Motion: More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall is Obsolete

Fascinating debate on the merits of online education.


Biotechnology, Ethics & The Future

While I’m sure there are many lasting impressions from the 20:20 Vision Symposium, it seems that a universal memory were some of Laura Deming’s closing comments. I personally appreciated her undomesticated energy and enthusiasm. Her passion and precocious talent make her a poster child for the virtues of self-directed learning in my mind. Yet her unbridled quest for life-extension quickly revealed some serious tunnel vision: when asked if she thought about the ethical dimensions of her work in biotechnology, she bluntly said, “no.” The auditorium seemed to recoil in response. These comments, and this sentiment in general, underscore the importance of a liberal arts education.

Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is interconnected. Science has revealed this truth in spades. So, while scientific and technological breakthroughs may be incubated in a lab or workshop, they quickly reverberate into social, economic and environmental domains. As increasing breakthroughs in biotechnology may banish infectious and chronic diseases into the annals of history, this long fabled fountain of youth might also unleash unintended consequences. This is why all scientific and technological progress must be matched with ethical and humanistic progress. If our external development quantum leaps past our internal development then we unknowingly sow the seeds for the terror of tomorrow. Nuclear fission takes a high level of cognitive development, but doesn’t guarantee that those who know how to split an atom have the intelligence to use it wisely – if at all. Hiroshima and Fukushima are grim reminders of this principle.

As science and technology continue to develop at an exponential rate, how can we ensure that our internal development is keeping pace? Taking an interdisciplinary approach could be a good place to start. I can envision a Civ-like class that learns about not only the science of biotechnology, but also explores the economic, social and ethical dimensions that come bundled in the manipulation of genes.  For example, biomedical engineering should be learned alongside a close reading of Frankenstein, an investigation into moral philosophy, and scenario planning into its socioeconomic impact.

James Baldwin once said that, “Not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” So my question to you is: how should we face the seismic changes that are taking place on planet earth (biotechnology being just one of them) that promise to reconfigure what it means to be human?

Technology Alone is Not Enough

In my conversation during the 20/20 Symposium with Matt Crowley, who works in the Manufacturing Design department at Apple, I was most interested in how he echoed Steve Job’s sentiments that technology alone wasn’t enough.

When introducing the iPad 2 Steve Job’s said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” He seemed to being saying the best ideas and most innovative products emerge from the intersection of technology and the humanities.

When I asked Matt in what capacity the liberal arts and humanities have impacted his role as a designer, he said that it’s been essential. From his experience, you can’t design technology for people unless you understand the unique culture and history of the people you are designing something for. One needs to start out taking an anthropological approach by asking questions and observing. An anthropological perspective, combined with training in the humanities, create a synergy that isn’t possible by technological training alone.

With all the talk about the importance coding, and the decline in the arts and humanities majors, it seems vital to reiterate that one of the most iconic technology companies is a result of the convergence of technology and art. So, are there merits to learning coding? Absolutely. But your coding will be taken to new heights if it’s immersed in art history, literature, philosophy and performing arts.

In “Flipped” Classrooms, a Method for Mastery

A recent New York Times article provides a good overview of how flipped teaching can, if given the right framework, provide the conditions for developing mastery.  The crux of the approach can be distilled down to this pedagogical switch, “In traditional schooling, time is a constant and understanding is a variable…But there is another way to look at schooling — through the lens of a method called “mastery learning,” in which the student’s understanding of a subject is a constant and time is a variable.”

Flipping the Classroom

Flipping the classroom has received a lot of press, thanks, in part, to the popularity of Khan Academy. The basic premise of flip teaching is simple: video lectures are watched at home and homework is done during class time.  Proponents of flip teaching say the advantage of this model is that students can apply the knowledge they learned during the video lesson in class by solving problems in an interactive group environment. The teacher has the opportunity to work with differentiated groups and can more easily tutor students at their own pace and level.  This interactive pedagogy converts learners from passive note-takers into active teachers who have to explain their understanding and ideas to their group and the teacher. By some estimates interactive learning can triple students gains in knowledge.

Check out a flip video one of our science teachers, Vivian Byun, created below.

Learning Computer Code

In a recent CNN article Douglas Rushkoff wrote about the value of learning computer code.  We are living in a world that is increasingly being defined by computer programs. “Code is the stuff that makes computer programs work — the list of commands that tells a word processor, a website, a video game, or an airplane navigation system what to do.”

Computer code is a cornerstone of our information ecosystem. By learning to code we are developing an aspect of digital literacy and increasing our job prospects.

At CodeYear over 300,000 people, including New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have signed up to receive free interactive coding lessons each week from the web-based tutorial, Codeacademy.

Another way to way to learn computer coding is with the iPad app Codea. Codea is remarkable code editing app that lets you create interactive simulations, games and just about any visual ideas you have.

“If you know how to code,” in Rushkoff’s words, “you can get a high-paying job right now, or make valuable stuff right now. You will understand more about how the world works, and become a participating member in the digital society unfolding before us.”


MIT Interactive Simulation Tools

The MIT Sloan School of Management offers a variety of free interactive management simulation tools designed to help students learn about commodity pricing, the solar photovoltaic industry, sustainability issues, and the video game industry. These simulators have participants leading the respective industries. The goal of all simulations is to bring an experiential aspect to learning about complex systems.  Sloan Professors state that these simulations have more impact than simply listening to lectures or engaging in a case study discussion because these tools require applying knowledge in a dynamic environment.

The Human Brain in the Digital Age

Cathy N. Davidson’s book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way we Live, Work, and Learn, is about the human brain and human potential in the digital age.

The heart of the book focuses on how the phenomena of “attention blindness” shapes our lives. In order to focus and pay attention to any one task we filter out many other things that are happening around us.  As a result we have blind spots. But we don’t all filter in the same way.  Our focus is idiosyncratic.  While attention blindness pigeonholes our perspective, Davidson argues that the digital age is providing new ways of seeing and learning that’s based on multitasking our attention.  Social media is allowing us to aggregate perspectives and generate a bigger and more accurate picture by seeing together.

While digital tools offer ways to mitigate the problem of attention blindness, our institutions of learning and work are still designed to meet the social and economic needs of last century. How do we prepare students for the challenges and workplaces of tomorrow? Now You See It provides glimpses of the future by highlighting visionaries and pioneers who are helping to shape the nature and direction of education and work.