The Concerns of Today’s Education Model: Imagination!

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To teach, is to learn twice.
Joseph Joubert[i]


 

The concerns of today’s education realities! An Education model that lacks imagination!

If you have joined specialized social networks on education, you likely must have crossed specialists from various disciplines: mainstream and special needs education teachers, care givers and other persons dedicated for the learners’ wellbeing.

There are many ongoing discussions about new technologies, and many topics covering what some like to call a “reinvented education”, a new pedagogy (also known as “modern pedagogy”), after all these people’s efforts are mostly commendable in regards to education.

Concerns and efforts are well addressed and discussed, I sincerely admire these persons who dedicate their thoughts, minds and efforts to this domain. You may ask yourself if such being the case, then where I am getting at. I would like first to reassure readers of my full agreement that maths, grammar, science and writing skills are very important given the many challenges students will have to overcome during their entire life as learners and adult productive citizens.

However we must remember that these essentials are not the only skills students need to learn and become able to make use of all what they learn during their schooling life. Collecting knowledge is not only to memorize information, knowledge consists also in discoveries, comprehension and linking all the elements together as part of one global entity: our world, our universe.

Students need to learn about their local environment, they need to understand about citizenship culture, other people’s history, the traditions of ethnical diversity from other countries, and so much more about the sources of knowledge preparing them to be the real citizens of their own world, and not ours.

We are witnessing great changes into today’s world. Such changes are shaking most of the principles and the foundations of our model we have lived by until now.

The meaning and the true essence of human principles are being rewritten by the few who surprise the rest of the population with a fait accompli about such changes.

These events transpire on the future of education as well, students are asked to spend so much time in books, memorizing, and sitting for tests, instead of also discovering and retaining the result of their observations, their discoveries and what is real life about.

This will result in graduating future employees who will lack the necessary curiosity to go beyond what they are asked to do. The sense of initiative and the spirit of creativity will be seen as well as non-compliant behaviour, that the system in place will correct very rapidly.

I sincerely do not know through what kind of phenomenon it has been decided to push a very simplistic mode of grabbing and retaining information retention (funnily called “modern pedagogy”) rather than collecting and understanding knowledge, the excuses invoked to justify such approaches are the never ending statement “the guarantee of a job!” Ah! Yes! Impressive!

Creating more jobs! Can you believe that? Forgive my sarcasm, as it has never been much of unemployed youth in the so-called industrial and advanced countries than ever.

We see these young graduates who must, once their studies are completed, return to small “odd jobs” until something better happens, such jobs have nothing to do with their field of studies. SO next time you go to a coffee shop or a department store, and notice these young adults not showing a smiling face, you might understand the real reasons of their state of mind.

What comes top off for desolation, some specialists who speak, sometimes too often, about the virtues and benefits driven from new technologies, spread into ravishment at the borderline of mental ecstasy while the essential foundations of education is sorely lacking. Humanism, Social Sciences, a wider grasp and knowledge about other countries, cultures and populations.

Some time ago I expressed comments about how an educational system “treats” children (students) with learning difficulties. How kids must complete certain goals, achieve objectives, follow the one-size fits all model, when he or she fails a couple of times, then the student is simply tagged: “Child with educational special needs!” At that moment the kid is taken into the maze of the processes and never ending evaluations that will disconnect him or her from the feeling of being like other kids, worry the parents and extend such unclear diagnosis that retag the kid once for all: “Special Needs”. What a sad admission of failure! We could agree that not all kids who fail must have a behaviour problem! Sometimes it is about the model and the mind map of the person that does not click!

I know, most likely and probably I have been one of the many, one who has never been tagged as such! Yet I was labeled as “lacking attention> or “must put more efforts in memorizing”. Yet I managed to go through as I had the most important help and support: my own parents who believed I needed to find my own way in learning.

I do not deny that children with learning difficulties do exist and such cases are true realities, however it appears that the actual process tends to classify, sort and convey in a funnel all of who do not answer correctly to expected responses, do not reach and attain results and achievements as defined in that actual model, that is alas the inevitable rate of success.

As late as this morning I was reading several articles on the “famous recipes”, loads of advice, recommendations and tips to follow in order to achieve educational goals successfully!

