Entrepreneurial Education – can we afford not to take the risk?

We have recently been debating the changing nature of the education landscape and what it means both for us as educators and for our students.  The latest buzzphrase to assail us is ‘entrepreneurial education’.  Unfortunately, I think that for many people the term comes with some negative baggage.  As educators I suspect most of us do not think of ourselves as entrepreneurs and would not necessarily wish to focus our teaching on trying to making entrepreneurs of our students.

However, on reflection I think that this is misleading.  As can often occur when a difficult and complex concept is rendered down to a soundbite,  the true meaning is often obscured.  I believe that the principles inherent in entrepreneurial learning are ones that we as educators in the 21st century will ignore at our peril.  I have tried to capture some of my thinking and describe some of the ways that we are trying to incorporate entrepreneurial ideas into our delivery and assessment in this working paper which I would love to have some feedback on!  Have you tried anything similar? Have you taken risks?  Or, if not, what obstacles were in the way?

I am also wondering if there is a better name for this approach – agile education seems more appropriate to me (Agile Education for Agile Minds! I even have the marketing slogan!!!).  Do you have any ideas? I would love to know!

Context, construction and community – the changing topography of education

For the last couple of years I have been trying to find patterns in and make sense out of the  rapidly changing landscape of tertiary education.  Without choosing any specific pathway I have been following threads of conversations and ideas back to their (often) blog sources, been introduced to various aspects of education theory that had previously escaped me, been amazed, intrigued and sometimes bewildered by the options provided by new technology and enjoyed the very vigorous debate along the way.

The original impetus for this journey had been the SLENZ project (2008-2010) which had funded us to explore and experiment with the use of a multi-user virtual environment (Second Life) for tertiary education.  The project had many successes and had left me with a very clear vision of the enormous potential these kinds of spaces had for changing the way in which people learned. My initial purpose was to indulge my own delight in innovative technological applications and to see how I could use them in my own teaching practice. Frustrated by the  constraints of Learning Management Systems with their focus more on educational administration and control than excellent learning experiences, I experimented with driving my face-to-face teaching from class blogs and using various cloud based tools, particularly Google docs, as interactive class whiteboards and participated in two MOOCs, Pedagogy First and Designing a New Learning Environment.

Since 2010, the possibilities for technology to disrupt the traditional model of education have increased at a rate which is overwhelming to me and no doubt alarming to a very large number of educators.  Flipped classrooms, education in virtual worlds, MOOCs (xMOOCs and cMOOCs), PLNs (personal learning networks), e-Portfolios, connectivism, gamification, OER (open education resources) and a plethora of new educational tools are all making it very difficult to see the forest for the trees.  I have found it much too easy to become entranced by one intriguing branch! Over the last few days, prompted by an invitation to attend a brainstorming session on moving our institute towards a ‘future learning space’, I have been attempting to stand back a little and identify some of the patterns that I see.

I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t just the landscape of education that is changing, it is the entire topography.  We may rearrange the deck-chairs to better catch the sun but the land on which we sit is itself shifting, cracking and reforming. Unless we stand up and engage with some very fast and fancy footwork, the pleasant landscape will shortly become unrecognisable as the sun disappears behind turbulent storm clouds.

I have categorised the fundamental changes that I believe are taking place as the three C’s

  • Context not content
  • Construction of knowledge
  • Community.

I have written before on the notion of context and I have beoming increasingly convinced this is correct.  While there is always some factual knowledge that is important to memorise (for convenience if nothing else), our almost immediate access to a global resource of knowledge makes much fact retention redundant.  How we find the relevant knowledge, how we judge and evaluate it, how we relate the context of the found knowledge to the context in which we use it, and how we do all that efficiently and competently is much more important.

