Bob Bailey

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Joseph E. Aoun: “A Learning Model for the Future”

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Aoun starts by quoting some people who work in Technology Industries that Technological jobs are in the ascendence and that the Human mind is being rendered an ‘economic relic’; is it’s a slippery slope to mass unemployment, perhaps yes, but these new technologies also create a wealth of jobs by replacing the jobs that they have themselves made redundant. These new technologies, through automation and  also create new work which benefit the less skilled. So the highly skilled will always be employ in work due to their increasing productivity… but Aoun goes on to say that we don’t yet know everything about our world or on our planet intact there are still many new things that we can discover, to write, create, solve – but will will have the tools to enable us?

There is a long history of education evolving to modify it’s output to take the working environment into consideration. So not merely happy with pumping out students into the workplace it has, on many an occasion, realised that it can help provide a workforce to enhance new technologies or ways of working. Can technology replace our creativity?

Education can not create genius’ but might assist vague talents into focused individuals (a rough semantic). Perhaps there are more geniuses as the population maintains its rapid incline over centuries but it is education that has enabled those, privileged enough to receive it or willing enough to use it, to climb further than they would.

J.P.Gifford’s ‘Convergent and Divergent thinking’ were terms I had not heard (actually I hadn’t heard of J.P.Gifford either). Convergent thinking relates to finding the single correct answer whilst Divergent thinking relates to a collection and shifting of ideas. Convergent could be seen as binary (associated with technology, machines and calculators) whilst Divergent can be seen as multitudinous (associated with creativity, play, risk, curiosity and sensitivity).

Schools teach using a rote system which is seen as Convergent; I teach facts: you answer the questions using these facts – where original thoughts are secondary to the answer. Higher Education uses an Independent learning philosophy where the student will be given basic instructions and will need to invest time and effort to research and develop a response where original thought should be considered the ultimate goal.

Victorian Education was elite; private arts for the rich, some reading and writing and maths for the poor (if they were lucky). So anyone with a bit of knowledge, can read, write and add up can work – it may have been in menial jobs that required little thought process but at least they fed the increasing spaces in the binary workplace. Nothing much has changed here except the need for more workforce to fill the ever increasing binary workplace.

 

Aoun writes about “New Literacies”; a power giver, a enabler of communication both technologically and human.

  • Technological literacy has been slow to adopt educational sectors. Coding may be more straightforward but the engineering and aligning  f both will need to be taken up more fully by Higher Educational institutions. Do curent lecturers know enough about both; I doubt it unless one has studied both recently. Coding has become just as, if not more, important than mathematics (calculators and smart phones have reduced the need to remember how to add, divide etc. etc.).
  • Data literacy covers the understanding and utilisation of data. Considering how many things are now ‘smart’ and ‘data storing’ there is a plethora of information that we can draw upon to enlighten us or interpret into something meaningful and useful – extrapolate for accurate predictions  medical, business, economic growth, need for new technologies).
  • Human literacy maybe considered the most important as it should allow us to communicate, engage, enlighten us through creativity. We do not live in a bubble so understanding how other humans react, use, understand, love, hold etc. etc. can help us to develop ideas using techniques such as brainstorming, negotiation and collaboration.Diversity, he suggests, is important to engage in considering that technology is treating society as one conglomeration then understanding the range of consumers, the range of cultures that make up this conglomeration will become more important especially if data analysis begins to treat us as equals; we are anything but equal. Human literacy can remind us of inequality, ethical and socio-political issues and help us make the right choices.

