‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ and What it Means for Education

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Macmillan Publishers

I recently finished Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics. Kahneman received the distinguished prize for his “Integrated economic analysis with fundamental insights from cognitive psychology, in particular regarding behavior under uncertainty, thereby laying the foundation for a new field of research.”

Kahneman writes extensively in Thinking, Fast and Slow about his research conducted over a period of several years with his late friend and research partner Amos Tversky. Though heavy in theory, the book is an engaging and frequently challenging read. It provides a unique perspective on the decision-making process which Kahneman demonstrates via his thesis—how we think with two systems, fast and slow. His supporting research reveals just how fallible we are. Kahneman describes the fast and slow thinking as two systems→system one which is quick, spontaneous and often inaccurate, and system two, that is slow [even lazy], methodical, yet when engaged, accesses memory for facts. Kahnemen examines how the two systems affect cognitive biases, choices, even our well-being and happiness. Going deeper, Kahneman explores how [flawed] biases and perceptions when applied to larger issues, policy decisions for example, can have significant impact on sectors such as healthcare, education and employment.

→ System 1:  fast, instinctive, is biased to believe and confirm, infers and invents          causes and intentions, exaggerates emotional consistency (halo effect)
→ System 2:  slow, deliberate, rational, logical, relies on facts and knowledge

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The image above displays the different images used in a study carried out in a kitchen in a UK university. The poster was placed above the tea/coffee area where the ‘honesty’ box was set for the payment of cups of tea or coffee consumed by employees. Above the box a different image appeared each week. The study charted the impact the image had on the value of payments into the honesty box each week (p 57).

Book Highlights
Throughout the book Kahneman incorporates numerous details and specifics of his research, describing the scenarios of his studies, even providing illustrations and images within the book. He shares the outcomes of the research in great detail along with his personal insight. The anecdotes are often humorous, providing a balance to the heaviness of the topic.

One of the writing techniques of Kahneman I enjoyed the most, was his use of summary statements at the end of each chapter representative of the concepts discussed. If I didn’t follow the logic of the statements, I had failed to grasp the concepts Kahneman presented in the chapter, which sent me back to reread it to find what I’d missed (which happened more than once). I’ve chosen a selection of statements from a few of the chapters:

Chapter 4 ‘The Associative Machine’: “They were primed to find flaws, and this is exactly what they found

Chapter 14: ‘Tom W’s Speciality’: “The start-up looks as if it could not fail, but the base rate of success in the industry is extremely low. How do we know this case is different?”

Chapter 16 ‘Causes Trump Statistics’: “No need to worry about this statistical information being ignored. On the contrary, it will immediately be used to feed a stereotype.”

Chapter 18 ‘Taming Intuitive Predictions’: Our intuitive prediction is very favorable, but it is probably too high. Let’s take into account the strength of our evidence and regress the prediction toward the mean.”

What ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ Means to Education
As mentioned, Thinking, Fast and Slow is full of concepts that challenge traditional views on human decision-making, application of choice theory, even probability. What Kahneman’s research reveals is that people, regardless of their education background are prone to cognitive biases, faulty decision-making that fail because system 1 kicks in before the more rational and logical  system 2 is engaged. Viewing the book through an educator’s lens, the results highlight the need for institutions to educate learners to be disciplined thinkers, which is quite opposite from today’s emphasis on teaching creativity and innovation skills. Our minds, according to  Kahneman don’t naturally rely upon logical, rational or critical thinking processes.  Instead system 1 thinking dominates, prompting emotional reactions, reliance on recent events and experiences, and is susceptible to the priming effect, where exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another. Kahneman’s gives examples to support his point.  One example of a study involved doctors, which revealed even medical professionals were susceptible to the priming effect (p 227). Other scholarly research supports Kahnemans’ results, described in this research paper

Notes to Educators
If one subscribes to Kahneman theory, education for high school and undergraduates should focus on teaching disciplined thinking, decision-making skills and principles of probability, choice theory and statistics.  Another skill to emphasize is to approach problems methodically, without jumping to conclusions and settling on easy answers—a challenge given the way culture has shaped expectations for answers at the speed of light.

