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    Entries in Learning in the 21st Century (3)


    Leadership in Art and Design

    This talk was presented at the European League of Institutes of Art, Leadership Symposium held at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in December of 2011.

    Designing the Future: Leadership in the 21st Century - Ron Burnett from Emily Carr University on Vimeo 



    A Utilitarian World (1)

    The Dilemmas of Learning              

    Over the years (17 to be exact), this web site has turned into a vast enterprise. There are now no less than 1200 pages of material on the site and most of the articles and essays are original. I often comment on learning and research in education and industry. Today, I am beginning an occasional series that is part of my new book. So, I would appreciate any feedback and advice on this entry and others as they appear. I would like the book I am writing to reflect and incorporate the concerns and views of the large community of readers who visit Critical Approaches on a regular basis.

    The work of research and learning, particularly in applied areas like design can be as pragmatic as required depending on the project or the demands of clients or the general challenge taken to various problems and issues. However, any learning process and research that is entirely governed and judged by pragmatic standards is rarely that useful. In saying this, I am trying to soften current trends and discussions among educational policymakers and the community that suggest that learning without a pragmatic outcome is not valuable and in the end will not add value to society or to the individual learner. The emphasis on outcomes in education has become so dominant that it seems almost heretical to raise some questions about it.

    For example, a course in philosophy or ethnography may seem irrelevant to designers or engineers or medical practitioners. In fact, if you take a close look at the professional schools, there is a nod to the humanities in some of them, but for the most part, the curricula have narrowed to reflect the immediate challenges of the professions. Engineering schools often have courses in Technology and Society and do permit their students to take electives. But, the core training focuses on the perceived needs of specialized individuals to the exclusion of what are seen to be courses that are less important to the future employment of professionals. Martha Nussbaum has commented on this situation in her new book, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010 Princeton University Press).

    Part of the challenge here is that learning should not be narrow but also learning is by definition a process that is always unfinished. The idea that students can earn their qualifications in a linear and direct way actually contributes to failure unless the disciplines are very simple and the skills needed never evolve or change.

    Three concepts to keep in mind here:

    1. Learning is non-linear, therefore broad based skills provide students with multiple pathways to achieve the goals they set for themselves;
    2. Pragmatism is not in and of itself a negative, but pragmatism in the service of limited outcomes decreases flexibility and inhibits creativity;
    3. Professional disciplines need to integrate and not just pay lip service to other disciplines. 

    Part Two will appear soon…… 


    Learning in the 21st Century (Part Three)

    I recently had the privilege of talking to a group of parents about the culture of schools and the education that their children were receiving during what is clearly a transitional phase in the history of education.

    Many of the parents were very worried about their children and with some justification. This was a boy’s high school and the parents were concerned that their sons were spending an inordinate amount of time on computers as well as playing video games. I put up a slide with the words moral panic written in bold and this seemed to describe their feelings — a combination of hostility, fear and acceptance.

    However, my intention in putting up the slide was not to reinforce the moral panic that they were feeling, but rather to explore the implications of the shifting cultural space now occupied by a generation that lives within the “net.”

    Distinctions between online and offline life are no longer relevant nor are they germane to the way people learn. The continuum of relationships set up through mediated environments will only become more complex as societies explore the many layers of information and knowledge that now define not only relations among people but also among societies.

    We are living within a period of history that is not dissimilar to the massive changes experienced during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These changes were as much a product of scientific invention as they were of fundamental social change. In fact, a key feature of that period was the advent of real scientific solutions to previously difficult challenges. At the same time, many old ways of thinking had to change as science gave empirical explanations for what had hitherto been thinking based on religion or superstition. 

    Social and cultural changes ‘dislocate’ societies in various and often-unpredictable ways. For example, the Internet makes schools not so much centres of learning, as social spaces for the exploration of relationships, which may include immersion in particular disciplines but not in the manner to which we have become accustomed over the last fifty years. The issue is not only the availability of numerous venues for learning, but also comes down to the choices students make and the emphasis they place on learning experiences in different places.  

    As John Falk and Lynn Dierking emphasize in a recent and brilliant article in American Scientist, (Nov-Dec 2010 issue) students spend only five percent of their lives in the classroom and learn most of what they know about the sciences outside the classroom. “We contend that a major educational advantage enjoyed by the U.S. relative to the rest of the world is its vibrant free-choice science learning landscape—a landscape filled with a vast array of digital resources, educational television and radio, science, museums, zoos, aquariums, national parks, community activities such as 4-H and scouting and many other scientifically enriching enterprises.” (p. 486)

    Since Falk and Dierking are talking about K-12 as well as post-secondary, it would not be too hard to extrapolate an even lower percentage of university students for whom the classroom is the main venue for learning. This raises interesting issues for policymakers who have focused all their efforts on grading and testing while not recognizing that informal modes of learning are the dominant mode of learning.

    I believe that parents are worried because mediated environments can lessen social interaction and can decrease if not eliminate the qualities of everyday conversation so essential to our well being. They are also worried because the information on digital culture is itself so contradictory. Statistics appear everyday from varying sources that suggest a whole variety of impacts caused by the swift appropriation of the Internet for nearly everything we do on an everyday basis. This is so to speak more of a source for the ‘panic’ than the actual engagement of children and adults with digital experiences.

    In part four, I will look into the issues of moral panic and digital culture in greater detail with an emphasis on the importance of this discussion for learning and education.