Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon
This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund, edited by Ann Lathrop, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.
All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. A number of the newsletters are available in Spanish on the AGATE website mentioned above.
My most recent free book, published in May 2021, The Future of AI in Our Schools, was published last month. This short 75-page book is available free online at https://moursundagatefoundation.org/2021/05/the-future-of-ai-in-our-schools/_in_Our_Schools. In my personal opinion, this is the most important and best book I have ever written. Please share the book with others you think might enjoy it.
Moursund’s Current Health
In my recent newsletters, I have included brief reports on my ongoing “bout” with lung cancer. At the current time, medical science considers my type of lung cancer to be incurable. However, significant progress is occurring in extending the length and quality of life of cancer patients, and I remain very optimistic. I have competed ten days of radiation and my first round of chemo and immuno therapy, with three more such rounds to occur in the next two months. The treatment is tolerable, but certainly not fun! I am continuing to enjoy life, my work, my play, my interactions with a large number of family members and friends, and especially the pleasure of hearing from my former students about all they have been accomplishing with their own lives. Schooling, Lifelong Learning, and Quality of Life
I have focused most of my professional career on the importance of making effective use of new technologies to improve precollege schooling. During my career, the changes that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) were bringing to our world have been far outstripping the adjustments our schools were making to prepare children for adult life in this rapidly changing world. This situation continues—indeed, the need to implement technological improvements in our schools becomes ever more important as the pace of technological progress continues to accelerate.
In recent years, I have added two general topics to my areas of enquiry and writing. I have written a number of articles that focus on our Quality of Life (QoL). I also have begun to think about lifelong learning versus just thinking about schooling. This IAE Newsletter focusses on these two topics.
Today’s humans are the result of about seven million yeas of evolution starting from the great apes. A typical child born today has the physical and cognitive abilities to learn to communicate in oral languages—indeed, to become multilingual. This child can learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. No other creatures on earth have such capabilities.
Schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic were first established a mere 5,400 or so years ago. Initially, few children attended schools and gained these basic skills. Possession of such knowledge and skills was not a significant factor in determining the QoL of children and adults in those days.
However, reading, writing, and arithmetic were world changers. Over many centuries the governments of the various nations have come to realize that having school-educated citizenry was beneficial to the country. Thus, over 5,400 years we have moved from schooling for a very few of the elite to free, required six years to twelve years of schooling (depending on the country) for most children.
In most of today’s world, a lack of such knowledge and skills tends to significantly decrease a person’s QoL. Now, about 90% of today’s children are growing up in parts of the world in which a number of years of free schooling are provided (typically, required) for all children. During my lifetime, the grades 1-12 schools in the United States have expanded to include kindergarten, and some are now moving toward providing pre-K starting at about four years of age. In addition, there is a movement toward providing two free years of post-high school “community” college or technical training.
It is relatively easy for a country to measure its educational success quantitively in terms of the number of students reached and their years of formal schooling. However, here are six important observations:
- The success (effectiveness) of this “formal schooling” approach to education varies widely from student to student. While schools understand that one size does not fit all, they typically lack the resources to meet the widely varying needs of individual students. Moreover, our methodology for measuring levels of success is not very good. For example, there seems to me to be a huge over emphasis on preparing high school students to be “college ready” (which is not particularly well defined). Moreover, there is far more to schooling than just becoming college ready. There are many post-high school education, non-college training opportunities. In addition, in many states there is a huge emphasis on preparing students to score well on a required state-level exam. Many teachers teach to this test, and students are given a substantial amount of instruction on how to score well on this type of test. (Hmm. Do you believe that it should be an important goal of schooling to help students become good at taking such tests?)
- Lifelong learning begins before birth and continues until a person dies. Lifelong learning is far more than just schooling. It is highly dependent on parenting, quality of life of one’s parents and guardians, where one grows up and lives, and so on. The success of such lifelong learning depends on many different factors and is difficult to quantify. For example, being the victim of racial prejudice can be strong factor in one’s lifelong learning and QoL. Growing up in extreme poverty has a major impact on one’s cognitive capabilities, and this handicap can be passed on genetically to one’s progeny.
- Formal schooling and a lifetime of learning are important factors in QoL, but there are many other very important factors. Such a list typically includes food, clothing, shelter, health care, equal treatment under the law, protection from physical and mental abuse by others, and access to accurate, comprehensive broadcast and print news. Other important aspects include having friends, supportive neighbors, leisure time, and some discretionary spending money. In many parts of the world one can now make a good argument that having (affording) a smart phone, as well as both phone and Web connectivity, can now be considered to be an inalienable right of all people (starting at some not-yet-agreed-upon age).