“The most glaring deficiency of system 2, according to Kahneman, is that it is naturally very poor with probabilities and statistics. Fortunately, system 2 can be trained to improve here, and this is another major concern of the book.” News Books In Brief, 2013

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment… You can… feel a surge of conscious attention whenever you are surprised. System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains” (2011, Kahneman).

Conclusion
Thinking, Fast and Slow highlights what is missing from education, or at least what is not emphasized across disciplines, which is the concept of disciplined thinking, logic, application of methodical processes that harness factual and theoretical knowledge one learns. As mentioned already, the trend in education today leans towards teaching creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, even the application of design thinking principles. Kahneman’s books provides solid evidence for education that includes applications of disciplined thinking, logic and methodical decision-making.

If you are interested in this book, but short on time, the resources below provide excellent highlights and descriptions of the key concepts of the book. The short YouTube video illustrates one example outlined in the book, and the link to edge.org includes an interview with Kahnamen where he discusses much of the content outlined in his book.

The video below demonstrates a scenario Kahneman describes in his book (p 186).  Note: the video uses the idea of the US grade point average (GPA).  For those not familiar with it, the top score is this instance is 4.0.

Further Reading:

Is Learning Scientific or Organic?

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Lafayette College, Organic Garden

Is learning scientific or organic? A scientific perspective suggests that learning is explained by how the brain works, is rationalized by scientific study. Organic learning on the other hand occurs through the culture in which one lives—where learning is derived from, or characteristic of culture and society.

The presentation, subtitled Learning Theory & MOOCs delivered by Boise State University professor Norm Friesen at a conference in Shanghai, presents the alternate viewpoint that learning is cultural—that learning comes about through experience and immersion in culture rather than by a process explained by scientific study of behaviors. Not a new idea, though it’s worth examining for two reasons: first, in light of the transformative influence technology is having on our behavior as a society and culture as we speak—and second, that current teaching practices are based on learning theories derived from scientific studies done decades ago. Considering these two factors, is there a disconnect in the practices and methods implemented at education institutions today? The presentation sheds light on this question—it’s thought-provoking, so much so I want to share it with readers.

Presentation Overview 
The slideshare with audio is about an hour-long; three-quarters of it focuses on learning theory which is the focus of the highlights outlined below. MOOCs were discussed briefly at the end of the presentation.

Learning as a Science
The idea of learning as a science began in the 1900′s with the American psychologist Edward Thorndike. Interested in learning, he laid the foundation for learning as science through his research on testing and exam procedures in industrial settings, and behavior studies that used animals as test subjects. Subsequent theories, behaviorism, cognitivsm and constructivism followed, all built on the similar premise that learning is biological, or mechanistic; the brain acts as a center for processing, storing, recalling and directing responses to stimuli. Over the last hundred years education institutions built practices, methods and policies around the principles of the theories. Teaching is a reflection of this scientific perspective; methods of instruction, assessment and testing embrace the theoretical principles.

In recent years, it’s gone further where the human brain is compared to a computer. Common terms used to describe learning and the brain include storing, processing, retrieving, short-term memory, etc. To that end, knowledge is taught in schools with the goal of maximum efficiency, technology often used as a method to increase efficiency, ie. automating teaching functions grading tests, essays and even feedback from robots in group work.

Learning as a Science: Examples
The scientific approach to learning, where the brain is viewed as the ‘processor’ of learning, drives our education practices, yet still the evidence of exactly how learning occurs within the brain is inconclusive. Friesen, in his presentation describes the science of learning, as “learning = x”.   There is no shortage of examples that reinforce the point that education builds on this scientific approach:

The American Psychological association devotes an entire section on its website to teachers: “Research in Brain Functioning and Learning: The importance of matching instruction to your child’s maturity level”.

Another organization, Learning & the Brain®, seeks to bring “neuroscientists and educators together to explore new research on the brain and learning and its implications for education“.

Learning is Organic
Friesen challenges the scientific viewpoint with a slide introducing culture as the driver of learning:

What if we were to say...
“We depend for survival on the inheritance of acquired characteristics from the culture pool rather than from a gene pool.

