Andy Polaine set the scene with the importance of collaborative design and creativity in this new age, and now turns his attention to how education can innovate in a future we cannot determine.
'Slime mould and suburbs'
There are lots of small things being developed independently on the web that are becoming one, much in the same way as slime moulds form - one cell links to another until you get that yellowy fibrous material you find in rotten logs. It's the way small villages and towns become part of cities.
This changing, metamorphising of the web we thought we knew is so much like these slime moulds that it's almost impossible to track and follow until you see the final fibrous mould and wonder: "How did that get there?". So how can education change when the mould appears so slowly?
Process vs Knowledge
One way, that reflects how designers have worked for years, is the emerging importance placed on process instead of knowledge. Knowing how to do something is actually less beneficial than actually doing it. Listening to a seminar on how to podcast, for example, is less beneficial than doing a series of radio shows on a local environmental issue.
Funding: the fossil fuel of education
Funding is never going to be enough in education. It's effectively a toxic fuel that creates short-term benefits easily but leaves unsustainability in its wake. Great efficiencies are not what is required to resolve this, but rather greater effectiveness. The Victorian Industrial Revolution way of doing things doesn't work. If I have an idea in the shower to whom does it belong; if I make professional connections in Facebook but I'm only allowed to use it during breaks (as the national trade union stated today) then am I not working for free? The boundaries have changed. People graze for knowledge, they don't clock in for it. Life, work and play are converging like they never have done before. It's a mix of work ethic and play ethic.
But for education leaders to count on this convergence as their sole research and development, professional development or employee improvement is not sustainable either - less and less money for more and more grazing?
Expertise by portfolio or degree?
Likewise, if this grazing has not been 'credentialised' then, under the old regime, it's not been seen as having worth. Would you rather spend four years increasing your knowledge and capacity by reading 800 blogs a day for free or by spending $50,000 for an MBA?
Increasingly, though, this unpaid unofficial expertise and capacity is turning the investment in an MBA sour; portofolios, not further degrees, are what give you the edge. Just ask Jonathan Harris. Does formal education recognise and support this? In education circles is a blog seen as being as valuable as a certificate? That's a challenge to resolve, a truth to be acknowledged at the very least.
Portfolios' little cousin, Learning Logs, are currently mostly done on paper, if at all, are rarely read or shared by and with the teacher, almost never read by fellow students. Maybe an online alternative is the only feasible way of not only making learning logs more manageable, but also making them of more worth.
Harnessing 'grazed' portfolio expertise
So even if you have educators who understand the potential of the portfolio, and students who also engage in this online grazing and gathering of information and continuous collaboration to analyse or discuss it, how can you know about it and how can the education institution take advantage of it?
Tom Coates' outline of what makes a successful social network provide some worthwhile ethical pointers for any education institution thinking of using blogs, wikis or social networks to harness the expertise being grazed and published in online portfolios:
How you can use social software to build aggregate value… in a nutshell:
- An individual should get value from their contribution
- These contributions should provide value to their peers as well
- The organization that hosts the service should derive aggregate value and be able to expose that back to the users.
What would an education institution look like that works on this basis? What would happen if there were no departments or even no funding in the institution? What would a sustainable, open source, sharing, nurturing and mentoring institution look like? How can education institutions keep themselves relevant?
Well, I think I know one place that's getting there, not-so-slowly and very surely: an online social space where people can share what they've done, see what others have done and create collaborative projects with that information; open source leadership that encourages and empowers unpromoted staff to have an active distributed role in decision-making, rather than cutting managers and expecting the remainder to do more; collaborative projects for designing new curricula and bringing colleagues up to speed.
I'm sure there are others.
I'm hoping there will be more.