Thursday, November 13, 2008

Worried, Innovative, and Changing

The stakes for education are high, and the pressure is on. Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, is a stark admonition to educators to ready our students for a time where science, politics, and demographics converge as never before. The metamessage is not difficult to divine. It’s summed up in one of the book’s best quotes: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” However, change is not easily accomplished in the hallowed halls of education tradition. It is because of this standard resistance to change that some authors are asking if higher education may be the next bloated industry to go—much like the housing and banking industries. The link to Arthur Levine’s Higher Education in the Age of Obama in particular is a must read.

These worries notwithstanding, it is still an amazing time to be in education. Education has never been as central to economic prosperity as it is today, which means it is viewed less and less as a luxury and more and more as a necessity. Moreover, just think of the tools we have today! We’ve talked about many of these here, from YouTube to Gaming to Social Networking to Open Courseware to Mobile Devices and a ready army of student assistants in Generation We ready to take it to the next level.

While I take pause because of the challenges, I remain excited and heartened by the innovation, inspiration, and insight drawn from the field. And here’s some more. Check out this virtual resource from Google on ancient Rome:

The teacher who sent this my way was almost giddy when talking about how she planned to use this with her class.

Now check out this gaming simulation for medical education put together by George Washington University:

There is so much excitement about their effort they have been hard-pressed to handle the flood of requests to either leverage or model their work.

In short, while there are great concerns about the road ahead in education, there is great excitement as well. The challenge will be to catalyze positive change in educational institutions and systems in thoughtful and substantive ways. If we’ve learned anything from the banking and housing failures, it’s that advocating sloppy deregulation and taking dangerous risks with our nation's mission critical systems might not make the most sense going forward. However, I fully agree that “if we want things to stay as they are” (America serving as a model of high-quality, dynamic education), “things will have to change.”

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