“Culture [would] then become the chief instrument for guaranteeing survival, with techniques of transmission being of the highest order of importance.” 

Friesen goes further and suggests that:

  • Learning is not cause and effect
  • Learning is cultural not scientific (brain as the machine)
  • Learning is contingent upon culture
  • Learning changes over time

There are two theorists that Friesen uses to support the perspective of considering a cultural approach to educating students—one is Jerome Bruner, a psychologist readers are likely familiar with, who is considered a cognitivist (thus supporting the science dimension). However, Friesen emphasizes that Bruner states that learning changes in fundamental ways based upon culture, example of technology.

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Slide from Dr. Norm Friesen’s Slideshare, Learning Theory & MOOCs (2013)

Dr. Daniel Trohler is a scholar that studies the role of culture in education; Friesen shares Trohler’s perspective put forth in one of his book’s on the topic, The knowledge of science and the knowledge of the classroom Using the Heidelberg Catechism. In this example Trohler examines school textbooks over the ages and makes the point that pedagogy derived from science presents a constructed picture to students, that is a part of a whole, becomes an object of teaching for maximum efficiency.

Closing
Professor Friesen’s presentation is thought-provoking–my takeaway is how it challenges the traditional approach education. Professor Friesen doesn’t appear to suggest we abandon the learning science altogether, but he does present MOOCs as cultural technique of transmission. Though I suggest that the current-day xMOOCs  are an extension of classroom pedagogy, it is only the delivery format that is different. The same science is behind the methods used, ie. lecture, testing, etc.  It is the cMOOC format, developed by Downes and Siemens that reflects a different approach to learning, a cultural and organic approach accomplished  through a connected experience, where knowledge is constructed by the individual from existing knowledge within a network. Learning is pulled by the learner, and not pushed. This sounds like organic learning, a reflection of our connected and networked culture, doesn’t it?

Resources:

Photo Credit: ‘Lafayette Organic Garden’, Flickr: Lafayette College’s Photostream

Four Ways Educators Can Think About the Future

Forward to 2014 new year conceptHow should educators think about the future? A better way to phrase the question might be, ‘how can educators best think about an unpredictable future for education in a connected and open learning environment’? A recent article Four Keys to Thinking about the Future featured in Harvard Business Review offers what I believe is relevant, practical and unique strategies that any individual faced with change or ambiguity would do well by. This post reviews the four methods outlined in the article and though written for a business audience the ideas are universal and readers will see how applicable each is to an education context. It was the symposium The Next Big Thing: A Historical Approach to Thinking About the Future, sponsored by the Legatum Institute, Harvard Business Review and the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study that provided inspiration for the Four Keys article.

Confronting ambiguity is one of the issues that came up time and again…the day-long symposium, called “The Next Big Thing: a Historical Approach to Thinking about the Future,” [that] included a small, formidable mix of business leaders, technologists, historians, economists, defense experts, pollsters, and philosophers. 

Though there were few educators in the mix, [and the purpose of the conference was to examine how different disciplines think about the future] the outcomes appear relevant to all. The Four Key strategy differs from traditional advice on how to approach change in an uncertain future — it’s far more proactive. The Four Keys suggest incorporating a point of view with great depth and breath—it involves listening carefully something that is most difficult to do when holding firm convictions about a given topic, and studying similar patterns or events from history, not because history repeats itself, but because history often rhymes (Gedmin). The third key also provides a fresh perspective by encouraging individual think, in contrast to groupthink. Key four, learning to deal with ambiguity, is one we’ve all heard before, yet is stellar advice, though often the most difficult.

Four Keys as per Four Keys to Thinking About the Future
1) Enhance your power of observation, in other words listen up.  In our culture of infinite distractions, listening is becoming a lost art.  The article includes several links to related articles about listening and patience, though this essay The Power of Patience is brilliant.

2) Appreciate the value of being (a little) asocial. The author warns of groupthink, a dangerous phenomenon and encourages one to think outside of the box, yet how do you actually do it, when life and livelihood generally depend on operating inside a box? (Gedmin)

3) Study history. I couldn’t agree more with this point. So many mistakes could be avoided had someone done some research into what was done prior, identifying what worked [and didn't] and why

4) Learn to deal with ambiguity. As the saying goes, just do it.

