About forty years ago, Dr. James Finn gave a speech entitled “A Walk on the Altered Side” talking about an undergoing revolution in education powered by cutting edge technologies at that time, technologies that were best represented by computers. He opened up his discussion by quoting J. Robert Oppenheimer’s words,
“One thing that is new is the prevalence of newness, the changing scale and scope of change itself, so that the world alters as we walk in it, so that the years of man’s life measure not some small growth or rearrangement or moderation of what he learned in childhood, but a great upheaval.”
However, as Finn remarked, people’s attitudes towards instructional technology at that time ran all the way from apathy through antipathy to antagonism. Many people saw technologies as merely tools or a collection of gadgets that were trivial or even dangerous. Finn argued, “technology is not, as many of the technically illiterate seem to think, a collection of gadgets, of hardware, of instrumentation. It is, instead, best described as a way of thinking about certain classes of problems and their solutions.” I was deeply troubled when reading this, realizing that many times we as citizens of the information society are still fighting on the basic conception of technologies in education.
In the mean time, I was intrigued by Allan Collins’ envision of “a new revolution of education” after the move from apprenticeship to schools hundreds of years ago. In his book he listed seeds of a new system that challenge the position of schools.
“Digital technologies such as computers, mobile devices, digital media creation and distribution tools, video games and social networking sites are transforming how we think about schooling and learning.”
Learning opportunities are much more abundant and distributed than ever. People become less dependent on the traditional school system(s) for education; more people realized the importance of learning that happens in informal settings and are putting increasing emphasis on education outside of schools.
The past 8 months at OISE to me was a beautiful period of time when I could wander around many ways of thinking about a wide spectrum of problems in education. While I was made aware of topics such as critical pedagogy, social justice, and drama education, which are less studied in my home country, I also got opportunities to discuss with my supervisor the need of redefining assessment for the 21st century, to chatting with people on all sorts of buzzes on the Internet emerging in the past few months. I am breathing so much fresh air filled with possibilities at this moment that I feel poised to sense the steps of big changes in education. I expect to surf on the tide and contribute to the move with my own efforts. Although my thinking is only skimming the surface of the moving current, I do share the excitement and cautiousness of Dr. Finn forty years ago.
After almost one year of wandering around the OISE building, I suddenly realized it might be a time to settle down. Where is the spot I could build my doctoral research on? I seriously wondered. I started to think about questions like: what are important to learn? what is important for learning in this age? Groups of people in the world are embarking on the clarification and definition of a cluster of “21st century skills” and multi-literacies. I wish to learn the ways schools or the new system response to this shift. Is it another challenge, or a new opportunity? Another thing – how could assessment respond to the change? With increasingly ubiquitous access to technologies in educational settings, how could technology help us deploy assessment that is formative and embedded in learning experience to help learners to progress on some facets of 21st century skills (e.g., creativity and critical thinking)? These questions are currently all terribly ill-defined question for research. But I hope some of them could be meaningful and it’s not too late to embark on them.