Learning for 2020

My journey to understand what life will be in year 2020 and how we should prepare our next generation to cope with life at 2020.

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Friday, March 25, 2005

More on Fuchs & Woessmann

Wow, what a great debate!

First David Wiley commented a study whose abstract is

We estimate the relationship between students’ educational achievement and the availability and use of computers at home and at school in the international student-level PISA database. Bivariate analyses show a positive correlation between student achievement and the availability of computers both at home and at schools. However, once we control extensively for family background and school characteristics, the relationship gets negative for home computers and insignificant for school computers. Thus, the mere availability of computers at home seems to distract students from effective learning. But measures of computer use for education and communication at home show a positive conditional relationship with student achievement. The conditional relationship between student achievement and computer and internet use at school has an inverted U-shape, which may reflect either ability bias combined with negative effects of computerized instruction or a low optimal level of computerized instruction.

[my emphasis]

David questioned the methodology and concluded that

Yet another example of people with an agenda “doing research.” What an embarassment. No wonder educational research is completely discredited in the popular mind.

One of his reader commented that David has "an agenda, and not the authors".

David responded with the post More on Fuchs & Woessmann I am opining here.

First thing that interests me is that the Fuchs & Woessmann's paper is based on the data from the PISA 2000 studies. It would be interesting to run the same statistical analysis on the now available PISA 2003 data to see if the same can be concluded.

Fuchs & Woessmann's paper is a pure statistical exercise, basing data from another study and hence the authors have no control of how the initial data was gathered and all the associated assumptions being taken. David's comment is generally applicable to most of such "research", drawing conclusion from statistical correlation: without looking deeply into whether we can establish a causal relationship between the parameters under the study. With that in mind, it is prefectly correct for David to say

Now, let's pretend we are examing a group of 15 year olds, some of whom spend none of their educational and recreational time on computers, some of whom spend some of their educational and recreational time on computers, and some of whom spend much of their educational time and recreational time on computers. Now, let’s imagine two scenarios in which we might measure the academic achievement of a sample of this group of 15 year olds. In one scenario, we will carry out the assessment on computers. In the other scenario, we will carry out the assessment in "more traditional" manner. Can we not form a strong hypothesis, ahead of data collection or analysis, about which sub-group will perform best in each scenario?

Methodology is one thing. But, let's consider something else.

Some sample items from the 2000 studies are available here. From the first reading unit (page 32 of the pdf file), two figures are shown: first about the depth of Lake Chad and second about kind of animals in the rock arts, both plotted along a timeline. 5 items are associated to Lake Chad: first 2 of which test the 15 years old ability to read the first figure, the third item is "Why has the author chosen to start the graph at this point?" which is checking whether the testee has read the introduction to the figures. Question 4 is:

Figure B is based on the assumption that
A. the animals in the rock art were present in the area at the time they were drawn.
B. the artists who drew the animals were highly skilled.
C. the artists who draw the animals were able to travel widely.
D. there was no attempt to domesticate the animals which were depicted in the rock art.

This particular item assumes the 15 years old know what is a rock art.

Here is another sample (page 95 of the pdf) about "speed of a racing car". There is a graph showing how the speed of a racing car varies along a flat 3 kilometre track during its second lap.

The first multiple choice item related to "speed of racing car" is
What is the approximate distance from the starting line to the beginning of the longest straight section of the track?

and so on...

This set of questions would have trapped me! With the benefit of reading the answer, I noticed that this is an unusual graph. Most Physics textbook would plot speed against time and I would have find the area under the curve to find the distance traveled. Well, the graph is speed along distance. Hence we only need to be able to deduce that the race car will decrease its speed only because it is turning a corner and hence find the points of lowest speed to determine whether the corners are.

After looking at the sample items, I found that these are quite demanding items. Those who can stay focussed for 2 hours continuously in a desk obviously will perform better than digital natives who used to multi-task, short attention span and always used to have, at their finger tips, supports from peers from a distance and information whenever they need.

My question would be to question whether these digital natives, given their characteristics would be able to meet the challenge in 2010 when they have to contribute to real economic productivity; or, are the items really testing the required skills these digital natives would need to be productive?