Conclusion
A worthy read as we head into 2014. The advice provided by the author sums it up well “consciously attempt to act on these four pieces of advice and I think you can only get better at anticipating the big things (and small things) that will come next”. 

Further Reading:

Four Radically Different Models in Higher Ed Worth Considering

change-ahead-street-sign-300x225There are radical models in higher education worth examining that challenge the conventional model of undergraduate education; the traditional model representing a four-year on-campus program that includes instruction by faculty or teaching assistants, institution-determined course selections guided by the credit-hour formula, transcripts with GPA calculations, etc. Yet there are countless articles and posts that cry out for reformed models of higher education, even more that provide suggestions and remedies. Yet there are few models in practice that offer face-to-face education experiences that are truly transformational. However, I suggest the four models presented here are worth pondering; two created from scratch, and two that changed within an existing framework.

To reiterate, the institutions discussed here are not virtual schools, each provides face-to-face undergraduate learning experiences where technology is leveraged to facilitate learning. The schools are also committed to teaching foundational subjects—courses from the humanities, yet each provides unique learning experiences that challenge the traditional model in some way.  Each institution takes a different approach, though all encourage learners to choose a learning path, to be self-directed, to follow their interests, and establish their own learning goals. All seek to engage young people in learning, prepare students to think critically and to guide them to find their passion.

Why We Should Be Interested
Why should educators concern themselves with considering non-traditional models of higher education; models that appear far-fetched and irrelevant?  It’s becoming apparent that the current model needs to change, and change for several reasons. First, the majority of existing models at four-year higher education institutions are not sustainable. For the past two years we have heard about the bubble of higher ed, the rising costs that are pricing college education out of reach for many. It’s coming true as predicted. According to a report described in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 percent of public institutions, compared with 15 percent the year before, expect declines in their net-tuition revenue. Already several private institutions have taken drastic measures in response to declining revenue as reported in Inside Higher Ed.  Second, the four institutions described here offer a different perspective on education; a lens that provides a glimpse into what higher education might look like in the future—food-for-thought.  Third, some argue that there is a gap in what the current higher education institutions offer students; not only are many students excluded from higher education for a variety of reasons, but there is a lack of preparation for students to be effective as a post-graduate. Many are ill-equipped to find meaningful work in the knowledge and global economy.

Education Needs to Adapt to the ‘Big Shift’
Change is hard to do, and not just for higher ed. Deloitte’s Center for the Edge for the past three years has published a report that describes the ‘Shift Index‘ which provides metrics that signal changes in order for institutions and organizations to identify long-term trends, and plan accordingly. What is interesting is how applicable the content of the 2011 report is to higher education. The full 2011 report is here, but one interesting fact applicable to higher education is this—”the price/performance capability of computing, storage, and bandwidth is driving an adoption rate for our new “digital infrastructure” that is two to five times faster than previous infrastructures, such as electricity and telephone networks.” Furthermore, it appears individuals (i.e. students) are having a far easier time keeping up with the changes than are the institutions and organizations. It is far more challenging for organizations to remain nimble, yet still quite necessary. The point is, there are significant implications with the Big Shift we are experiencing, and it’s consumer, student, employee, life-long learner behaviours and their adoption of technology that will shape institutions, organizations and businesses of the future. It will be organizations [i.e. higher education institutions] that adapt and harness the new “knowledge flows” that will be successful, and “doing so will require significant institutional innovations” (Kulasooriya, Brown & Hagel, 2011).

Four Schools:
Below I provide a summary of each the four schools, and highlight why each is radical in context of conventional higher education. Though there are other higher education institutions implementing new models, many embracing technology and responding to the needs of students, the four presented here were chosen because of the uniqueness and diversity.

