Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Education at the Edges

Since the beginning of 2014 I have taken to listening to (and glimpsing as I can) educational videos on YouTube whilst I’m walking to work. Often the material enables me to think of new ideas to implement in my working practice.

This morning I watched the Todd Rose TEDxSonomaCounty talk ‘The Myth of Average’.

Todd begins by talking about the problems encountered when air force fighter plane cockpits are designed for the average fighter pilot. The only trouble is that no pilot actually fits these mythical average dimensions, resulting in poorer performance throughout. Consequently, the designers have to instead design the cockpit for the edges, that is to say for outlying pilot dimensions. This proved to be a successful approach.

To some extent, Todd then suggests, the same situation is really in place for education where we are playing to the average. This can be detrimental because individuals might excel in some subjects and have less strength in others. The example Todd uses is that a student might have a very good knowledge of science, but a below grade reading ability. This then makes the learning of science more challenging because every lesson becomes a test of the student’s reading rather than a focus on the subject. This can lead to disengagement and ultimately to drop-out.

Technology may now allow us to step outside the average and enable education at the edges. By implementing small individualized technologies to meet particular needs, the student learning experience can be enhanced and potentially more people with a greater diversity of abilities can be nurtured through their own learning pathway.

So, as educators and learning technologists I believe that one element of our role should be to look for and encourage these small wins. Not every implementation of technology has to be a massive roll-out, fundamentally changing the learning landscape for all at one fell swoop. We can also promote a ‘selection box’ approach to technology use.

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