Methodology is only part of the bigger debate!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Eide Neurolearning Blog and Learning Styles

This post, by Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide who are physician-parents with a national (USA) referral practice for children with learning difficulties, is about school's lack of flexibility (or resources) to teach "each child the way that child learns best".

What interest me is also a comment by Steve Gray:
Last year went to China on a study tour, 50 students in a secondary classroom, no biggy about motivation to want to learn, they see people sweeping the streets and say no thanks, answer, work hard in school.

Westerners don't have this form of driver, and even with 25 in class teachers still struggle.

We, Chinese, also strongly believe that deligence can substitute intelligence.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Social Network and its implication for the future

Recently, the posts have mostly concentrated in identifying the inadequacy of the current school systems in the developed countries. There is little insight into how we can break away from that model and what will/should the new model be.

I am not any wiser, but after reading a number of posts (recommended by Stephen Downes) on Structured holes, part 1 and part 2 here; and following some links I become excited by the studies.

"Strutural holes" is an alternate name to signify the separation between groups within organisations. These informal groups usually do not connect. However, the study shows that by connecting these groups, innovative ideas are plenty. The next problem is the ability to identify the gems and have people with sufficient "power" to realise the innovation. But that is not the subject of this post.

What I am excited about is the application of the techniques which have advanced Physics so much in the last century to the study of social networks, e.g. Physics Department of University of Notre Dame.

For instance, in the paper Bose-Einstein Condensation in Complex Networks, the authors, by mapping the complex system (such as World Wide Web, business, citation network) into a quantum gas framework, then they demonstrated that "first-mover-advantage", "fit-get-rich" and "winner-takes-all" are actually Bose-Einstein condensation - a thermodynamically distinct phases of the underlying complext network.

I sense that this would lead to some interesting insight into the work nature in the future. I majored in Physics in my first degree and I have been using Physics Letters as my bedside reading for many years after my graduation. This is a good opportunity to refresh my Physics and follow the study in this new field.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Someone forgot to tell schools that it is 21st century

I enjoyed this illustration from Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users:

The basic ideas are quite similar to my previous post Our world is changing, our schools are failing,....

So our quest goes on.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Is It Age or IT: First Steps Toward Understanding the Net Generation

The title links to chapter 2 of "Educating the Net Generation" - an Educause online ebook.

This chapter, by Diana Oblinger and James Oblinger, points out a lot of differences between "us" - the baby boomers from the net generation. In case you are the x generation, the chapter also points out the differences between you and the net generation too.

Basically, the net generation is born connected with technology always on.

They are used to trying things out. For example, my wife always asks me if typing a certain work into the computer will break the computer. My daughter never asks that question. She just tries. If it works, good. If not, try again with another command.

The net generation demands immediate gratification. They multi-task, listening to radio, watching TV, IMing via the computer AND doing their homework at the same time. If a friend cannot provide an answer, they quickly move to the next one and ask again.

They have a very large social circle. My own IM contact list has about 50 contacts. My daughter's list is full. (MSN allows only 150 - not enough for her!) A friend of a friend is OK. She communicates with people all over the world. She does not need to know them. Just an occassional chat or online game and move on. Interestingly, for face to face relationship, it seems to be quite different. My daughter still values her kindergarten friends very much and keeps in with them often.

My list here is slightly different from Oblingers' - most likely due to the fact that I have not done a complete research into the topic.

Hence to educate the net generation, we need to organise the learning quite differently. I am yet to read the rest of the e-book. There may be answer there.

BTW, Stephen Downes gave the e-book a luke-warm review. He wrote:

The same people who think instant messaging is disruptive and who don’t like answering email on weekends are the ones who are designing and driving these online classes." And I wonder how much influence this sort of thinking had over the design of this book, from the carefully selected and well-schooled students perfectly trained to use the term "Greatest Generation" as though they meant it to the "a ha!" feeling exhibiting by faculty discovering instant messaging.

If Stephen is right, may be the answer will be found elsewhere - just not in this book.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Virtual Economy

"The nature of job in 2020" is one of the most important consideration when I first started this exploration of the learning need now in order for our next generation to cope with life in 2020. Here is an economic activity which may develop into an interesting possibility in 2020.