For the love of life, could we change this sanitized language, which does not say much! Moreover these papers pivoted around the wonders that were attributed to the functionality of a given tablet!

Unfortunately so little was shared (a reminder: this paper was addressed to education specialists) about pedagogy, approaches, how the mentioned device would fit to these educational skills and not the other way.

Sincerely speaking, 7 over 10 papers promote the tool over the learning curve and the benefits kids or learners will get from using a given approach (please let’s call it pedagogy)

Correct me if I am wrong, it was never said that the tablet was at the core of the educational Yet specialists and experts made it the pivot of today’s learning! The core of the model is most likely the core of a bargain deal: “use the tablet so you can pass or succeed” and that looks wrong, very wrong! At least to me!

Specialists are tireless in finding educative values to new technology tools, I would rather expect them to act diligently in the opposite way: find the appropriate tool that fits the educational needs.

The educational model and the teams of experts seem to only promote brands and the gadgets surrounding that come with. Yes these applications are really cool yet how much value is in these for the sake of a good suitable education of our times? How much can we assure today’s clients (kids). We need to stop making these tools look indispensable to their own wellbeing, before they can understand and then decide what is the best tool for their knowledge.

I will never say enough how much of a fully persuaded and convinced user I am on new technologies, I own a couple of amazing tablets, tow e-readers, a very smart phone, I use most of the social networks, medias, clouds, remote printing, video-conferences. All my personal banking and communication activities pass through the net. Be assured I am not close to a cave man at 62 years old!

I have started connecting to the Web in 1994, a years after the first Web site was publicly launched by Tim Berners-Lee, my CompuServe© account number at that time was 3 digits, and my first personal site was created on those not so good looking black on grey background HTML pages! In the middle of the 90’s I contributed to the first e-learning program (e-learning not computer based training using a true portal also known as LMS – Learning Management System), and more activities I could have dreamed of in a life time. Yet my sole and only concern was and remains: people at the core of any educational solution.

If I would summarize my own vision about education: what can be taught with a couple of sheets and pencils and a true blackboard and chalks, can with no doubt be used with tablets and sci-fi equipment. All the true secret about education is focusing on how learner can learn with any tool, else they will always see what others use and keep at the bare minimal level of learning, becoming expert users of tools.

The point we miss today, is considering people’s need to learn how to learn! During all the teaching years I have cared to ensure that learners understand why and how instead of memorize, I used to say that books are useful when the educator is not available, helping learners to discover the thrill of finding new things and come up with an intelligible answer to their own benefit.

We badly need to learn how to learn!

Until our next chat.

© Michel J. B. – 2015


[i] Joseph Joubert, (7 May 1754 in Montignac, Périgord – 4 May 1824 in Paris) was a French moralist and essayist, remembered today largely for his Pensées (Thoughts), which was published posthumously.

 

Humanware, the Missing Link between Hardware & Software!

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The real problem is not whether
machines think but whether men do.
B.F. Skinner


This paper’s title may look somehow unusual, yet it is a reality we, the humans, face this unusual status regularly since the creation of the first tools that drove mankind into our days.

I estimate the problem residing at the design and concept teams who since the beginning thought of solutions in favour of a certain productivity rather than seeking what and how people would feel using the components. Of course I do concede that the 20th century’s inventions such as machinery, homeware, were meant to ease the life of workers and people (essentially women at that time) for an easier life reducing time and effort. It remains though these inventions were “invented” between 4 walls under the supervision of specialists and skilled designers who did not necessarily used these components. Therefore unwillingly creating “things” people needed to adapt to instead of the opposite.

So saying that People, being part of the equation as Humanware are missing most of the time from the process. Missing alas from the needs analysis till the delivery, leaving to market studies and its experts the task to develop such markets motivating clients to be willing to buy these products.

We do not need to have rocket science expertise to find in our daily activities how many useful products were meant for people yet people had to adapt to using these.

A simple example, I went through myself when I went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. The pharmacist was all smiles announcing their national banner decided to change the model and the way to open the vial. Looking at the little container I found it somehow intriguing trying to guess how I could open it in a snap as the pharmacist was saying. After trying a couple of times, she smiles at me and offered to show me how. Two attempts later I managed to open the vial, phew! That was something! Looking et my smiling young pharmacist, I thought about the people who cannot afford using easily their fingers as it should to open the bottle and wondered how would they do. Would they give up and put their health in jeopardy or would they need to ask for help all the time?