1) Quest University Canada. I heard Quest University’s Vice-Chancellor, David Helfand speak at a conference in November where he described the school he founded. Quite remarkable. Quest started with its first class in 2007 with 73 students. Classes are small. There are no lectures, but all classes are seminar-discussion format. All students complete the same foundational courses in the first two years that cover the humanities, math and sciences, yet the latter two years are unique and individual learning paths chosen and directed by the student. The selection process for professors is most unusual, and all work in an open office where there is no separation by academic schools or disciplines. Why it’s radical: there are no grades; students receive check marks to indicate if they are engaged in learning. The study path for the last two-years of the undergraduate degree program is a unique learning path chosen by each student based upon his or her personal interest/passion. Quest at a glance.

2) Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom.  Founded in 1825 started as a Polytechnic, and in 1992 the school became Liverpool John Moores University, one of the UK’s new generation universities.  This is a research university, that launched ‘a globally unique model of higher education that stresses work-related learning and ‘skill development in tandem with effective employer engagement’. Why it’s radical: the university’s program, World of Work is a support and skill development program for all students that involves involvement and input from national and international employers and business experts. Students not only gain work experience with top companies, but students develop a skill-set labeled World of Work skills. Students abilities are also verified through an employer-validated Skills Statement and interview during their undergraduate course of study. More info here.

3)  University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia. UTS is one of the largest universities in Australia and aims to be a world leader in technology education. The focus is on global, practice-oriented learning where students undertake research, professional and community work experiences. It is heavily focused on collaborative learning that integrates institutional research. Why it’s radical: the hands-on learning approach beginning in first-year of study, and the school’s updated learning strategy for 2014 includes student-generated learning goals, personalized learning paths that integrates online sources, faculty feedback, and development of a personal learning network using digital platforms and tools (three-minute video clip that describes the approach: UTS 2014). UTS undergraduate information.

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Minerva’s logo

4)  Minerva Project, United States. I hesitated to include the Minerva Project here, as this school has long been in the planning phases, and has only just begun to enroll students. However, even if it doesn’t work in this format, it’s worth examining. Conceptualized by Ben Nelson, former chief executive Snapfish the online photo printing site, Minerva seeks to be an ivy league institution with tuition fees that undercut elite US universities by half while guaranteeing students an education based not in one location, but in six of the cities around the world. Why it’s radical: it’s ambitious—not only does it seek to compete the Ivy Leagues, but provides education in brick and mortar classrooms in cities in different countries. It will leverage technology by encouraging students to access content and resources online, i.e. MOOCs but still include face-to-face interaction. By its very nature, it’s an education in globalization. More here.

Conclusion
As highlighted, the schools examined here and the respective models, provide insight into what can be done in higher education to address the Big Shift as described by the Deloitte Center. Though radical as they may seem, each provides a glimpse into how face-to-face undergraduate education is adapted to provide relevant and effective education for a global and digital world.

Resources:

Related Reading:

MOOCs as Non-Disruptors: So, Where Do we go From Here?

I like to call this the year of disruption,” says Anant Agarwal, president of edX, “and the year is not over yet.” New York Times (November 2, 2012)

Chaos Ahead Traffic SignMassive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are not disrupting traditional higher education as predicted by Anant Agarwal, president of edX almost one year ago. To date, MOOCs are not bubble-busters, tuition-busters, or even ‘democratizers’ of higher education. Granted MOOCs do show great promise for continuing education and professional development for working adults, but the value of MOOCs in undergraduate education is questionable. Moreover, the lack of data supporting positive learning outcomes with the MOOC format is for the most part, nonexistent. Given that considerable time, money, and energy have preoccupied institutional resources as applied to MOOCs, now is as good as time as any to re-focus and leverage what we do know about MOOCs gleaned from faculty and instructor experiences.

Discussions about improving access and expanding graduation rates by leveraging technology effectively has stalled in recent months by over-exuberance and misinformation about MOOCs. It doesn’t help that several institutions have excluded faculty and other affected stakeholders from conversations and strategic planning in the first place. Open dialogue about a variety of topics with stakeholders is needed, for instance discussions about i) the changes in knowledge acquisition due to abundance of information and resources, ii) the use of mobile devices, iii) student demand for learning anytime and anywhere, iv) online learning and MOOCs [and the difference between the two], v) open educational resources, etc.

