A high-powered panel assembled by the NSF has reported on The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge. With people like Christine Borgman (Chair), Ken Koedinger, Marcia Linn, and Roy Pea (to name just the ones I’ve met), you’d expect some pretty clear thinking. (So where did they get the term ‘cyberlearning’? Yuck!)
Defining cyberlearning as “the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning”, they’re obviously onto the right stuff. I couldn’t agree more about the potential for these technologies to transform learning. As I’ve mentioned before, the technology is no longer the barrier, it’s now our imagination and conviction. And now that we can do anything we want, when we go back and look at most formal learning, we realize it’s based on an outdated model.
Without having read the full report, let alone reporting on it here, I did have some thoughts on their top-level recommendations, that I thought I’d recite:
1. Help build a vibrant cyberlearning field by promoting cross-disciplinary communites of cyberlearning researchers and practitioners
Regardless of label, working at this in an interdisciplinary way is absolutely the way to go. The conceptual foundations for the categories/silos are crumbling, so too should the barriers. I realize this is the NSF, but I hope that they’d also reach out to the Dept of Ed, corporations, NFPs, etc. Maybe even independent consultants? :)
2. Instill a “platform perspective” – shared interoperable designs of hardware, software, and services – into NSF’s cyberlearning activities
This is insightful. Using their resources to facilitate, whether through grants or even requirements for projects, interoperability and (the other meaning of) web 2.0 ‘software as a service’ approach could pay off in a big way. Society has a vested interest in an open playing field.
3. Emphasize the transformative power of information and communications technology for learning, from K to grey
I love the phrase “K to grey”; far better than ‘cradle to grave’, ‘womb to tomb’, or anything else I’ve heard. And I like the emphasis on going beyond formal and institutional learning. Make those skills part of the infrastructure! I presume they mean those terms inclusively, that is it could start before K, (in some small ways only, not bashing kids onto computers, but allowing digital tech to be part of the environment), and continue after you’re grey (or I’m in big trouble!).
And it’s more. They talk about interaction with visualizations and data, etc, but I want to also talk about bridging formal and informal, moving to an apprenticeship model with greater ways for people to interact around topics, and create communities. They emphasize teachers, but I want to suggest that, increasingly, we’re all teachers, as well as learners.
4. Adopt programs and policies to promote open educational resources
This, to me, is really a revisitation of the ‘platform’ proposal as well. Open API’s, open source, and open education. We all stand to benefit, I reckon. They’re talking about materials generated with NSF funds, but even materials used as part of NSF projects should err on the side of open materials.
5. Take responsibility for sustaining NSF-sponsored cyberlearning innovations
This last one seems like a ‘given’, but it’s really about saying that the output of NSF projects should have maintenance and extension beyond the project finish. I like this; for NSF SBIR grants (I reviewed them a couple of times) you’re supposed to have a business plan; even pure research grants could have ‘put into action’ components in the proposal.
There are lots more specific recommendations, good ones, in the report. It’s a bit biased towards formal education, but still is visionary. This is a useful time to push initiatives like this, and I hope the report leads to the interdisciplinary efforts called for.
While I realize we’ve more pressing immediate concerns that might govern our near-term ‘man on the moon’ project, I still think a full K12 curriculum online would be a really cool project. The only limits are now ‘between our ears’ as my friend Carl used to say. If we can do anything, what will we do?