Cognitive Capacities:

To master a technologies world students, according to Aoun, need to master 4 cognitive capacities:

  • Critical Thinking – to analyse ideas and apply these productively (machines can do this but can’t imagine the next step or to combine unrelated data). Emotive, creative, instinctual skills are what separates a human’s critical thinking from well designed software for an app or data reservoir (though Humans aren’t infallible at misreading data (New Orleans Levee failures of 2005, Shuttle Columbia 2003).
  • Systems Thinking – Computers can be programmed to calculate much information from data is receives to relay answers that are quite specific to the question. They can not, though, think further as to how the data might be useful to many sectors as Humans can. ‘System thinkers’ can “tackle the problems that challenge us most” according to Aoun. So solitary data is not seen from an isolationist viewpoint but can become more beneficial by relating it to less apparent related data. It is a a web of factors that interact to create patterns and change over time. See Waters Foundation   https://www.watersfoundation.org/
  • Entrepreneurship – We need to distinguish ourselves (more so in this digital age). As our habits and needs evolve we lose jobs (machines taking over) but, through entrepreneurship, we make new ones. These can be socio, political, creative, scientific. All can bring emotional or monetary profits. Aoun quotes Desh Deshpande “There are three types of people in  heworld. There are some who are oblivious to everything, some who see a problem and complain, the rest see a problem and get excited to fix it”. Does this mean that an impoverished mind can not find a way out of this? It all seems rather bleak! Failure can be an enlightening factor and entrepreneurs understand that not all failures are unproductive and it’s less financially and emotionally risky to fail and learn at University than in the world ‘outside’. I try to tell my students that there is no such thing as a mistake as we can learn and develop our work using these odd travels as a springboard to something even more rewarding / inventive / extraordinary. I know that the students struggle with this concept but I will persevere.
  • Cultural Agility – Experience, cultural difference awareness, empathy, understanding and collaboration are all attributes that can, if used wisely, help us to develop in a kinder, smarter, resourceful way. Although the world seems smaller through the WWW it needs individuals or Companies to translate cultural differences (including class, creed and gender), immigration factors, natural resource wastage etc. Context is important and few machines can relate a context to a situation.

 

He goes on to discuss how we might teach; summarising by using jargons such as “cognitive capacities, pedagogical toolbox, thematic study, project based learning, real-world connections. To expose the underlying fabric of learning like turning a sweater inside out. The students need to know what is being studied, practised and acquired. To make process and learning goals clear to the students. So in my field of Theatre Set Design: a programme could map out how an assignment builds a students’ systems thinking skills whilst exposing students to relevant concepts of space, scale, engineering and health and safety regulations.  I could advise students of entrepreneurship by discussing networking, new technology, changing environments, changing attitudes of modern audiences. By combining several fields students would then be considered to leave the Convergent (learn by rote) to the more rewarding Divergent way of thinking.

I find that the article feels like we need to start resisting. Have we not already? However; with the size of UAL I feel uncomfortable that student numbers rise, the fees are not utilised well enough to teach or advise students as the classes are too big, we have less time to teach the students and the students are treated as customers and now worry about huge financial debts on leaving their course. How does Entrepreneurship fit within this, how can risk taking feel exciting? Maybe in a safe environment at College is enough for them to experience a bit of everything that Aoun suggests; my only hope is that we’ll have enough time in the day to supervise it, the vocabulary to explain everything, the contexts to aide.

‘Practice makes perfect’ ? Yes… up to a point (though I don’t agree that perfection exists). Get the students to get some work experience? No: I don’t believe in this as it undermines the current workforce, it’s seen as cheap (or free) labour and it is not entirely a useful practice as 2 or 4 weeks in a new working environment is hardly beneficial (except in learning communication skills and whether one is self-confident enough to survive for 4 weeks). it also stops graduates from getting permanent jobs as the employers realise they can get a steady stream of ‘work experiences’ with no outlay to the employer. So, to quote Aoun, we need to think of other ways to enable students to understand how “their acquisition of the new literacies and development of the cognitive capacities will serve them in their life goals – not simply as scores on a transcript.”

Aoun’s definition of Divergent Thinking as “playfulness, curiosity, and willingness to take risks.” are things I have always done in my own professional practice and therefore have always endeavoured to install this in my students. Binary technology can not, quite yet, replicate these ‘skills’; let’s strive to ensure that the students can stay one step ahead of Technological advances in these spheres.

There is nothing so useful to the young as experience; I aim to give my students as much as possible in the little time I have with them.

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