The Book with a Hundred Authors: Technology’s New Place in Education

October 29, 2012

Valerie Harris

The “book with a hundred authors” was reviewed in a earlier LWD post. It is just one manifestation of how technology is reshaping the way that creativity and education are processed by students

While many parents may find themselves wishing that interactive gaming, Facebook, and smartphones had never been invented, these and other technologies can have beneficial effects on classroom learning and lifetime education.

Students today are encountering Internet-based technologies in school in ways unimaginable even five years ago. On the whole, education policy makers and teachers alike have generally been impressed by the ways in which computers can enhance student learning in most disciplines.

Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students

The United States Department of Education said in a report titled Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students:

“Technology use allows many more students to be actively thinking about information, making choices, and executing skills than is typical in teacher-led lessons. Moreover, when technology is used as a tool to support students in performing authentic tasks, the students are in the position of defining their goals, making design decisions, and evaluating their progress”

Such learning is often interactive. While computer programs and learning models are no substitute for careful lesson plans and curricula, they can work together quite powerfully.

iPads in the classroom

The growing use of iPads in the classroom is one example. High School English students are able to read novels on their devices, then add comments and chat with their classmates about major themes and plot developments in real time — often outside of school hours.

Older students have also proved the worth of an iPad for to foreign language instruction. The wealth of language resources available through specialized apps and mobile-enhanced programs has made it easier than ever to interact with and learn from native speakers.

Even primary school children as young as kindergarten are benefiting from this form of interactive technology. According to a 2012 Time magazine special report, students with early exposure to classroom iPad use have an increased rate of literacy and better mathematical abilities by the time they reach the third grade than peers in more “traditional” classrooms.

App development

App developers have been quick to follow this trend, creating a range of education-driven programs to appeal to teachers and parents both. In fully wired classrooms, teachers can give students space to explore new subjects or areas on their own, but all while monitoring their progress. For Math activities a teacher can direct all students to complete a basic task through an app on their tablet computers, then remotely track students’ progress through a calibrated “master” screen. This gives the teacher the opportunity to spend more time with those who are struggling, while offering more challenging problems to those who need something harder—all without sacrificing time in class, or “dumbing things down” for the benefit of the whole.

Technology is also making several ground breaking changes to delivery and assessment of education including:

• International connections and links between virtual classrooms. Rural students are often able to leverage video technology to stream lessons. Places where it is difficult to find and attract quality teachers—remote villages in Africa, for instance, or war-torn parts of Southeast Asia—often benefit the most from these sorts of arrangements.
• The ability to take standardized tests on computer. Graduate school exams like the GRE and the GMAT are increasingly being offered as computer-adaptive tests. Mainstream exams like the SAT and grade level exams may soon follow. Adaptive tests serve questions based on real-time student performance, and are usually able to give at least an unofficial score immediately on completion.

The integration of technology with classroom learning is already showing great promise for future developments.

Background

Valerie writes for Masters Degree On Line, which discusses graduate-level online education for prospective students. The book with a hundred authors was reviewed in LWD in 2009.


Reg Revans: Action Learning Pioneer

November 8, 2007

reg-revans.jpg

William Reginald Revans (14 May 1907 – 8 January 2003) was arguably one of the most influential of British educationalists of the twentieth century. He pioneered Action Learning, which today is among a handful of educational innovations which has survived and developed as a theory of action, and a theory in action

In the course of a lengthy and illustrious life, a mythology built up around this remarkable man. However, in late 2007, definitive biographic materials remained hard to find. For example, in Wikipedia, there was no entry on Revans. You have to explore wikipedia for Action Learning, his professional legacy.

One excellent but brief biographic account provides a glimpse of a remarkable professional career. There are the early critical incidents: a childhood recollection of attending the memorial service of Florence Nightingale (perhaps the story became replicated through his later distinguished efforts within the National Health Service). A discussion with his father, a maritime surveyor who had become involved in the enquiry into the sinking of the Titanic, provided another critical incident. Revans was introduced to the notion that ‘we must learn to distinguish between cleverness and wisdom’, a principle he retained throughout his life.

Revans was trained as a physicist at London and Emmanuel College Cambridge, later working with Rutherford’s Nobel-winning team at The Cavendish laboratories (1932-1935). Rutherford’s approach and team meetings could be taken as exemplars for action-centred learning. At that time Revans had also gained distinction as a gifted athlete, competing to Olympic level.

The Rise of Action Learning

In the 1930s, Reg Revans began his career as a senior manager, initially as Director of Education at Essex County Council, where he also began a long association with the Health Service. These experiences along with emergency service in the London Blitz of 1940, confirmed his growing philosophy (and practice) of learning by doing.

There followed a decade as an academic at The University of Manchester (1955-1965). He had become the first Professor of Industrial Management and he continued to diffuse his innovative ideas of action learning. But it was after he left his University post, that his ideas were to gain international recognition.

The most impressive, and often repeated claim is that his work, through an extensive cluster of active learning projects in Belgium, directly improved that nation’s industrial productivity over the period 1971-1981.

One article summarised the workings of Action Learning as follows:

People learn most effectively not from books or lectures but from sharing real problems/projects. The [action] learning process may be expressed as:

Learning (L) = Programmed knowledge (P) + the ability to ask “insightful” Questions (Q)
Programmed knowledge (P) is conveyed through books, lectures, and other structured learning mechanisms. Insightful questions (Q) are those questions that are asked at the right time and are based on experiences or an attitude about ongoing work projects.
• The learning context must be a real working/project
• Scheduled input of theory knowledge /lectures should be kept to a minimum and more time for time for workshops, meetings and questions
• Commitment from top management and team members with No hidden agendas
• An independent adviser needs to be present from the life of the team to facilitate, help or guide when needed.
• An atmosphere of and openness to confronting sensitive internal issues.
• Flexibility in terms of scheduling

‘Moral Bankruptcy Assured’

Reg enjoyed creating learning aphorisms. One of his favorites summed up his view of the emerging Business School methods and the MBA degree, which he liked to describe as Moral Bankruptcy Assured.

It was an irony that his penetrating insights into the dominant educational model was directed from a member of a University whose Business School prided itself in its own version of learning by doing, the so-called Manchester Method, and whose academics included several international figures such as Stafford Beer, Enid Mumford, John Morris, and Teddy Chester, who were contributing to a non-traditional educational approach. Professor John Morris was but one who became an active participant in the advancement of Action Learning subsequently.

However, we have the nearby University of Salford to thank for keeping alive Action Learning within a vibrant North-West England group of action researchers. By another irony, leading figures have more recently rejoined the University of Manchester, with plans to develop further the theory-in-practice ideas of Reg Revans.