Collaborative innovation, technology and sustainable ecology in educational reform
Educational reform has been at the forefront of pedagogical discourse for decades. Some believe that the primary aim in educational reform for sustaining our future should be “creative destruction”, consciously obliterating the systems and processes that we have come to accept, to make way for a more inventive curriculum in which students re-evaluate their perception of the world and the extent of the role they can take in shaping it.
The concept of creative destruction is inspired and personified by the thought of Sir Ken Robinson – advisor to government on arts education. It stands in stark contrast to the views of our former education secretary Michael Gove whose beliefs could be conversely termed as "destructively creative".
Aside from parental influence, much of our early foundational understanding of our position in society is rooted in education. This system, designed for us and supposedly in our interest, is an enormous influence on what we consider to be meaningful and valuable in our lives. Under scrutiny, it becomes apparent that outdated ideals are still haunting modern day learning. Many schools still favour a counter intuitive rigidity and structure which prepares young minds for an age and social construct that no longer exists. It could be argued that this leaves a lasting and damaging legacy for each individual, collectively affecting us all. There has been a growing call for a complete overhaul of the experiences we provide young people with, and what this leads them to believe their futures might consist of. Many school age pupils cannot recognise their own value, and never go on to achieve their potential for the benefit of society and ecology at large, as they are not being provided with the freedom and flexibility to explore their own talents.
The 21st Century demands an inclusive focus on skills which utilises all learning styles and intelligences, through collaboration, social interaction, problem solving and life-long learning. These are relevant and creative learning approaches which harnesses each individuals uniqueness, and we must provide children with opportunities to intellectual challenges, which allow them to fully explore these aspects of the self. In doing so, we would be preparing them to independently tackle larger complex issues important to us all, in their professional lives such as globalisation, climate change, fuel provision and biodiversity.
Ken Robinson (2013) states that we all are born with the capacity to generate creative solutions with value. He goes on to say that as children, one of our greatest talents is our ability to think laterally. This will be a vital thinking skill if young people are to participate fully in sustaining global ecology. Deakin University’s Dr Anne Grant, (2013) explains that in schools today too many young people suppress their talents or became disengaged because they are told to think and behave in a certain way. She goes on to say that as a direct result the child gets frustrated and their behaviour suffers. This story is common and indicative of wasted potential, caused by the delivery of a one size fits all model of mass education, set up in the interests and the image of the industrial revolution, where the focus is efficiency and a disregard for the qualities of the individual.
This traditional format places emphasis on graded assessment, over-structured tasks, and often, boring, irrelevant content which lacks engaging context and delivery. These issues have long been noted and highlighted by educational researchers, initiatives such as PLTS, ILPs, SMART targets and assessment FOR learning have been fed into schools and colleges in a vain attempt to rectify this apparent conflict without true impact. These initiatives support an approach which the model is unable to accommodate.
Ken Robinson (2013) believes that because of this, we are actually educating people out of their creative abilities. He notes a longitudinal study that was carried out, where children were tested for their capacity for divergent thinking, A trend emerged. As children aged and became more “educated” their scores diminished, Our schools are seemingly killing the creativity of our young people and this may worryingly prevent them from becoming valuable and productive in a fast paced 21st century society. Speak to any teacher who has been practicing for over 15 years and they will tell you that our education system evolves and revolves cyclically. It is ever shuffling the emphasis and it sits uncomfortably, never settling. New initiatives which are theoretically promising never seem to work as we continue to maintain a centralised structure of routine and insist on firefighting issues with “bolt on” improvements rather than considering a complete overhaul.
Our schools are like factories, such batch production education methods are rife with contextual awkwardness, which no longer produce anything of quality. This will continue to worsen as the approach becomes ever more obsolete. Such negligence and failure to innovate is a prime example of destructive creativity. Is “creative destruction” the answer? Will a complete overhaul turn the situation around? Perhaps we need to start from scratch and think deeply about our offer, its relevance to today and its value for tomorrow.
To cope with our changing future, education needs to reassess its sense of linearity and embrace a deliberate empirical approach advocating flexibility and ambiguity. It needs to stop trying to judge, measure, control and label everything. Instead we should embrace methods which heighten students curiosity and help sustain their childlike sense of exploration and creativity, in order to harness their potential to problem solve and tackle worthwhile tasks independently. Robinson believes that creativity now, is as important in education as literacy, and that we should treat it with the same status.
