Learning is Messy

Learning is messy. Sometimes it progresses at a nice pace. Sometimes it explodes in a fountain of acquisition. Other times it rides long plateaus. It goes off on tangents, loses directions, realizes its mistakes and charts new courses. It gets bored. It opens up cans of worms and then tries to put the pieces back together again. Its a beautiful mess.

Schools need to embrace this mess. Why is it they we feel the need to chart specific learning benchmarks for specific ages? We all learn differently, at different paces, and with different strengths and challenges. This is a good thing. It helps us see things from other perspectives.

The more I’m in education the more artificial it seems to say that a student should know X,Y,Z at the age of 11 in order to move into the next grade. A student should be able to take courses that match their interests and their current location on their learning journey. If that means they are best suited for a course that is filled with 14 year-olds for literacy and a course that is filled with 10 year-olds for math, then so be it.

Check out this article about Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, USA. They fearlessly take this concept and put learning completely in the hands of their students with no pre-conceived notion of what it is any particular student needs to be learning at any given moment.

Why Education Needs to be Open Source

If you stop and consider a world where we adopted open source across all facets of life…. who know what could happen? I just read about new efficiencies in solar panels reached by Panasonic… that technology will remain with them (for them to profit off of) until made redundant by another. But what would happen if the tech behind it was open source? I have a feeling ideation would indeed accelerate to crazy levels. Sorry… I digress….

Economically, open source just makes sense, particularly in education. I just finished teaching a class in graphic design, wherein I used Inkscape. The choice was obvious: here was a powerful tool with great online tutorials, and I can download it ad nauseum on computers owned both by the school and my students. How much did it cost the school? Aside from some tech support for an hour to install it on the computer lab computers, nothing. The same goes for Libreoffice, and for the adventurous kids… Linux. As I live in a developing nation, computer users have three choices… go without food for a year and buy a macbook, pirate a copy of windows for the cheap laptops available, or install a completely legitinate and free copy of Linux (which more than likely comes in their own language).

Beyond software, you can see great horizons with open source hardware as well. I would like to work on an automated watering system which takes into account rainfall using a controller called an Arduino. I know next to nothing about them, but the kids get into them really quickly, and with some solid guiding questions you see them produce meaningful and impactful applications of technology. This is at the core a fundamental part of the Maker movement, an area where I believe educational technology will progress faster than any other in the coming years. 

And politically… this statement from (Mackenzie 2011) said it best:

Open source is a process of promoting inclusive participation, individual freedom and public knowledge. It is against closed source that enshrines exclusive participation, economic profits and private knowledge.

When I look back to what makes a good educator, it is one who equips their students for the world of tomorrow. The three assets mentioned above sound like tomorrowspeak to me. Geez, it may be todayspeak… to reference recent (somewhat) news events as evidence: the Occupy Movement (inclusive participation), Gay Rights (individual freedom), and Edward Snowden (public knowledge).

We still have a ways to go… this LMS has a cute button above to do this: © and this: ™

but it takes a bit of legwork to get one of these at the bottom of your page:
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Mira as an Educational Ecosystem


As a biologist, I am continually in awe of how nature has managed to find solutions for such a great variety of problems. Need to get ants out of a hole? A long tongue could do the trick, or perhaps a long claw. Both exist in nature. How about a bigger hole and bigger prey? The snake looks like one of many solutions for this.

Mira as an educational organization could take another of nature’s great lessons… bio-mimicry. Is it possible to create an educational structure that mimics an ecosystem, complete with niches that take advantage of the ever changing group of resources and stakeholders?

What traditionally constituted a school could in fact be the ecosystem. Within it there would be several groups that compete for resources against one another, but also work in a variety of symbiotic relationships to further their needs and best address those of their stake holders.

This form of system would allow for a diversity of pedagogies to exist in one learning center, addressing a variety of needs their students may have. Each unit of the school could also expand and contract to accommodate the interests and needs of the community. In this way, the learning center could do two things: adapt to the every changing needs of students and experiment with different forms of education with integrity.