On my way back home, I felt enough puzzled to wonder how the people who designed this type of vial did think their idea, the ergonomics and usability of the bottle, was it designed just for those who could easily use their hands, being enough skilled to synchronize the two steps in one to open the bottle.

With all due respect to the good intentions of the designers, I think they missed a certain point: bring in their team the user experience element, that Humanware that obviously was missing here.

How we were forced, unlike our natural abilities, to change these in order to be able to use these objects that lacked such fine touch in their design.

I am part of the people who are left handed, those who are had no choice but to adapt, luckily the further we moved into our timeline some of these objects we conceived a bit more accommodating, maybe among the designers was a left-handed person that certainly helped! Not to say about the scissors, the spout of a saucepan manufactured only for right handers, etc.

I know there are compromises to be done from both sides, yet when it is related to the comfort of a person, I think regardless of any other consideration, people matter before processes and schemes.

The concept if Humanware is not of my creation, it became part of my professional culture, my social presence among peers and people, Humanware was to me a stunning discovery when I started developing teaching and educational programs. A fortunate encounter, 10 years ago with the author Ulf L. Andersson and his book: “Humanware practical usability engineering” made me understand how important people are in every solution.

Not only about manufacturing or engineering utilities and goods, but also in education, social life, politics, and more. People first, people at the core of every solution, people matter, these slogans say what should be seen in practical life. There is a long way to go before these altruistic slogans and mottos become reality.

Our digital reality has brought a new challenging layer on the real importance of people in today’s history of humankind. When virtual reality tends to keep us alone though connected to the planet, we need more than ever to remind ourselves, we, the humans, count first not the other way!

Until our next chat,

Michel – August 10, 2015


Picture: A courtesy from the site: El Mundo Del Humaware

Design Thinking Can Help Change Management Work!

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Image courtesy: Der Bank Blog


The greatest danger in times of turbulence
is not the turbulence,
it is to act with yesterday’s logic
–Peter Drucker


Have you ever asked people who attended a change management (CM) meeting or announcement how much they felt, and how much they understood the purpose other than thinking how “different” their life would be when these new measures will be in place?

People may retain how much they will have to adapt getting out their comfort zone! Some will focus on details about their new manager or supervisor, eventually questioning about their workload, their new team, in other words, every person focusses on personal issues and seldom about the real benefit or the real purpose of such major changes. This seems to be “The question” most specialists in CM ask themselves, and wonder why people perceive CM as a “less fun thing happening”.

There are many reasons that can be the source of such worries, yet I think the main reason is that changes are the fruit of a business need, set by techniques and processes and expertise, while the impact and consequences touch people.

For some, people are seen as unpredictable and they are absolutely right. I am fully aware that any CM process relies on knowledge and expertise in the domain, however specialists need to remember they have to deal with people first and then with processes and procedures. Organizational charts may be the best but also the worst thing to start with a CM implementation. People perceive it as being building blocks within the organization, therefore movable, or worst expendable.

I have “survived” various CM events during my career, as most had a major impact on people’s behaviour. Some were definitely a source for deep concern for people who did not understand the real reason of such changes. Bottom line, the approach and the purpose were taken for granted by the management.

I will not emphasize on details most of us already know, I would rather share a tentative that I decided with the management’s approval, during a CM process. I would call it a more humanized approach.

The first time I read the word “Humanware”, almost 10 years ago, I felt enough curious to search a bit more on the subject, finding Ulf – L – Andersson’s Guide “Humanware – practical usability engineering”. I learned about the importance of people in any process whether it was engineering, design, business and of course education. I think this discovery (for me of course) made me review from scratch my approach to developing and designing educational programs, content, courseware and learning pedagogy. It was not a simple change, as I had to struggle against my own perceptions of collected knowledge and skills I had for over 15 years.

The confirmation of this new vision I tried to share and implement came during the course I attended about Design Thinking for Business Solutions. I was expecting some new ideas, new tricks and new methods. All what I was reading about were the words: compassion, empathy, people at the center of any solution, etc. Such a different kind of vocabulary I was not used to read at a university course.