The Way Forward
Constructive discussions leading to position statements or institutional guidelines for each of these areas should include affected stakeholders,  BUT a starting point is productive discourse by informed parties. A core element of any successful debate, negotiation or constructive discussion is knowledge of the topic at hand. Including a grasp of the differing perspectives of the issue. In this instance, institution leaders, faculty, and administrators don’t need to be experts in online learning, MOOCs or open education resources for example, but should be informed before engaging in discussions and decisions pertaining to changes in learning models or methods.

Fortunately, faculty documented experiences with MOOCs and online learning have come to light. For instance, a survey conducted for The Chronicle identified that faculty gained deeper insight into their own teaching and learning, and how online learning ‘works’. The majority of faculty claimed to benefit personally and professionally.

The demographics may explain the overwhelming positivity found among faculty members: 93.5 percent of instructors thought teaching a MOOC was beneficial to them personally or professionally, and 78.7 percent were likely to recommend teaching one to their colleagues.The Chronicle (2013)

Professor Karen Head of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication, blogged about her teams’ experience developing and facilitating a MOOC, First-Year Composition 2.0.  Similar to other professors, her attitudes about MOOCs as a viable replacement for undergraduate education did not change, but the experience provided insight into her own teaching and learning.

“If we define success by the raw numbers, then I would probably say No, the course was not a success…However, if we define success by lessons learned in designing and presenting the course, I would say Yes, it was a success. From a pedagogical perspective, nobody on our team will ever approach course design in the same way. We are especially interested in integrating new technologies into our traditional classes for a more hybrid approach.” The Chronicle, 2013

Professor Duneier of Princeton taught one of the first courses on Coursera, Introduction to Sociology. Duneier openly shared his enthusiasm for MOOCs, writing an opinion piece after the completion of the courses’ first offering. However, he recently backed away from teaching his MOOC, due to the unfavorable contract terms between Coursera and higher ed institutions and its faculty. Duneier acted from an informed perspective, and his positional statement will no doubt influence the path and direction of MOOCs and online education within his own institution.

Princeton professor Mitchell Duneier told The Chronicle of Higher Education Tuesday that he will no longer teach his class out of concerns that it could undermine public higher education.  Duneier told the Chronicle that his Coursera class was “one of the greatest experiences of [his] career” and that he’d like to teach another MOOC at some point — but under the right circumstances.”  GIGA OM, 2013

And another perspective from Duke University’s Professor Starn:

“MOOCs are an exciting learning option, Starn said, noting, however, that it cannot compare to the value of a face-to-face lesson…Although his experience with MOOCs was mixed, Starn is choosing to teach the course again and is looking forward to it.”  Duke Chronicle, 2013

Conclusion – So Where do we go from here?
Higher education, especially in public institutions is complex—yet at the very least, stakeholders familiar with the current issues and events affecting higher education and their respective institution will benefit greatly—personally and as a voice in their institution. Imagine if all faculty, administrators, policy-makers, and board members participated in a MOOC or  online course as a student?

I close with this excerpt from Professor Head’s blog piece. She’s nailed it—”the positive conversation is just beginning“—will you be part of it?

“I’d like to close with this challenge: Please continue to think about the process and practice of teaching MOOCs as objectively as possible, using constructive academic discourse. We frequently hear this topic talked about in terms of “disruption,” a word I really disdain. I wonder how such a term—meaning disorder, turmoil, destruction —became the preferred way to talk about improving education. Why haven’t we gravitated instead to words like augment, extend, progress, or strengthen? Our MOOC has ended, but a larger, more positive conversation is just beginning.” 

Further Reading:

Do Digital Learners Have an Identity Crisis?

Identity: “sameness of essential or generic character in different instances”. Merriam Webster Dictionary

identity-crisisIn a recent post I reviewed Routledge’s book Learning Identities in a Digital Age”. The book is rich with thought-provoking insights into education, technology and its impact on learner identity. In chapter four, Making Up Digital Learning Identities authors suggest that today’s learners are suffering from an identity crisis; that globalization and digital interactions are fragmenting, deconstructing and dismantling stable concepts of identity and meaning (p 61). In this post I explore the authors viewpoint on learners’ identity crisis and conclude with my own thoughts.

