Futurist: To fix education, think Web 2.0

C|net posted a story on Friday of a talk that John Seely Brown gave at MIT.  Brown suggests that Universities and employers who want to improve engineering education should consider a Web 2.0 approach to changing the way they teach.

Brown points out that the current generation of students learns more through interaction – experiential and social – than through standard lecture experiences.  It’s also helpful to ground learning in the real world: have architecture students do their work in public settings.

Of course as you discover technology that can transform the learning process, it means you’re going to have to adapt your teaching to use the technology effectively.  Too often we start with new software, hardware or web service by using it while we do what we’ve always done.  This is rarely effective.

For example, if you are interested in virtual worlds, like Second Life or Croquet, you shouldn’t be thinking about having your avatar stand up in front of a virtual classroom full of other avatars for a standard lecture.  An immersive multimedia environment is magic, but you’ve got to use the magic.  Instead of a standard lecture, think about the possibilities for interactions that aren’t possible in the real world.  Gardner has suggested that he’d like to have students stage a period Shakespeare production in a virtual world.  Perhaps in Second Life or in Arden such a thing would be possible.  Some students would build the stage, others could create the costumes, while others script avatars and perform the different characters.  Add someone else using their in-world camera could capture the performance creating machinma (a movie created in a virtual world).  Over time you could build a library of these perfomances. 

That’s the kind of experience that technology can bring, and teaching should change to take advantage of the opportunities for active learning, with students building their understanding of a subject rather than waiting passively to be filled with knowledge.

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