Tim Brown’s vision on DT always amazes me by its simplicity:

In its simplest form, design thinking is a process, applicable to all walks of life, of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems; it is not limited to a specific industry or area of expertise. It can be as effective in technology or education as it may be in services or manufacturing. It could result in new products and services for customers or improved processes and productivity gains for internal operations. If applied with equal fervor, it could transform HR, finance, marketing, or operations teams, turning them into lean and agile profit centers

It is not surprising that conceptual and logical processes often cause discomfort to people. The problem of today’s needs for CM is not the need for employers to proceed with changes nor to have specialists have the mandate to implement the change, it is rather the manner that is used.

Again the purpose is to make people understand first, participate second and contribute to the success of the process in a much more engaged manner. What would be the employer’s wish, undoubtedly to notice his personnel endorse and feel well engaged to the success and growth of its business. People (employees) are the most critical players for building a success story from this change. Major corporations understood this challenge and turned their approaches to integrating people (staff) to the center of the required solution. Examples are many, success stories are well known since people were involved.

When I was in charge of information and documentation management, my team and me were aware that the need to provide a solid and robust solution (technical and business process) to the various users. There were many challenges, constrains of all kinds. It was easy to come up with a solution (IT oriented of course) and send a communication to users announcing the changes and the new processes that would be in place at a specific date.

I wasn’t sincerely convinced of such approach, knowing myself I would have done anything not to comply to such manner), from the first spot-checks we made, it was obvious we would face a huge wall of resistance, eventually key players (documentation leads and specialists) would let this solution implemented however never use it. As a matter of fact many of the leads informed me they would not use a process that would change their habits.

I had the feeling of being caught between my management who expected the delivery of a solution and the users who would oppose the idea using their own way.

We had the technology, the tools, the developers and the IT support, yet on the other side we needed to gain users trust and contribution. After various prototypes there was a clear lack of interest from the part of people, we all knw how powerful it is when the word spreads about all of the negative aspects of a new tool or a new solution that comes from the management. I often compare it to customer satisfaction, how hard it is to build a good reputation and how easy it is losing customer’s trust.

Spicing a bit the situation was the management’s reaction when I presented the solution. I felt how ill-seriously it was taken, even my manger was considering assigning this mandate to someone else. A matter of trust and confidence that is all what I needed. Having got the agreement (I would make a long story very short about that: I got one chance just one. I knew at that moment I was playing my position and my future at work)

The idea was to simply build the solution with the key actors and follow a basic principle tat can be summarized in 4 steps:

The key persons were invited for a two-day workshop, no cell phones, no side meetings, just being there in a meeting room that was converted into a workshop place. In other words it took two days to discuss and find a solution that all the participants agreed upon.

First, we answered the first question: What is?

That was the occasion to all to explain what was the actual workload of documentation specialists, the pros and cons of the actual procedures, what were the consequences and the constrains. This was also the occasion to come with the list of the actual situation, of course, with the contribution of all the participants

Then we moved to the next phase proposing: What if?

What if we had a system that would incarnate the solution to most of the issues from the initial list? At first people seemed skeptical they soon felt more concerned when proposing some solutions, they started t speak about “how we do this or that..” So we designed an ideal solution on a piece of paper, somehow with little efforts we skipped all was not common to the various opinions keeping elements that got the participants unanimous. We had then a draft for a road-map!

At the end of the second workshop day, we were able to agree on a first version of a solution, establishing a timeline for the next step, the more fun step: Does it work?

We delivered a prototype that contained most of their recommendations and expectations, this brought us to the last stage f this journey asking ourselves: Does it wow?

Of course it took various adjustments, iterations and changes but these changes were made willingly with the approval of the documentation specialists who endorsed all the elements of the final product that was implemented company wide.

In final it was a premiere where technologies and methodologies adapted to people’s needs while respecting the management’s requirements. Letting people be at the center of a business solution!

People felt engaged and motivated due to the fact they were part of the process from the beginning. Speaking of change management, I guess it is not wrong to say it is a matter of people before anything else.

Michel – January 12, 2015