Exploring past perspectives on this topic is perspicacious; authors examine the history of identify crisis by referencing a collection of essays by psychologist Erik H. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis. Erikson defined identity as a “personal sense of invigorating sameness and historical continuity”.  According to Erikson, youths’ identity was of a serious concern due to significant changes within society—wars, political revolutions and moral rebellions. These events, according to Erikson, shook the traditional foundations of all human identity (1968, p 25).  Erikson wrote this statement in 1968, imagine what he would have to say about youth identity in todays’ digital culture.

And today students do indeed have multiple and complex identities, some are self-created while others are institutionally driven and even algorithmically determined. These multidimensional personas are most challenging to untangle. Authors propose several questions within the chapter including, ‘who is in control’? And ‘what are the implications when a learner loses, or has no control over his or her identity‘?  And my question—does the learner really have an identity crisis, where they are fragmented and unable to make solid contributions, or are they able to reconcile their various ‘faces’ seamlessly?

The books’ chapter explores the questions by presenting various perspectives of learner identities. A selection below:

1. Prospective Identity
Sociologist Basil Bernstein proposed the idea of prospective pedagogic identities. He suggested that a learner’s identity is formed as a process that reflects the current state of educational reforms. Bernstein suggests that identities are ‘made up’, not a real reflection of learners but projected as the consequence of the schools’ pedagogy that reflects societal values at a given point in time (p 57).

Another viewpoint, one that the authors ascribe to, suggests that identities are not influenced by the state as Bernstein implies, but are “being formed through the participation and intervention of myriad of organizations and actors from across the public and private sectors, not least from those involved in the technology industries” (p 58).

2. Portfolio Identity
Most educators are likely familiar with the idea of a portfolio, where a selection of a student’s work are collected to demonstrate a set of competencies or skills, and used as a method of assessment. The portfolio then becomes an ‘identity’, a snapshot of a student displayed through prescribed selections of work samples or projects.  This idea of a portfolio identity extends further, has deeper implications—for those students that undertake a do-it-yourself portfolio or even portfolios to present an image of a person with a certain set of skills that can fit into a given situation.

3. ‘Shape-Shifter’ Identity
Another term for this concept is ‘shape shifter’, coined by James Gee in his book  Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. According to Gee these individuals see themselves as free agents in charge of their own selves as if those selves were projects or businesses. Shape-shifters rearrange their skills, experiences and achievements creatively, shape-shift into different identities to adapt to certain circumstances, i.e. for a company position or member within a group.

We see this concept reinforced through platforms that offer flexible portfolio building. Several new platforms introduce the idea of a do-it-yourself transcript that includes a place to feature a collection of learning experiences such as degreed.com.

4. Learner’s Digital Identify
Another identity is one that is established by educational institutions and is not controlled by the student directly. This digital identify, though not explored in-depth in the book, is significant.  Students have a digital identity, or ‘learner profile’ associated with him or her, as determined by an institutions’ learning management platform [LMS]. The system records each time a students logs on to the LMS and for how long, links clicked, web pages viewed, time taken on a test etc. The term for this tracking is ‘learning analytics‘.  Institutions [and companies] that create identities based upon a student’s online behaviours have an ethical responsibility to communicate how data is used, more so when learners are unaware of that an identity is constructed on their behalf.

Conclusion
So, do learners have an identity crisis? Are multiple identities affecting learners, making them inconsistent and unable to learn effectively? On a broader scope, how does managing multiple identities impact their ability to cope and function within society?

From my viewpoint, youths don’t see themselves in crisis mode. It appears that young learners are able to seamlessly and fluidly manage numerous identities across multiple platforms. A recent study even suggests the younger generation are unconcerned about the collection of personal data. Furthermore, students are shaped by the agendas, programs and forces within our institutions, businesses and organizations and have no choice but to adapt accordingly. However there are ramifications of the movement towards multiple learning identities, just one example is the project-based approach to work versus a long-term commitment to a job or career, which is consistent with the ‘shape-shifter’ identity.  Much to consider. What the chapter of this book does very well, rather than provide answers, it promotes deep thought about what our roles as educators are in the shaping and supporting learners —who they are and where they are going.

