Sunday, June 12, 2011

The CATALYST Project - Abstract

The CATALYST Project, Champions for Transformations of Learning and Teaching, was launched on 1st January 2011. Team members comprise Malaysian National and International Schools in Penang, Ministry of Education and Higher Education staff, USM Educational Researchers, Industry and other relevant experts to be added as the need arises. This project’s main objective is to redefine 21CL (21st Century Learning and Teaching) and to develop new collaborative, inclusive, meaningful, efficient and sustainable educational practices and learning management strategies. The focused outcome is to create a tool so that Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery (APM) is enabled and accepted by Learners, Educators and Administrators. The Padi Tablet PC is this tool that enables Autonomy for all stakeholders, and this enables the process that provides learners with Purpose because learning becomes relevant, meaningful and real, thus leading to Mastery of content, sparking creativity to increase levels of learning and achievement.

A core strategy is to use Padi, to bring Computational and Collective Intelligence and Wise Decision Making that draws from data on the World Wide Web, into the classroom. This A3, Access Anywhere Anytime, enabler will stimulate a new evolution in learning and teaching that harmonises ways of think and knowing with usage of technology and creation of Knowledge with Sejahtera values, ethics and intangible heritages. Another strategy, through the Learning Applications built by USM, is to focus on the development of the intangible, “human” skills of students – developing communication, leadership, listening and soft skills all building upon the Padi Platform

Framework of The Catalyst Project


30 years ago, education professionals and stakeholders saw a disruptive phenomenon taking shape around them. This phenomenon was the Internet. These people who were at the heart of education systems around the world, looked at it and either could not nor would not take that step to look at this giant with a critical, scientific mind to see how it would forever transform the world and how it would revolutionize education, educational delivery and research systems.

Today, the exact same thing is happening, and educators still refuse to acknowledge that the Internet, formerly known as web 1.0, is again transforming into web 2.0 and beyond. Again, it is transforming learners’ demands and how the very concept of what constitutes knowledge and more importantly, what the new definition of education and curriculum should be.

The standard demands on a student from a century ago were to be TAUGHT and to have knowledge, and this evolved in the classroom from the low order Declarative and Procedural Knowledge to eventually reaching the somewhat higher order Schematic and Strategic Knowledge. In today’s world however, this so called highest order knowledge is no longer sufficient to create Innovation through calculated risk taking, arising from Disruptive thinking.

So, what should classroom learning and instruction encompass? An overview would be:
1) What is the definition of the new Curriculum of the future?
2) What is the new classroom of the future?
3) Who are the new Learner and new Educator of the future – what are their attributes?
4) What will sustain Malaysian classrooms to evolve naturally to meet the demands of new market places, new careers and new global communities of the future?

What are the key issues surrounding these questions, that have to be answered so that Malaysia is ready to face 2015, where it is expected that a sudden surge in innovations and the convergence of NBIC - Nano, Bio, Info and Cogno Technologies - will create rapid transformations and place new pressures on education systems both at the schooling and higher education levels?

Key Issues

In considering the following, it is crucial to consider the importance and relevance of each of them and think about the solutions. Problems cannot and must not be solved with the same, tired ways of thinking. Disruptive thinking is needed to create innovations and take calculated risks, possibly resulting in mistakes, but it will be mistakes made early, quickly and cheaply. The underlying considerations are what the Global Education scene is like currently and then, what it ought to be, to meet global and future relevance; and finally, how Malaysian education needs to transform to meet these requirements

Issue 1. How can we develop new learner centered, critical thinking & enquiry based, skills and research driven curriculum with foresight and futures methodologies and soft skills and communications expertise?

Issue 2. What are the implications for emerging technologies and the convergence of new wisdom? Data is growing exponentially and has reached singularity, where no person(s) is able to know everything about any issue. What are the implications for this in the classroom and for education systems? Will there be such a person as an “expert in a field”?

Issue 3. How does the emergence of brand new areas of study such as Nano, Info, Bio and Cogno technologies affect the need for new subjects and areas of study; and new skills and talents; in schooling and higher education systems?

Issue 4. What are ways that knowledge for anyone, anytime and anywhere - will impact the importance of memorizing data as opposed to having the relevant skills to access, analyze and choose this knowledge?