- As noted above, not all students will attend college. High school classes focusing on developing the skills and training necessary for success in a wide variety of occupations and in various trades can be useful to many students. Nowadays, these need to include an emphasis on the development of technological skills required in many different occupations. On-the-job professional-level training and apprenticeships have proven quite successful in preparing many high school graduates as well as some dropouts for rewarding and fruitful careers. Participants in such programs appreciate that their learning efforts are being directed toward becoming prepared for jobs that require considerable knowledge and skills different from those that students traditionally have been expected to learn in high school.
- In our current world, people routinely work together with both non-computerized tools and machines as well as with artificially-intelligent computerized tools and machines to help to solve problems and accomplish tasks. This is not a new idea. I recently listened to a short 1964 talk given by Arthur C. Clark, a well know science fiction author (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wC3E2qTCIY8). Also see a long interview of Clark that occurred in 1968 https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zNJbUYD-pfo). His 1964 talk predicted changes in both the nature of jobs and in the idea of going to a work place (as contrasted with working from home or where ever one might be) due to ongoing progress in telecommunication and AI.
- We live during a time when highly interactive computerized games designed to bring instant gratification are both ubiquitous and are being continually improved. A somewhat similar comment applies to other forms of entertainment. In essence, such games and entertainment can be considered as major competitors of traditional schooling and other ways in which children used to spend their time.
Efforts to improve schooling have been ongoing during the past century and longer. A recent book by Tom Loveless, Between the State and the Schoolhouse: Understanding the Failure of Common Core, explores Common Core, a current major movement designed to improve schooling in the United State (Lovelace, 2021, link):
Tom Loveless has written the definitive work on why federally mandated efforts to reform curriculum and instruction fail. He understands that any successful change must engage those who are expected to make the change happen: teachers. His book should be widely read to dispel the federal obsession of the past forty years with standards, accountability, and testing as levers of change. — Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Error and Slaying Goliath.
Quoting from an August 4, 2021, interview of Tom Lovelace (https://www.yahoo.com/now/researcher-tom-loveless-common-core-190100941.html):
But a decade after they [Common Core standards] were first adopted by states, little evidence exists to show that teaching or learning was significantly improved by the vast resources poured into implementing the standards. At least one study has found students in states that were early adopters of Common Core scored slightly lower on both the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s reading and math portions. If the point of spending billions of dollars to establish the mammoth set of new learning guidelines was to make sure kids became “college- and career-ready” (to use a term that was ubiquitous around 2013), not much progress seems to have been made toward that goal. [Bold add for emphasis.]Final Remarks
My conversations with school-age children in recent weeks suggest that many such students consider much of their current schooling to be some combination of boring and irrelevant. That is, many students in the mid-teens who are quite capable of learning content being taught in the schools actually put minimal effort into doing so. They “get by” and are satisfied with this approach to school.
You have heard the expression, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Many individual teachers and schools now are attempting to address this issue. They have varying levels of success. For example, some success has been reported on the use of immersive highly interactive games/simulations. My recent Google search identified a number of different research projects in this area.
Quoting from my most recent free book, The Future of AI in Our Schools.
The issue is not whether computers can be used effectively to help teach students. Rather, the question is about the quality of teaching, and the overall nature of learning that occurs in computer-student interactions versus human teacher-student interactions, interactions between and among students in the classroom, student-parent interactions, and so on. It appears obvious to me that, both now and for quite some time to come, education can be improved by an appropriate balance among these types of interactions. It would be a major mistake to greatly decrease the human elements that are of major importance in education today.
ICT has made amazing progress during my lifetime, and this pace continues to increase ever more rapidly. Our schooling systems certainly have made substantial progress since the first schools were developed nearly 5,500 years ago. They now are attempting to determine the changes needed in curriculum content, teaching processes, and assessment in order to make more effective use of steadily improving ICT. At the same time, schools need to help prepare students for adult life in this changing world. These are daunting tasks!
It seems clear to me that schools eventually will thoroughly integrate the capabilities of human teachers and the capabilities of AI-based computer-assisted learning systems as they work to help prepare students for responsible, productive adulthood in an increasingly computerized world. Sadly, it also seems to me that, at their current rate of progress in this endeavor, schools are falling further behind!Author
David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner). He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles.