Big Brains In EdTech Sit Down and Talk

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Brent Hannify writes on the Technapex blog:

“The 2012 Microsoft CEO Summit presented a panel on Innovation in Education and featured three prominent voices in education and technology. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, the founder of the Khan Academy Sal Khan, and Kaplan’s Chief Learning Officer Bror Saxberg sat down with moderator Walter Isaacson, the President and CEO of Aspen Institute and covered a variety of topics related to how innovation is changing education today. A few highlights:

• Bill Gates first spoke about the reimagining of textbooks. ‘With pervasive digital devices and pervasive internet connections, one can imagine eliminating the paper-based textbook,’ he said. ‘The boundary between quiz, lecture and textbook is basically eviscerated.’

• Gates also commented on while it is impressive that upper-echelon institutions like MIT and Harvard are offering some of their curriculum online, at this point there’s basically no market for it. You won’t exactly find people online at home on their computer eagerly anticipating the next lecture on calculating wave functions.

• Sal Khan’s nonprofit model Khan Academy is focused on free digital lectures, and he touted the importance of this kind of digital content in a learning environment built around allowing students the freedom to progress at their own pace. ‘As soon as you’ve made the assumption that every student can learn at their own pace and master concepts and move on and build a scaffold, it allows you to rethink every aspect of the education system. You no longer have to group kids by age or have all the desks pointed in the same direction.’

• Kaplan’s Bror Saxberg praised Khan’s videos, pointing out that viewers aren’t just responding well to the intelligence of the content, but because they’re actually following along with Khan’s combination of on-screen text and spoken word. ‘Simple, informal language offers a good learning solution,’ Saxberg said. (The gentle and invitational way Khan’s videos present information reminded me of a recent MindShift article about what kids gain from listening to their parents read and engaging with the material. It’s about more than just presenting the material, it’s about caring for the material and showing the learner how it’s done.) [That was my article! See it here—AMP]

• Saxberg’s for-profit model Kaplan provided an interesting yet non-competitive contrast to Khan’s model. When asked about how the for-profit model will succeed, Saxberg responded: ‘Technology is not the only answer. The human mind is built to take a lot of feedback and to use it very well, and there are some thing you can’t automate. If you’re trying to write a persuasive essay, you need someone to give you feedback on why its not persuasive and how to do it again until it’s right.’

• Saxberg also elaborated on the post-education period and what the higher education system can learn from observing how people fare in the first six months after graduating. He recommended observing a workplace, finding the top three performers, and then creating services that target the skills of those specific workers. ‘It’s enormously valuable for both employees and employers to know that the training track is leading to high-quality expertise that’s been validated in the workplace.’

• All three men agreed on how politics and other obstacles stand in the way of American public schools. Gates spoke about how these obstacles must be conquered in order to keep up with innovators like Sal Khan who have current, ready-to-be-implemented services up and running. ‘Thank goodness for charter schools and some young teachers who are essentially ready to break the rules,’ Gates said with a smile.” Read more here.

So much to think about here. I especially like the discussants’ sense of the limitations, as well as the promise, of the new educational technologies—they’re talking about what works and what doesn’t, what computers do well and what humans do better. 

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