Issue 5. How can we construct a mechanism which forces us to use our past, analyze what we have in the present & develop and shape what is required for us to stay globally relevant for our future?

Issue 6. We have been operating at current conscious levels of thinking that have produced the curriculum we have now. We now have to operate at different levels of thinking and have new higher level expectations in order to bring about changes that will produce new curriculum. What are these higher levels?

Issue 7. A clear vision for everyone is needed that will provide the mobilising force necessary to move forward. How do we create this vision that will receive the buy-in of all stakeholders, and make the process palatable to all Malaysians?

Issue 8. How can we choose indicators that will be direct indicators of the progress we make and the buy-in that we receive; choosing indicators that are definable, reproducible, unambiguous, quantifiable and sustainable?

Issue 9. How can we design a brand new schooling system that will come to realise the need for 1Malaysia, and possibly through a 1Session in 1School system?

Issue 10. How can we mobilize the existing private tuition and talent (dance, drama, martial arts etc) building industry to support our schooling system and to make national schools, one stop centers of excellence?

Issue 11. How could a new timeline of phases for schooling to tertiary education be developed, in terms of age? Is it still relevant to have schooling systems that cover 11 years and end with no real world training? How can this be transformed?

Issue 12. How do we give meaning and purpose to our children’s lives through curricular reforms?

Issue 13. How can we create excellent and ethical “workers” and scholars among every Malaysian school student through community service that will also address the need to bring all Malaysians together?

Issue 14. What are the ways we must use data from brain research to redesign our curriculum?

Issue 15. How can we create evaluation systems with globally recognised credibility & relevance and who do we benchmark ourselves against when designing this “globally recognized” education system?

Issue 16. What are the physical transformations we must make to transform our classrooms into learner centered learning spaces?

Issue 17. What are transformations our teachers & lecturers must make to be ready for new learning spaces, pedagogies and andragogies; and transform into learning facilitators?

Issue 18. What are methods we must use to incorporate technological advancements in communications; multimedia and “on-time”, “everywhere” mobile access into our curriculums; to achieve our objectives to create a curriculum for the future?

Issue 19. Consider the demand for and importance of offering online modules personalized towards gathering skills in on time expertise, careers and personal transformations. How can we restructure our education system to meet the needs of independent learners with independent needs, in a way that caters to individual learning styles, in order to motivate learners to assume greater responsibility in managing and directing their own learning?

Issue 20. How can the need be addressed to subtly instill into future curriculums; global awareness, ethical and moral values, and empathy for the bottom billion in order to address the widening Malaysian and global rich-poor gap?

“To realize that we are shaped by education, that learning leads to thought and self reflection, understanding and knowledge and wisdom, and to see that skills in critical thinking lead to
problem solving that helps us discover the truth for ourselves; thus strengthening our minds and giving us sound judgment and character to see clearly and straight; those essential tools that sustain societies and the world. Our student is a Scientist who is able to interpret a poem, a Poet who sees rhyme in the Scientific Method and a Philosopher with understanding and belief in Cross-Cultural Understanding, Faith and Sustainable Living”

a. Development of students with beliefs in and commitments to:
I. critical self-reflection and thinking skills
II. life-long learning
III. programs that will nurture and produce global leaders who are strong, articulate, compassionate and dedicated to creating a sustainable future for the world.
IV. cultivating enquiry, learning and research skills starting from kindergarten (kg)

b. Student’s innate talents and interests will be nurtured so as to have the opportunity to be developed in a learner centered environment that caters to individual learning abilities and differences. This independent, learner initiated individualized learning plan will grant ownership to students to take control of their futures and develop innate talents and abilities towards preparing for their preferred future. They will be motivated to assume greater responsibility in managing and directing their own learning.

c. Interactive learning spaces enabled by internet-mediated collaborative platforms will motivate learners to take ownership of their own learning, develop chosen skills and talents, and be independent thinkers

d. Foresight and futures learning methods will be incorporated into curriculum staring with kindergarten. This will empower learners with the skills of disruptive thinking and risk taking, necessary tools for a transformation process.

e. Learners will learn in an environment and curriculum that has embedded universal values, ethics and moral systems. Effective curriculum will not separate these systems as a subject but will instead integrate it into the everyday experience of the learner in various learning spaces.

f. In order to coexist and gain a multiracial, multireligious, multicultural and ethical perspective of global communities, and to take ownership, responsibility and accountability for global challenges, we will develop students with global awareness, ethical and moral values, and empathy for the bottom billion in order to address the widening global rich-poor gap.

g. Students will be developed to be articulate, independent, committed to EfSD and life-long learning and thus will be relevant to future industries and careers and prepared to meet the severe challenges for global and environmental transformations.

h. Our students will lead and not play follow the leader. in order to gain confidence and to have the tenacity to lead, and provide spiritual, moral and ethical directions in their lives – on a globally relevant future platform.

i. Teachers/lecturers must believe in the concept of an emancipatory curriculum and be willing to hand over power and personal control to learners in their learning spaces and must be trained to nurture talent and develop skills that will be relevant to global futures and relevance.

j. Learners must be trained to develop skills in analyzing and choosing from overwhelming content and information overload.

New Curriculum

Once these objectives are met, the curriculum will have to fulfill expectations that it will:
a. Develop a learner centered curriculum model that will be a sustainable for Malaysia and Malaysians to be exposed to the necessary levels of education and life-long learning to stay relevant globally & for the future.

b. Develop content, pedagogy, andragogy and evaluations that will be relevant to learning styles & spaces where knowledge is available and accessible in all places and at all times.

c. Develop learner centered, critical and reflective thinking, enquiry based, skills and research driven learning spaces with foresight and futures methodologies and soft skills and communications expertise – all packaged into curriculum that nurtures students from kindergarten to tertiary education and stimulates practice in life-long learning.

Question I. How do you evaluate if a Learning Space is Learner Centered?
i. How is the space Learner centered?
ii. How do learners take control of their learning?
iii. What is it that Learners do that reflects independent learning?
iv. How is it ensured that learners are emancipated in independent Learning Spaces, through the structure of the curriculum?
v. How is it reflected that learner’s are self-directed and capable of critical reflection of learning goals, the learning environment, the content of learning, and the broader questions of ethical, social significance, meaning and purpose of the curriculum?

Question II. How are the methodologies and techniques of Critical and Reflective Thinking taught?
Question III. How are LF’s evaluated so they understand the delivery and the rationale, scopes, concepts and objectives of Critical and Reflective Thinking?

d. Develop the necessary, freely accessible technology that will sustain Learner Centered learning spaces. Enquiry and Research skills developed in formal learning spaces will necessitate the availability of online modules and coursework that will provide learners with starting points to gather knowledge directed towards personalized areas of interests.

e. Develop the necessary evaluations that will test skills and solutions and not knowledge. Rigorous and Standardised testing that meet global and industry requirements must be developed that will enable different types of learners to approach this standardized testing but using preferred, individual ways of problem solving, research and determining solutions.

Rationales and justifications for Issues

a. The world is moving away from teacher/lecturer centered classrooms to student centered learning spaces. The term classroom will in effect be changed to learning space and students will have a choice in the way of learning (multiple intelligences) they most prefer and will immerse themselves into their preferred style of learning to develop skills in enquiry and research. This is the age of personalised learning for every learner in a learner centered space.

b. EEG machines will be used to calculate empirically, the effectiveness of teaching/learning/testing models and the environments of learning space. This will cause many traditional learning models to be abandoned and new personalized methodologies will replace them. online feedback software and testing will determine the best way to present learning modules and these will be evaluated and used by independent learners making choices and decisions to retool for on-time time expertise, careers and needs

c. Knowledge is growing exponentially, and has reached singularity – where the knowledge you have today will no longer be the most current tomorrow. This makes memorizing knowledge and exams meaningless as they will only test current levels of learning, which might be obsolete even after just one day. Assessments and evaluations must be geared towards checking skills levels and abilities of learners to adapt to problems and ask the right questions in the real world.

d. With the advent of personalized learning and simulations, new “real world testing” institutions will be set-up to test actual learning and expertise achieved in various fields. These institutes will act as facilitators to match talent and resource. Graduation degrees will not count for much; instead performances in real-world testing will determine hiring patterns and will be the basis for psychometric testing to match talents to careers.

e. All knowledge is everywhere and every time – with mobile technology becoming cheaper and more accessible every day. Just-in-time delivery will no longer apply to the manufacturing industry alone. Just-in-time knowledge and learning will be the standard for retooling individuals for just-in-time expertise. Employers will hire primarily based on talents and relevant skills, not expertise based on areas of knowledge. Schooling systems will have to prepare students for these new career requirements and adapt curriculums accordingly.

f. Formal schooling (primary/secondary) no longer serves the function of gathering knowledge; it should be focused on developing enquiry and research skills. it no longer needs to cover a span of time as in traditional schooling systems. Students will finish formal schooling at 15 with necessary skills in enquiry based learning, skills and research driven learning spaces with foresight and futures methodologies, soft skills and communications expertise. critical self-reflection of present levels of expertise will form the motivation for further involvement in life-long learning

g. Education is becoming accessible from any point of the world to all other points with students never needing to leave their homes. This has and will lead to accelerated developments of virtual worlds, which will be the new learning spaces of the future.

h. Social networks will evolve to become collaborative networks where learners will evaluate and choose their preferred facilitators of learning in their preferred learning spaces, in the real or virtual words. Social networks will also form the foundations of learning groups and collaborations that no longer encompass professional lecturers and teachers only. Home schooling and online courses, even in formal schooling, will grow exponentially on this foundation. Parents and learners will gain confidence through these networks to “stay at home and be home schooled” so this movement will grow stronger over time. this phenomena is clearly seen in developed countries where home schooling support structures are very well developed and easily accessible

i. Online education will personalize knowledge and courses for the individual rather than the collective. World renowned universities will be forced to become autonomous financially and will market themselves to global students at home, who will find it cheap and efficient to receive a degree from a top university, while sitting at home. This will begin a cycle of rise and falls of universities that are desperately trying to maintain a balance between standards and profitability.

j. Based on the premise that learning occurs fastest from making and overcoming mistakes, virtual worlds will provide learners avenues to make every mistake they can and create new scenarios through experimentation in every way possible. Future chemists, biologists, physicists, educationists, psychologist, engineers and doctors in school will have access to all equipment and all environments through virtual worlds. Schools will no longer be limited by budgets and expertise in using lab equipment. Instant online feedback and confirmation or correction of thoughts and knowledge will shape new knowledge, learning and skills.

k. Collective consciousness databases will evolve out of current collective intelligences such as internet search engines and collaborative databases. cc databases will have access to all knowledge like regular search engines but will also be intuitive and provide feedback to users as to whether correct questions are being asked and provide different points of perspectives for consideration. This in effect will provide instant feedback to mistakes and will enable “evaluating” to be built into research and enquiry skills development.

l. The world will only function optimally and peacefully with no threats of war, terrorism, poverty and hunger. The gap between countries with access to education and countries with no access is widening, and this will have serious consequences on global peace and advancements. in order to coexist and gain a multicultural and ethical perspective on global communities, and to take ownership, responsibility and accountability for global problems, learners will have to learn in an environment that has built in values, ethics and moral systems. Family environments must strive to provide cross cultural and cross religion understanding and tolerance.

m. Everyone will be knowledge generators rather than knowledge consumers. Scientific skills will create points of reference and a collective intelligence to provide new truths, where traditionally religion, culture and family environments have provided old truths. With everyone thinking to be experts with all knowledge at their fingertips, official institutions of learning will find it impossible to deliver in-time knowledge and must so reinvent curriculums, pedagogies and andragogies to provide skills to access and understand this knowledge.

Concluding Remarks
When considering issues dealing with the future of Malaysian Education, the above deals with perhaps the opening gambit of the process to initiate the transformation process. When implemented in full and in a comprehensive manner that deals with the breadth and depth of all these issues, it could perhaps be summed up that the final product has to be able to take Malaysian students to levels of knowledge that will sustain Malaysia in the future. What are these levels of Knowledge?

Intuition and Leaps of Logic are phenomena that are Highest Order Knowledge skills, developing when a level of expertise is reached in a field of study where brain networks are able to process data instantly and without apparent conscious effort to provide an answer to a related question in that same field of expertise. This informs and enables decision making processes that appear to be instantaneous, effortless and without a quantifiable sequence of thought.

It is proposed that there exists two phases to achieving this level of skill, by both indirect, unconscious effort and conscious effort. Phase one is to become expert enough so that the learner becomes aware of all the possibilities, research and knowledge in that field and the other, to learn to listen to that inner voice that is called intuition or sometimes, gut feeling. As the learner becomes more aware of intuitive answers that arise from unconscious Leaps of Logic, and experiences the correctness or wrongness of it in the application process, the learner starts learning to listen to intuition and starts relying on the answers that becomes progressively more reliable, although the learner does not purposefully processes the question pathways. What do all these have to do with events and instruction in a classroom?

1) If the teaching of Declarative and Procedural Knowledge is removed completely from the classroom to be replaced with the development of Application and Enquiry Skills in Schematic and Strategic Knowledge, in a learner centered environment, what would be the impact on the evolution of a Learner in the classroom?
a. Declarative Knowledge – knowing that
b. Procedural Knowledge – knowing how
c. Schematic Knowledge – knowing why
d. Strategic Knowledge – knowing application

2) What are the factors in a Field of Play in the classroom that interact in the evolution of a student to evolve the student to the highest levels of knowledge, hypothesized here to be where Leaps of Logic based on conscious and trusted intuition inform and enable a high level learning process?

Fields of Play is the environment in a classroom, and the factors that are at work in a classroom to evolve a student from the initial point where all that is perceived is data that hold no meaning but yet can be manipulated, to the end point where the student is able to evolve the data and through choice, application and intuition, finally achieves an intuitive knowledge level where well informed, thoughtful and mostly correct decisions can be made through the development and cultivation of Leaps of Logic.

Experience through interactions with, and feedback from the world of cause and effect will further feedback to inform and evolve wisdom so that thinking skills evolve further. This is further reflected upon and levels of thought are achieved where fewer mistakes and better choices are made. This feeds thinking and intuitive skills and the student levels up to the next rung of the evolution ladder. The final level is reached when the ability develops to make instant, well processed decisions based on Leaps of Logic. This ability fuels Disruptive Thinking to create Innovation.

There are two phases to achieving this level of skill, by both indirect, unconscious effort and conscious effort. One is to become expert enough so that we are aware of all the possibilities, research and knowledge in that field and the other, is to learn to listen to that inner voice that is called intuition or sometimes, gut feeling. As we become more aware of the intuitive answer, and we experience the correctness or wrongness of it in the real world, then we start learning to listen to our intuition and to start relying on the answers that we know must be correct, although we have not purposefully processed the answer pathways.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The issue of Creativity in Problem Solving

Creativity is an overused word globally. Experts and laymen alike use it to explain everything that is wrong with everything from education systems to fashion and movies, and the host of solutions that are being proposed to ensure the survival of the planet. The knowledge that is lacking though is how creativity is born and can be nurtured to the point that it is able to be applied.

What is this creativity? Why are so many of us convinced that this is the one trait that will solve all our problems and be a stepping stone to success? Let’s start with some simple experiments that try to deal with the little details of this big picture called “Creativity”.

1. The Einstellung Effect (when thinking is mechanised due to previous experience): Lurchins Water Jar experiment, 1942

2. Incubation effect (when interruption of the task improves eventual success rate): Silveira’s Cheap-necklace problem experiment, 1971

3. Functional Fixedness (when problem solving is fixed by a perceived fixed use of objects, leading to failure): Dunker’s The Candle Experiment, 1945

4. Issues of Correct representation (when presentation of a problem can influence the ease by which it is solved): Wickelgren’s Mutilated Checkerboard problem, 1974

5. Spontaneous Transfer (when people solve new problems using learning from a prior experience, even when not conscious of the connection): Maiers’s Two String Problem, 1931

6. Intrinsic motivations (when people perform better and more consistently when they are motivated intrinsically) Deci’s Soma Cube Experiment, 1969

Knowing all these, where do we go next? How do we use this knowledge we have from all the research that shows what blocks, sparks and sustains creativity and intrinsic motivations?

Could our intensely vivid world restrict creativity?

I was reading a damn good book this morning, when I was engaged in my morning ablutions, and I suddenly realised I was running late. I was lost in a world of magic and adventure for 30 minutes and it felt like 5.

I then realised that this never happened when I was reading my favourite comics, Tintin or Asterix and Obelix. I never did get lost in the comic world because the imagery was all laid out for me and nothing much was left to my imagination.

What if in our world, where imagery and videos and YouTube greet us at every turn, we are losing the ability to imagine and dream? My children do not need to construct 3D worlds in their heads because everything is laid out for them. They don't need to lose themselves in their laptops, but must instead stay focused on the pictures and videos that are going by. What do they lose in the process? What do they gain?

Could it be that Creativity is becoming such a huge issue, simply because we are building a world that negates the need for our children to be creative - everything is precisely laid out for them? There is no need for them to turn inward and make order out of the chaos that is the usual resting state of our brains. They are constantly turning outwards and looking at directions and instructions that are laid out for them.

Is there a train of logic here? Can you reflect and build in your head, the scenario I have just mapped out and picture the results - a child of today waiting to receive pictures and imagery, rather than building them in his head? Is there a logical link between this vivid world and the destruction of a creative mind?

Friday, April 1, 2011

An educational revolution

Governments are unable to initiate educational reforms because the education machinery is too vast and complex.

Educators, be they in school or higher education institutes (HEIs), simply do not want to and are incapable of change because it would involve learning a whole new set of skills, values and understandings of the new 21st century learner – hugely due to the fact that the new learner wants autonomy and does not take instruction and orders easily.

The public is reluctant to move, and are frozen to immobility because the internet is bombarding them with so many expert opinions and each touting itself as the best new 21st century education system. There is also the myth that old ways and values that were good for our forefathers should be brought back to instill old values and ethical moralities.

Industry demands new skills for new market places and emerging technologies, but want to have the chicken before the egg and still maintain that their profits cannot be touched and are reluctant to participate and catalyse educational transformations that are not their “core business”.
Experts - teachers, academics, administrators, ministry officers – already know that we have to change but simply do not want to be the first to initiate risky maneuvers that will put our heads on the chopping block, and possibly resulting in the government of the day having to face the vote-controlling public with bad news.

Clearly though, education systems have to change to meet the needs of newly evolved brains of the human race and the newly evolved demands of the 21st century. What is next?

I would propose that whatever we plan on doing, we are already out of time and we have no time to plan for changes that occur in slow steps. We need a revolution that is akin to what is happening in the Middle East, where people have taken the law into their own hands because they realise that talk leads nowhere. They are mired in environments where violence greets different ways of thinking, and where fear is used as an instrument of control.

Let us look at this proposed model of a series of steps that need to occur before we can achieve our wanted outcomes of producing students with innovative, risk taking and wise decision making behaviours. It assumes that what must catalyse the whole process is that first step of a transformed learning environment, which is pretty similar to the natural world we live in. We respond to the changes and stressors in our environment and we either evolve positively or negatively in order to survive in the transformed environment. A positive reaction enables us to survive successfully, and a negative reaction will diminish our chances of being successful.

l e a r n i n g s p a c e t r a n s f o r m a t i o n
Anytime Collective & Computational Intelligent Access
s t a k e h o l d e r s i m p a c t e d
Learners, Educators & Administrators
t r a n s f o r m e d p e r s p e c t i v e s
Intrinsic Motivations, Relevance & Meaning
b e l i e f & a c c e p t a n c e
Autonomy, Purpose & Mastery
t h o u g h t p r o c e s s e s
Creativity, Thinking and Intuition
s t a k e h o l d e r o u t c o m e s
Innovation, Risk Taking & Wise Decision Making

Assuming that this model is mostly correct, the all-important event that has to take place is the introduction of a catalyst into our learning spaces, from kindergartens to HEIs. What shape would this catalyst take?

From my perspective, the answer has to be an affordable technological tool that is intelligent, and is powered with “anytime Collective & Computational Intelligent Access” in our Learning Spaces. Figure out yourself what shape that tech tool should take and what kind of Collective and Computational Intelligence applications exist that are able to meet this need. A real dilemma, but certainly, doable solutions exist.

One of the crucial initial outcomes for a transformed learning space is the acceptance of educators for student autonomy. Educators must start accepting that in this age of the internet, learners more than ever need a life guide who will be able to help them understand the invisible rules governing the code of good human conduct. We should accept, with open arms, that we cannot compete with the internet in its ability to present data in varied and interesting ways, at the click of a button. What the internet will not be able to offer though for a very long time to come, is the ability to help learners understand values, ethics, emotional interactions, wise risk taking behaviours and the many complicated rules of relationships and teamwork.

The internet will never be able to teach young people that the hardest stage of solving problems and creating solutions in the real world is the very initial stage that deals with getting people in your team to stay motivated, focused and willing to contribute their full energies and talents to achieving sought after outcomes. It is about dealing with red tape and following vexing procedures that kill enthusiasm and spirit. These are things that only a human guide can help show and identify as the crucial intangible obstacles to everyday human accomplishments.

Educators will hopefully come to realise that they are actually giving up their roles as the providers of content to become someone who is so much more valuable to the lives of learners. In Malaysia specifically, educators have to contend with the struggle to provide learners with insights and understandings into the big picture of racial and religious acceptance, not just tolerance. We are constantly bombarded with every excuse to judge a people based on race, religion and wealth, and educators here play a crucial role to show learners that excuses are for the weak minded and bigots. There always are solutions in the real world – provided we are willing to engage with others and have the ability to make people want to engage with us.

Educators are still needed who are expert in their specialised areas, and who can provide big picture views after a long period of specialised experiences in their subject areas, living through mistakes, applications and real world implications for that specialised subject area. The internet offers a small chunk of knowledge or data, and it requires experienced guides to show relevance, meaning and possible pitfalls of that independent chunk of knowledge. The one thing I can state with confidence is that we will need educators to become very focused on communicating ideas and stimulating discussions and dialogue.

I am not proposing anything that is completely radical, and neither am I proposing something that is abstract and difficult to grasp. We are always making choices knowing the facts and sometimes knowing nothing, and those choices lead to decisions that will change our lives for the better or for the worse. This is one such circumstance. We cannot afford to adopt a wait and see attitude because right now, any country that takes a calculated risk and jumps feet first into a brand new education curriculum, will potentially have the chance to lead the world and go down in history as the new pioneers of the 21st century.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Eureka Moments

