== Educating For a More Creative Society ==
'''''The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready–made knowledge.'''''
Seymour Papert, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Thinking skills have come to the forefront of educational discourse in the past several years and recent conferences have focused on the next generation skills that will be necessary for our students of today. At the GEMS Education Symposium this past November in Dubai, Sir Michael Tomlinson suggested that schools need to become more skills-based in order to prepare our students for the 21st century. Considered the ‘safest pair of hands in British education’, Sir Michael made reference to two exponentially growing websites used by students worlwide, namely YouTube.com and Myspace.com. He rhetorically asked questions that challenge the trend in schools’ to ban handheld devices like Palm-type units and cell phones. The Symposium question time also made it clear that parents are grappling with their children’s use of technology at home and out in society. While these concerns are natural, educators and parents alike need to learn what our young digital natives already know about these technologies. New forms of learning and collaborating have emerged in the past couple of years in society and business that will require educators to focus on a fusion of creative thinking skills with tele-collaboration skills for 21st century learning. More time for creative entrepreneurial thinking by the learner has been the result of these technological advances and new forms of collaborative learning are fueling the creative trend.
== Exponential Trends ==
To give you an example of the speed at which our technological world is changing, the Sony Corporation recently committed to shrinking its product cycle. Currently, Sony replaces its product line every 90 days. Early in the 21st century they want to achieve a 19 day cycle…anyone ready for throw away cell phones provided for free? Companies like Sony have adopted the mantra ‘Let’s re-invent ourselves today before someone else does it for us’.
The implications of exponential growth do not end with hardware development. Ian Jukes at the November 19, 2006 NESA Conference in Muscat, Oman, an international educational conference attended by school administrators, observed ‘a person attending university today will find half of what they learn in any given year will be obsolete by the end of the year. For this reason, learning on a need-to-know basis will be a crucial skill in providing relevant education.’
Similarly, in a recent book ‘The Singularity is Near’ by Ray Kurzweil, we can catch a glimpse of possible future states and the coming together of advances in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics that will lead to smart agents and artificial intelligence that will not only pull relevant information to us but also analyze and synthesize the information to create knowledge for us to use. A generation from now we will have technologies that will sort through the astronomical growth of data on the Web for us and we will need more than the usual set of critical thinking/problem solving skills that we provide in quality educational settings today. The primary objective for students and workers of the future will be the creation of knowledge and the application of that new knowledge.
== Technology Use in Instruction ==
Computer literacy as a goal in schools exist almost everywhere now to some degree. Typically, schools will have discreet classes in technology where students will learn keyboarding, software applications, and perhaps computer programming. These classes are designed to teach a basic proficiency in computer skills not necessarily related to the rest of the curriculum. While basic skills are important, literacy-based porgrams alone will not well prepare our children for the 21st century world where they will live and work.
The next level of computer instruction in schools involves the integration into the curriculum of technology. Typically, schools will integrate technology through the use of wordprocessing programs for report writing, smart whiteboards, spreadsheet usage for data manipulation and analysis, presentation software, and instructional games to learn content. The use of these applications is considered productivity tools because we can do more in less time. While technology integration is essential to a high quality education, educators and parents need to look to our digital natives for what will be the technological skills and tele-collaboration that will transform workplaces first and eventually schools will follow as they have throughout history.
The best way to understand technology that transforms learning is to ask yourself the question, ‘If the technology in a lesson was taken away, could the student learn and the educator teach the same material. If the answer is no, you have a transformation of learning that has never been experienced before in history.’ These technologies exist and our students are using many of them on a regular basis. As Sir Michael Tomlinson pointed out, YouTube.com and MySpace.com are the two fastest growing websites now because they provide communications that were never available before to distributed communities of people. Some of the more promising transformative technologies are all web-based ; wikis, shared documents, shared bookmarks and graphics and pull technology using smart agents or artificial intelligence to ‘pull’ relevant information to you. Blogs and discussion forums have also made huge transformations in how learning occurs and business is done.
== Creative Thinking vs Critical Thinking Skills ==
Modern education has Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago to thank for the higher order thinking skills that pervade curriculums in most high quality schools. Most curriculums teach using Bloom’s Taxonomy that describes thinking skills like analysis, evaluation and synthesis. Another layer of foundation in modern schools is the application of Gardner’s multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles. Howard Gardner of Harvard University is considered a genius for his work in articulating the multiple intelligences where we see intelligence as multi-dimensional, encompassing visual, spacial, logical, kinesthetic, musical and other personal tendencies.
A third educationalist named Seymour Papert of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides the glue for the Taxonomy and meultiple intelligences with his work on constructionism, a 21st century framework that we learn best when we learn by making a product. The basis of critical thinking skills provided by Gardner and Bloom can now lead to a transition to creative thinking skills and habits of mind for the 21st century workplace.
== Habits of Mind for the 21st Century ==
Creative thinkers do not see problems when viewing the world, they see opportunities. They have an entrepreneurial spirit without time for complaining about what’s wrong because they focus on how to make things better. It is rather easy and lower order thinking skills to find problems with how things are done or how things are made. The addition of higher order critical thinking skills like analysis, intrepretation, evaluation and synthesis provide us with the tools to solve problems. On the other hand, creative thinking skills add processing models to traditional higher order skills. The following processing model will prepere our students for an uncertain future workplace :
This model works at all levels and all projects from writing essays and giving presentations to roleplaying in simulations of real life situations. First, Define the issue at hand and/or the problem being tackled. The students do this for themselves rather than being set by the teacher. Second, Design and plan a solution…this is most effective when done in collaborative teams. The Do part is the actual creation of the product, and the debrief part requires the student(s) to reflect and assess the process they have just experienced. And then we redefine the newly arising issues and start the process again. At the November NESA Conference in Oman, another keynote speaker Bob Garmston shared with the audience, ‘self-assessment and reflection by a student are more important than feedback from teachers.’ His point reinforces the view that we need to prepare students with the skills to reflect on projects and products they have created, to debrief and start the creative process anew. Garmston has contributed to educational research for years with his Norms of Collaboration, ways for all people to interact in group and team settings. ‘Collaboration means working together to solve problems, invent, create, build models, and produce results, says’, says Garmston. And norms of tele-collaboration are in the proces of being created by the users and creators of the web-based technology. Norms are indeed essential for the new tele-collaboration technology in use and will be increasingly developed in the coming years. Our students of today will be at the forefront of the development of norms if we guide them now as educators.
Tele-collaboration tools transform the way we learn. Get to know these tools with your child. Investigate online sharing of images, bookmarks, online discussions, shared documents where revisions can be done while maintaining all previous revisions, spreadsheets where web-based collaboration can be done, wikis where collective knowledge can be created and blogs and discussion forums that create social networks where none could form before these technologies. Ross Mayfield, CEO of software company SocialText says most large companies have some wiki and blog use and are now at the point of deciding how they're going to manage it. Citing Gartner figures, Mayfield says that half of enterprises will have wikis and 80% will have blogs by 2008. High quality schools will lead the way in this transformation in learning…the rest will come along as this generation passes and digital natives become our future educators.