online Education sucks at doing atm. Therefore I think this is exactly what traditional education needs to capitalize on.

    I think they need to put a higher emphasis on Collaboration, Team-oriented Objectives, etc. You can already learn history, math, English, etc. via Online Education just as easily, or if not, better than Traditional Education.
  • Sep 28 2012: If the World changes, shouldn"t schools change? If the World changes, do you really believe schools will change in rational and significant ways? Sounding sort of Stoic Kids are kids as Scott Arnstrong explained to us And also teachers respone according to their natures - See You Don't Understand Me by Keirsey Vol 1
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    Sep 28 2012: I think this switch from school to trade is indicative of the service sector inflation. I believe this is a scam to be honest. Why anybody would publicize a move away from education...is beyond me.

    Many argue that technology is moving us towards more content based learning environments. Instead of basing things on teachers...we would have students learn through online resources.

    I warn you...this is only an attempt to increase profits for online companies and trade schools. The diversion from formal education is not a "preferred" method by any means.

    The concepts behind a "personal" teaching approach are relevant to theory based instruction...instead of the fundamentals we would teach through online learning. We could never create a program that would be able to confront the different levels of aptitude across the globe.

    Unless of course we were just trying to train these people for lowly service sector jobs.

    Go get a degree.....pay the money and get good at your skill. I wouldn't allow these people to tell you fixing toilets is better than going to law-school.
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      Sep 28 2012: Henry, Have you called a plumber lately? An hours work can be up to $300 dollars. About the same scale as a lawyer. The big benefit is that you don't have to lie about what you father does you can proudly say he is a plumber.
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    Sep 28 2012: I agree that we have tied ourselves to the Bismark system of mid 1800's. Scott approached it well in that assessment tools are wrong ... one step further I believe that a application based assessment would better serve. We have allowed the governments, state and federal, to interfere in the educational process and hindered the professionals in their duties. This again became obvious last year by tying the students grades to the teachers evaluations. Brick and mortar schools are not the issue here. The issue is how to best present information. Technology certainly needs to be a greater part of the process but not the sole administer of the information. Schools, churches, parents, and interaction with peers are all a part of the process. Schools were designed to supply the military and industrial complexes and to some extent still are. There are more needs that are not adequately addressed. I believe that a two tier system is necessary 1) College preparatory and 2) manual trades. The concept that everyone must go to college to be successful is false. Manual trades are a necessity to develop nurses, mechanics, heavy equipment operators, wielders, carpenters, beauticians, etc .... We have arrived that only the STEM subjects have value. Are the Arts any less important? What has happened is that the US received a black eye at the international PISA exams and now have a wounded ego. Educational bureaucracies have excluded parents from the process and yet blame parents for not participating.

    Our ancestors attended one room schools with a single teacher and 50 students. They were given individual attention and the measure was to able to apply not regurgitate.

    The fox has guarded the hen house for to long. Educators and politicians have made a nest egg factory at the expense of the students and parents.

    There is no easy solution but a open forum is necessary to resolve the issue. Put the public back in schools.

    Out of space. Bob.
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    Sep 28 2012: that is a good question.
    as for me
    150000 yuan just for a certificate . and i can't think of anything else
    • Sep 29 2012: Hi Xin, opportunities to learn is everywhere if you view education more broadly. What you get from school at least partly depends on yourself. You can just drift along doing as minimal work as you can pass and get the certificate, you can also be more active and try to really understand what you are learning and relate them to your current and future life.
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        Sep 29 2012: i guess you are a chinese or someone who learns a lot about chinese culture

        what you said are all reasonable .while in fact there is something you dont learn about .in colleage i must spend the four years to get the certificate .i can not cut the time .also i can not long the time , i must go to class every day . i think it is meanless
  • Sep 27 2012: "Traditional educators, classrooms, and brick-and-mortar schools are no longer necessary to access information."
    Well, they were never needed to acess information-they were needed to provide information, the author might google that between a tweet and a world changing facebook comment if he likes...

    And as long as there is nobody who presents us a working software that "teaches" children to read and write (and this faster and with better results than average teachers of whatever kind do), i think there is no reason to see a new kingdom come...

    "Instead, things like blogs and wikis, as well as remote collaborations and an emphasis on 'critical thinking' skills are the coins ..."

    Blogs and Wikis in exchange for what? The average Wiki is horrofying when it comes to reading comfort and structure, this will sure not support people or children in their learning efforts. And blogs, well, except of the bloggers themselves nobody really reads those, with good reason...

    And if eye-to-eye collaborations are a challenge in schools, they will be even more challenging when done remote. And where is the need for remote? The children are in school, they can say hello to each other without a cam, they just need to walk some steps! If "remote" just means to seperate the children physically, why should this be a progress?

    An interesting question would be in my opinion why there is so much time spent in school (if traditional or fancy cyberschool does not matter) and so much information provided, when over 90% of what is taught and learned is forgotten within 10 years after school ends. Nobody needs the information, otherwise it would stay present, like reading and writing does et cetera...

    We do not need to think about how to teach, we should think about what to teach and why!
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    Aja B.

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    Sep 27 2012: This is such a fascinating topic, looking forward to reading and discussing the book with you all!