We have all had those moments of clarity where ideas, thoughts and solutions to our life’s biggest problems seem to pop into our heads in a continuous stream that cannot be ignored. How nice it would be if we could actually control these events and have them happen at will! Most people would pretty much agree that this “Eureka Moment” (EM) are random and completely beyond human control. How about if I present a case for it being very much in our control, but requires a set of circumstances to be present for that EM to occur?
The reason I am talking about this is because EMs are skillfully crafted moments that can be purposefully trained. We need to have learners who are able to access the full range of their brain power to stimulate critical, logical and intuitive thinking. This, I believe, is a requisite for new people with new ways of thinking that in turn enable the development of new ideas that could quite possibly transform current approaches to living on this planet.
My proposition is that we are not planning in the correct way to reach those EMs. More accurately, we are focusing on the wrong things when we even do plan. I remember this scene in the movie, Men in Black. The hero and a bunch of agents are asked to complete a test on a piece of paper. They are forced to sit in an almost completely enclosed chair that blocks arm movements, which makes it impossible to write. There is a fixed, immovable table in the center, out of reach of anyone sitting on the chair. The chair can be ripped off its base. Whilst the agents try to wriggle around to write on the document, the hero rips the chair off its base, moves it to the table, leans forward and easily completes the test.
The focus of the agents was wrong because they were in the box and yes, I know it is the world’s greatest cliché! This is the famous box that we all seem to be perpetually stuck in. Almost 100% of the time, we stay in the box because our focus and planning are wrong. Let’s get to how we might shift the focus and planning.
My first prerequisite comes from this saying, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”
This means that when you repeatedly do something, you will gradually learn more and more about it. The many ways of doing things and the expected results – maybe, could be, probably, logically, surely. Now, when you repeat your actions and unexpected things happen… aha… now you will learn. If you monotonously do the same thing, you will become an expert at performing that sequence, but you learn nothing new. It implies that you need to make mistakes in order to enable true learning, something that most education systems and workplaces seem to have forgotten. In fact, current learners and employees are punished for mistakes in a way that makes them never ever want to take the risk again.
Prerequisite number 2 is the forethought for Planned Discovery
Learning occurs during novel experiences, or at least that is the way it should be. When you are confronted with an experience that is a surprise, and one that you did not prepare for, then your curiosity is aroused. If you had expected a set outcome from your actions, and you instead get an outcome that is different, you would want to know what changed. Somehow or the other, your perceptions and your world views have to be altered because you realise that somewhere along the line in your thought processes, an error exists. It could be your factual knowledge, assumptions, variables not accounted for and the host of details that have a causal effect on your perception of the world, but the conclusion is that something needs changing.
You might also have some wrong learning systems, and insist that the outside world is wrong and you always right. You might dismiss the occurrence as a fluke or an accident, and only search for answers that reinforce your own knowledge and ways of thinking – a common habit among learners and human beings.
The implication here is that learners have to start learning by experiencing when and where to apply what types of rules for learning. Most importantly, students can accelerate their learning by participating in Planned Discovery - actively seeking out encounters where they are likely to learn and in the process of doing this; learn to get rid of the habit of looking for knowledge that reinforces preconceived notions about ways of thinking.
Prerequisite number 3 is that “Inexperienced Decision Making is the weakest link, so build experience” to achieve EM
Charles Darwin said "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" and this is quite probably the most dangerous aspect of ignorance.
Look back at work you have done with a team of people, and those that were actually completed and met expected outcomes. How long did it take from planning, up to achieving deliverable outcomes? Consider now repeating the project with all parameters remaining the same, the exception now being experience levels and awareness of previous mistakes. What do you think the timeline will be now?
Research shows that the new timeline would be on the order of quarter to half the previous time.
If the only difference during that the second time was that you had mastered the intricacies of the project, this would suggest that the obstacle to your deliverables was what you didn’t know. It does not mean that you spent all the extra time trying to learn stuff. You probably spent it trying to find a way forward, or being involved in discussions with various experts, in order to get more information. You also probably took wrong turnings, that you would not have taken had you only known.
So it’s not really learning that’s the weakest link – its inexperienced decision making and ignorance. More accurately, it’s inexperience about specific aspects of the problem at hand. Inexperience is the greatest obstacle.
Inexperience applies along multiple lines of reasoning. You can be inexperienced with the particular technologies, inexperienced with the ways in which you could address the problem or opportunity, inexperienced with a better way of articulating the problem – a better model – that would make the solution obvious, inexperienced with people in the team – their aspirations or fears, their motivation, their relationships with one another and out into to the wider organisation – there are a host of other factors that could affect delivery of expected outcomes.
Prerequisite number 4 is the skill of Creative Thinking - aka analytical thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, logical thinking and thinking of all sorts.
Obviously, all humans think, unless they have been programmed and conditioned to not think; and to question everything. This must sound very familiar to many of you, no? Thinking and creativity are closely related, thinking being a prerequisite to creative thinking, creativity for short. The dilemma is, education is never easily “administered” where creativity is allowed. Could you imagine a school where lesson plans are ignored, and where learners are allowed to explore tangents that they go off on, or where even one where learners are allowed more authority than teachers!? What a nightmare scene! Yet, without this nightmare scene, Creative Thinking skills will never develop.
I have this poetic bit of a paragraph that was constructed to try painting a picture of the kind of students that we need to have so that we have EM’s exploding throughout the day in our schools.
“To realize that we are shaped by education, that learning leads to thought and self-reflection, understanding and knowledge and wisdom, and to see that skills in critical thinking lead to creative solutions; thus strengthening our minds and giving us sound judgment and character to see clearly. Our student is a Scientist who is able to interpret a poem, a Poet who sees rhyme in the Scientific Method and a Philosopher who understands there are no truths, only perspectives.”

Eureka Moments are built on the starting blocks described above, yet these are the very attributes that are seldom present in most education systems. I think that administrators and many stakeholders will even now, argue against changes being made because people have been conditioned to stay in comfort zones and to not rock the boat when the sea is still reasonably calm.

I must also say that stakeholders, who want change, have to create a storm if they want that change. Don’t sit at home and send letters and emails complaining about the state of affairs – go out and do something about it! Develop plans for actions that foster innovative changes with measureable outcomes. These just might motivate “Higher Powers” to start engaging with stakeholders for the transformation of our education system.

Plan for a Eureka Moment, and when inspiration strikes, JUST DO IT!