Resources:

Need-to-Watch-Videos: Three Clips that Promote Thinking Outside-of-the-Box

iStock_box7XSmallI interrupt this regularly featured ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series to bring you three media clips that may promote thinking-outside-of-the-box—a different way to look at three much discussed and researched issues in education. I engaged with three media clips this week that were not targeted to educators specifically, but provided deep insights; each clip presents a unique perspective on a provocative topic in education.

1) What predicts Student Success?
Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit

Much researched, pondered and discussedwhat predicts a student’s success? This Ted Talk features Angela Duckworth, an educational psychologist who left teaching seventh graders to search for that elusive factor that predicts student success in school. She conducted extensive research to find out. Her research revealed that it’s not IQ, family income, precociousness, or talent, but it’s grit. Grit is defined as passion, perseverance, and relentless drive. Students and adults with grit are in it for the long-haul, they don’t give up when faced with obstacles, but continue moving towards a goal they have set out to achieve.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, the book by Paul Tough discusses Duckworth’s work and writes about schools and programs that aim to teach grit through character building education. I read this book recently, and would recommend it to parents and educators interested in learning what contributes to the grit factor [though it's still inconclusive].

2) Educators and Artificial Intelligence
Interview: Charting technology’s new directions: A conversation with MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson.

This clip featuring MIT’s professor Erik Brynjolfsson shifted my [resolute] viewpoint on the role of machines in teaching and student learning. Brynjolfsson discusses recent innovations in artificial intelligence and how it will impact society significantly over the next five years. Though Brynjolfsson didn’t mention education specifically, his talk motivated me to think about the relationship between man and technology quite differently.

I posted several comments this week in response to a blog post about this topic on e-literate, Getting students useful feedback from machine learning. This is the second post on e-literate about machine learning, and both have generated much discussion. My position has been one in opposition to machine assistance, regardless of how it is used. This specific post describes a conversational agent that supports student dialogue in small group discussions by a technique called accountable talk.  When I watched this interview clip something clicked. As I listened to Brynjolfsson speaking of how machines, artificial intelligence can be used in conjunction with humans to create better conditions, I thought of the potential that machines might be able to create with teachers to create better learning conditions.  I haven’t changed my mind completely, but I am looking at this topic from a different point of view.

“… humans and machines are complementary. Machines aren’t perfect or even very good substitutes for humans in some areas. But by working together, by racing with machines, we can do more than the machines by themselves or humans by themselves could do.

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 9.36.09 PM3. How an education icon adapted to the Internet
An interview with Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica

The Internet is disrupting traditional models, ways of doing business in all sectors including education. This interview highlights the issue of adaptation and a change of thinking in response to technology.  Many organizations have adapted quite successfully, some have failed and others continue to struggle.  Which is why I found the interview with the president of Encyclopedia Britannica most intriguing. One would think this iconic company, relied upon for over two hundred years as a primary source of information would be doomed in the age of the Internet. Yet it is not so. Encyclopedia Britannica is flourishing and successful  even though it ceased to print its famous set of reference books last year after 244 years. The company has shifted its model by responding to the societal shifts resulting from technological advancements. In the interview, the president speaks of the natural evolution of the product.

We had known for some time that this day was coming. Given how little revenue the print set generated, and given that we had long ago shifted to a digital-first editorial process, the bound volumes had become a distraction and a chore to put together. They could no longer hold the vast amount of information our customers demanded or be kept as up-to-date as today’s users expect.

The way the company adapted to the digital age is most remarkable. It made me think about how Encyclopedia Britannica was able to respond to the digital age where others have failed. Are there any parallels between Encyclopedia Britannica and education institutions? Some would say absolutely not—Encyclopedia Britannica is a business. I see it differently, what about you?

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Click this image which links to HBR’s webpage featuring the recorded interview and its transcript.

I hope you enjoyed these videos and were inspired in one way or another.