How we construct new knowledge is also changing.  The trial and error approach of practical application has long been recognised as a successful learning mechanism as has the more structured and guided approach to task completion by following a set of steps. In an educational context however, both of these have generally been teacher led or instigated.  The concept of challenging students to find their own solutions and create their own new knowledge with little direction seems risky and failure prone.  Yet the need to create knowledge, either new, or new to the individual, is now recognised in the value placed on life-long learning and is an essential component of it.

There is a growing recognition that learning is a social activity – that we learn best, not in isolation, but in learning with and from others.  Collaboration and cooperation,  acting within a team, connecting with others for mutual learning are all part of builidng this life-long learning community.

Coming to grips with these changes is not about how to use tech in the classroom or even how to design online courses – it is about understanding that technology is bringing about a fundamental shift in the way we learn and in the way we construct and use knowledge.  This understanding has to transform how we teach and even more importantly how we assess and reward the learning.  We have to reassess what we value as educators and how we can assess that.  There is little to be gained by changing how we provide learning experiences for students if we continue to reward memorisation and individual achievment.  We need to re-consider and re-design our assessment practices and reward systems just as thoroughly as we do our teaching and I will be writing more on this topic in a later post!.


A Journey of Knowing

Three weeks ago I joined the Designing a New Learning Community (DNLE) course from Stanford University.  This post is a reflection on some of the learning about myself and my philosphy of education that has been the result.


Yes. I admit it. I have been procrastinating.  Following in the well-trodden footsteps of so many students before me I have left writing my ‘assignment’ until the last possible day.  I can claim that I have been mulling over ideas, that other more important things have taken over my time but if I am really honest – I have been procrastinating!  What interests me most about this is, why?

My reflections on this question have proven to be very illuminating.  First of all I was somewhat bemused and then alienated by the concept of having to ‘write’ an assignment for some kind of credit.  I didn’t enrol in this course to gain academic credit, to pass a course or to gain a virtual piece of paper from Stanford.  I enrolled in the course in order to be surrounded by exciting open intelligent debate on the one thing we all seem passionate about – education for the 21st century.  I didn’t expect to be met with expectations of closed participation that appeared to come from the very model that we are seeking to overturn or at least severely modify.

I was also negative about the focus on writing about ‘technology’ – despite having worked and taught in the IT area for 27 years I am not really interested in the technology. Starting with COBOL on IBM mainframes in the 1980’s through the birth of the web to teaching a university class in Second Life, I have always been an early adopter of new technologies that appeared interesting and challenging.

So I reflected and I challenged myself to address these reasons for procrastinating.  Why was I opposed to writing a closed assignment? Why did I take a deep sigh at the prospect of having to write 500-800 words about technology?  In doing so I took out and inspected my deep beliefs about education, about technology and about what motivates me..

Instinctively, intuitively I have always adopted a constructivist pedagogy whether it was teaching history to 11 year olds in the early 1970’s,  virtual worlds to adults in 2012, or how to find meaningful patterns in language to my grandson.  Before I had the intellectual understanding of different pedagogies, I somehow understood that in order for others to learn I had to facilitate their understanding – to show them what they already knew and encourage them to put this knowledge together into new shapes, new perspectives and to make new connections with new information. To meld all of that into an understanding that just became a natural part of their ‘knowing’.

Let me illustrate that with two examples of what I think of as ‘learning moments’.

In one of my earliest teaching positions I found myself teaching about the Domesday Book of 1186.  As a historian I fully understood the importance of this, I had the ‘facts’ in my class notes but why should a class of 11 year olds  in 1977 have any interest in something constructed over 800 years before? I had no idea! Quite by accident at the beginning of the first session I used the phrase ‘second class citizens’ to describe the conquered Saxons. One girl asked me what a second class citizen was, I mention Steve Biko, then currently in the news, we talked about apartheid in South Africa and the rest as they say is history!

