Last year I happened across of video of a panel discussion from the 2012 Aspen Ideas Conference entitled “Visualizing Information Creates New Ways of Learning” At the end of the hour-long presentation the following question came from the audience (about minute 1:10:20):
“Dan Sharp with the Eisenhower Foundation and I want to ask you a question about the application of your new theories to the field of education. You showed a slide of the classic lecture to a large group and you implied that that was going to change. The internet is being used really for the same kind of classic education with universities putting existing courses [online]. Innovations like the Kahn Academy still are top down. Can you project the way in which your theory of visualization will impact the theory of education?”
I was particularly interested in the response of one of the panelists, Mark Wigley, then Dean of the Columbia University School of Architecture. Earlier in the presentation Mark had discussed a new institute to be launched at Columbia. Here’s how he responded to Dan’s question:
“Just a quickie rejoinder, that’s a fantastic question and I agree with Ed that education is one of the first victims of this concept, in a way. In other words, it transforms education. I would say not just from removal of the top down model. But most of the technologies for distance learning, even the most successful examples we know today, are very very narrow and depend on the kind of knowledge that can be easily communicated and tested. There are lots of great examples of that. I think we have to develop an architecture of education. That is to say the equivalent of a school. That is to say what is the sort of space in which we would gather together that is a more global, more horizontal community. In current models of telepresence, current models of exchanging data, these, I think, are not adequate to the concept of education. I really love this question because if we could answer you well then we wouldn’t start this institute of data visualization [at Columbia School of Architecture] because we wouldn’t need it. Part of the mission here — if visualization is just a word for how we communicate — [there is] no more important communication than that within a school. But we don’t currently have a very good image of what is a school in the global environment, a school that is disrespectful of academic vs. professional, that is very disinterested in the age of the participants. In the current situation we have an extraordinarily narrow understanding of education and inevitably it will have to be the same level of innovation in education that we’ve seen in so many other fields. It is boarder line criminal, it’s over the boarder actually, on the other side of the boarder, that we have not risen to the challenge of education. And I’m speaking globally, not — and I’ll give you an example. The US has the world’s worst high schools and absolutely the world’s best research universities. America has an astonishing leadership in higher education, amazing, amazing level. But in terms of the new strata of global responsibility in education no country has a monopoly. I don’t see a good model out there and we need to get on this right away.”
From George Leonard’s 1968 depiction in “Education and Ecstasy” to Neal Stephenson’s “Diamond Age”, visionaries have been offering models of how digital technology might revamp our conception of “school”. In my next several blogs I’ll showcase some of the predictions of our Ed Tech Pioneers and comment on why, fifty years later, we still haven’t come close to realizing the promise of educational technology. Mark has it right. This is beyond criminal.