Contrast this approach with that of former education secretary Michael Gove, who wanted to see schools push more generic classical knowledge, and further standardised assessment with less emphasis on an individual’s personal development. He was symptomatic of further destructive creativity, believing that if we all adapted to follow the established and familiar pattern, then we could all be successful. This arguably contrived view disregards ranging contexts and individual aspiration. Adam Tomes (2012) who writes for revolutionary socialist group “Counterfire” said at the time: “The effect of Gove's new system is to narrow our children's education and make it less relevant to the world they live in and need to understand, leaving no space for learning in the widest sense,”
The idea of a return to verbal lectures centred on abstract thought is an archaic ideal that is unnatural and unattractive to many young people today. Had this been implemented, the majority would have been unable to resist distraction. Ken Robinson (2013) affirms that young people are living in the most intensely stimulating time in the history of the earth, yet we are medicating, penalising and labelling them as having disorders such as ADHD because their attention is diverted from the irrelevant and “boring stuff” that we deliver. Focusing on one method of delivery suited best to an auditory learner, as Gove suggested, is far removed from the multimedia platforms that children are familiar with now. It only delivers meaningful content to a small number of participants, making such method of educating ineffective and exclusive. Government must plan for and deliver services thoughtfully, resourcefully and flexibly, so that we, as individuals, can remain diverse, sustain growth and survive challenges by engaging with creative approaches to collective progress. A contemporary curriculum calls for more widespread use of multimedia and technology in provision, making delivery appealing, accessible and aesthetically engaging. This could deliver a truly intelligent experience, flexible and individualised, adapted easily for a broad range of learning preferences.
There has never been greater opportunity to implement personalised and relevant learning than there is today with the development of accessible learning technologies in VLEs. Such digital platforms present a familiar mode of operation for young people which is directly relevant to how they will need to communicate in the future. The range of apps that can be embedded can appeal to broad interests and “ways of doing”, and students have the opportunity to explore at their own pace when supported by remote tutorials and formative online feedback. A new curriculum could harness this technology as a central, versatile system for delivery of work set, to exercise a contextualised and meaningful problem solving approach. Collaborative working could exist between learning groups by embedding social media, and schools and colleges could better use their physical working space for flipped learning experiences that apply the knowledge gained and skills practised online. Economically this would work to the institutions advantage as they would free up the constant occupation of vital assets (their property and capital equipment) so that it might be used more broadly and efficiently. It would also mean that employees could work more effectively as facilitators, utilising their specialist approaches as consultants to a wider range of individuals through a collaborative, collectively shared experience at prearranged times.
Today our collective vision for education is broader, our nation is more complex and diverse, and our technical capabilities are more powerful. But we continue to assume the factory-model classroom and its rigid bell schedules and age-based grade levels when we talk about school reform. Our focus for sustainable ecology should primarily be to take advantage of what technology can do to revolutionise and assist education to harness individual potential, Used creatively, and designed without restriction in the spirit of revolution, it could facilitate collaborative innovation for the benefit of all our futures.
Creative destruction – Remodelling the school structure and system from scratch. The radical idea of complete change in how we conceive, plan, implement and manage delivery of creative learning experiences to the benefit of all with the goal of sustainable ecology.
Destructive creativity: The production of new educational initiatives and theoretical shifts which are added onto poorly designed systems and threaten our ecosystems
Creativity: The ability to think laterally and generate innovative solutions to problems
Sustainability: to continue to remain diverse and productive over time
Ecology: the study of organisms in relation to one another
PLTS: personal learning and thinking skills
Ecosystems: a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment (referring here to humans and how their educational experiences affect their operational potential in the world)
Flip learning: a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing.
VLEs: Virtual learning environments such as “Moodle” or “Blackboard”
ILP: Individualised learning plans
SMART targets: aims which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based.
Assessment FOR learning: Where the teacher and student work together to assess the student’s knowledge, what she or he needs to learn to improve and extend this knowledge, and how the student can best get to that point (formative assessment)
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