A few months ago I was reading Arm in Arm with my 7 year old grandson.  We giggle at the picture of the the eight legged cat – the octopuss – and make the connection to the two octopi of the title and the 16 repetitions of ‘arm in arm’.  The connection with the number eight is obvious.  I asked him if he could think of any other words that began with ‘octo’ – he thought hard and came up with octogon and october.  I temporarily ignored october but we talked about an 8 sided shape, octogon.  Independantly he made the connection – “so ‘octo’ means 8?”, “Well yes in Latin” – “so does October mean eight months……?” a slight discursion into the naming of months followed.  “Are there other words like that?” We try “bi” and “tri”…….”so why are there Latin words? We speak English!” – well that’s a story for another night!

Both of these illustrate, for me, the power of constructivism.  This to me is what education is. It is not the process by which knowledge is provided to others who must then remember it, it is developing, supporting and encouraging the practice of ‘knowing’.  To create successful life-long learners, we have to teach them how to ‘know’ and provide them with plenty of practice – not serve up plates full of knowledge which they are then expected to consume and digest.  Education for me is not about ‘having knowledge’ it is about ‘learning to know’.

For me, this has always been the true function of education but over the last two hundred years or so it has been usurped by the needs of an industrialising society which has needed to ensure that its workforce had a minimum set of skills with which to operate as productive units in the new economic paradigm – the so-called factory model of schooling which Ken Robinson describes so well.   Although referred to as education, for a large majority of the newly schooled it was not really about ‘learning to know’ but gaining skills – what we might now call training.

The needs have now changed, our society and our economy now need workers who can think, who can problem solve, innovate, learn, and adapt to ever changing perspectives of what is possible.  To provide this, education has to re-find its origins and provide a limitless number of learning moments that create the confidence and the ability for people to ‘learn to know’.  Providing these moments in a way which is personalised and individual is both a logisitical and a political problem.  Training is much more economically efficient than education – one lecture hall with 1 lecturer and 300+ students or a classroom with 1 teacher and 40 eight year olds is significantly cheaper than the much smaller staff:student ratios that effective personalised education requires.

Here is where my interest in technology lies – not in the technology per se but in the opportunities it enables to create personalised learning moments that can allow a student to examine their existing understandings, reconnect them in different patterns or explore the patterns to discover new meanings and make new connections to newly discovered information.  That is exactly the process that I have been through in my procrastination! Facing the challenge of understanding my reluctance to engage with the ‘assignment’ has forced me to articulate and better understand my own beliefs.  It has taken me on a journey of knowing.

Content or Context

 I recently came across a suggestion that in 21st century education, context rather than content was king (if anyone can point me at the reference i would be so grateful!). It resonated with me then and I have been struggling to give some coherent form to my ideas ever since.

*Update – the reference was from a presentation that Steve Wheeler gave in March 2012 – The slide show is here and is well worth a look.

I have just signed up for the Designing New Learning Environments MOOC from Stanford (along with three of my colleagues) and have enjoyed reading some of the great posts that are already there.  I came across one from Sam Basu  where he mentioned that perhaps the three essential elements of an educational ecosystem were Content, Connectivity and Device. This was my reply in part –

“I wonder if there is a fourth area in the educational ecosystem – context. By this I mean both the context for the learning and also the context for the content. The concept of context (rather than content) being one of the essential components of an educational environment is a fairly new one to me and I am struggling to present it coherently – but I am trying to suggest that the contexts we place both the content and the learning experiences in, are often overlooked but are fundamental to creating a thriving ecosystem. The content itself may well change (and does with increasing speed – in my area of ICT at least) but the context in which the content is discovered, synthesised, evaluated – engaged with – and the context in which the content exists may have greater longevity and equal importance.”

This is going to be an important topic for me I think as I struggle to define what I mean by context, it partly relates to the pedagogy and design of authentic learning experiences but it also relates to the context in which the content is discovered – (a crude example would be an academic article or an advertisement).

As T.S.Eliot wrote in The Rock “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?. Finding both the knowledge and the wisdom seems to me to be one of the fundamental challenges for 21st century educators. I would love to hear other people’s ideas as I struggle to define what I mean 🙂

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