Great Teachers Inspire Learning, but so do Ideas. How Can we Better Leverage Technology to Facilitate That?
Encouraged by Audrey Watter's post, The History of the Future of Ed-Tech, I started reading Seymour Papert's groundbreaking book Mindstorms. As I read about how Papert was inspired by gears at a very young age, I find myself reflecting on moments in my life when I have been powerfully inspired to learn.
- Receiving my first stereo, a hand-me-down from my older brother, and with it two albums – Led Zeppelin II and Jethro Tull's first live LP, Bursting Out. Immersing myself in this music, especially the witty, talented, and somehow slightly askew music and cavorting of Ian Anderson, little did I realize that this was a pivotal moment for me, and that music would gradually be revealed to me a part of my life calling. At the time, I just knew beyond a doubt that I had to learn all that I could about this music, this intriguing individual, this band, and any other music that came close this fascinating, inspiring artistic creation. I was inspired to learn. I ultimately became a singer/songwriter and guitarist (and at the no longer anywhere near young age of 52, I published my debut record).
- In my early teens I also found an appreciation for growing vegetables … growing food, from the ground, all by myself (and then preparing and eating it!). Not unlike the spark that was the music of Ian Anderson and so many singer songwriters since then … growing vegetables struck a fundamental chord in my being, something already there deep in my soul. I was always meant to do this. There was no denying my intent to learn more about it and apply that learning.
- Joining the education field as a part of my profession in 2008, and getting totally inspired to understand how information technology and education were intersecting (and at the same time, failing do so), and where it all could, would, and should lead. No single topic has occupied more of my focus in the last 6 years than this. More importantly, I don't think any single topic has bought more of a sense of wonder and excitement to my career. I am knee deep in learning about teaching, discovering a seemingly endless array of technologies and tools, reading and discussing the fascinating work of other ed tech advocates, and more.
- The joy of cooking. For years, I was a Food Network junkie – it was my ‘go to' TV. Like many busy people, I sometimes want to kick myself sometimes for time that I spend watching TV, but I do need to unwind sometimes, and an episode of Chopped, Iron Chef, or ‘Triple D' could be a perfect tonic. One basic reason I love this stuff is because I love to cook (and as attested to by my waistline, eating is near and dear to me too!). Here is another topic about which I am absolutely a lifelong learner. In fact, when I day dream about some sort of eventual semi-retirement, having more “idle” time to pursue this interest is one my most looked forward to objectives.
What do all of these reflections have in common? The fact that I was so inspired by my exposure to these things and my experiences with them that I simply HAD to learn more. Can we capture that and bottle it to use in ‘traditional' education? If we can't, is the problem with us, or with the education model? Can we even understand the psychology and circumstances behind these types of inspirations or is it all just a crap shoot?
So how about you? What are some of the things that hit you like that, when you felt that there was something you just had to know more about? These exposures and experiences inspire learning in a way that day to day classroom experiences rarely seem to. Who hasn't had a moment in their life when they were clearly, undeniably inspired and they simply had to learn more about a new topic that had caught their attention? Can those types of experiences be evolved into formulas? Good teachers, and many advocates of education technology as well, are hoping to facilitate those moments of enlightenment and inspiration.
One of the ‘promises' of information technology is easier exposure to a wider variety of information, and even better, tremendous resources for learning more about a subject when the spark hits you. This is something many of us see play out regularly as parents of today's digitally enabled kids. My son learned how to play the piano using Web resources created by inspired educators. So that half of the equation is pretty straightforward – when someone is inspired to learn something, this modern day resource enables them to do so in a way far beyond any capabilities we've had in the past (although, yes, there are various drawbacks to this approach). But what about the other half of the equation … can technology also enable the inspiration that is required to lead to the desire to learn? By the logic that it makes it much easier to expose people to new ideas, the answer would seem to be ‘yes'. Lastly, however, is the question of how to make that process predictable, formulaic, repeatable. That seems somehow unlikely, despite the amazing potential of technology. The spark of inspiration seems to be too variable, to ethereal, to capture or repeat with ease. But is it really?
Papert explains that he considers the fundamental fact about learning to be this: “Anything is easy [to learn] if you can assimilate it to your collection of models. If you can't, anything can be painfully difficult.” It would seem likely to me that information technology can play a role in expanding on learner's “collections of models”, and thereby help to expand the possibilities for inspiration to strike (perhaps this will be a point Papert will make as I read on in this fascinating book, which I have only just started). Hey, there it is again … the spark of inspiration – I am excited to learn more about this subject! Now if only I could capture that, hit rewind and replay on demand, bottle it and share it … how cool would that be?