In the article Real profits from virtual worlds, Telegraph reporter Andrew Murray-Watson described how John Jacobs, a music producer from Florida, bought a piece of virtual land in an online game world with real life money and planned to make real life money from the virtual land. This is within a game world known as Project Entropia,

which was set up in 1995, is unique among MMORPGs because it has a currency that is pegged to the US dollar.

Participants in the game change their real money into the game currency called PEDs at the rate of 10 PEDs for every dollar. They then use their PEDs to buy clothes, weapons and even houses and mining and forestry rights. Players who make a profit in the game can then convert the imaginary money into real cash.


Project Entropia, which has over 200,000 players, has its own stock market and auction house where players can trade services and commodities. The markets also allows gamers to determine the supply and demand of a host of other virtual resources that can be accumulated through long hours sitting in front of the computer.

(MMORPGs stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) [my emphasis]

Globally, there are about 350 active MMORPGs, with dozens having over 100,000 subscribers. ItemBay, a Korean company specialising in trading virtual goods such as magic battleaxes or laser carbines, has 1.5m customers and revenues of $17m per month.

To put all this in context, it is possible to calculate the gross domestic product of a virtual game world based on the value of its total assets in real world terms. Using the time it takes for gamers to gather those assets also means that other economic measurements such as an hourly wage rate and GDP per head can be calculated.

In 2001 Edward Castronova, an economist at California State University, was one of the first to realise that the largest MMORPGs had economies greater than most African countries on a per capita basis. But real world trading of virtual goods and services comes with a health warning for gamers looking to make a quick buck.

With this background, here comes a post from Nine Shift: "Intangibles key to our economic future" which comes to the conclusion that

Intangible products and services:

* Can and must be the primary business of American companies.
* Can be sold without a manufacturing intermediary.
* Can be sold internationally.
* Create high paying jobs for knowledge workers in the U.S. and other post-industrialized nations.
* Lower the trade deficit and restore a balance of trade.

I am not necessarily looking from an American viewpoint. However, I think this remark holds true for all developed countries. We should constantly look for opportunity of high value job in order to keep the living standards in these countries.

Andrew from Telegraph quoted some economists suggesting that Project Entropia resembles pyramid selling

the only way for players to make a profit is at the expense of others who are less successful in the game.

I don't necessarily agree. I am no economist nor lawyer. So my understanding may not be correct.

Pyramid selling refers to a marketing technique where the "goods" being sold is the membership of the scheme. There is no intrinic value of the membership except by selling more to other people. The game world in MMORPGs has real value - the value of experience, be it entertainment or learning. The creation of virtual objects involve "labour" and when someone wants to enjoy other people's labour, they may pay for it. This is the fundamental driving value of the economy of MMORPGs. Of course, once the interest (or the experience value) of the whole MMORPG is lost (for whatever reason), the virtual economy built around such virtual world will disappear as well. This is a real risk in investing your real resource (effort or money) in such investment. Again, this is quite similiar to other investment in the real world.

Is working for the virtual work a real job? I would say "yes" as long as the demand of the service is there.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Our world is changing, our schools are failing,....

Of every 100 ninth-graders, only 68 graduate high school on time and only 18 make it through college on time, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Once in college, one in four students at four-year universities must take at least one remedial course to master what they should have learned in high school, government figures show.

After denoting US$700 Million from his/his wife's foundation, Bill Gates commented,

America's high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they're working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.

[from Governors Work to Improve H.S. Education]

OK, that may be America.

Are you sure? I think it is a problem much more fundamental!

School, as it is known today, is the construct of the industrial age. Production line is the driving factor. We needed replaceable workers so that production line did not need to stop because of absence of anyone along the production line. The jobs were repetitive and uninteresting. The education system needed to produce obedient citizens who could be told to do a job without questioning. Only the elite needs a real education. In order to ensure that only a small group of people can be educated (hence be the elite), the school system was a filtering system. Only a single digit percentage of the population will get a degree, even fewer for higher qualifications. Yet, these programs were still designed to serve the industrial age.

Spady (1999) states that society
fail(s) to recognize that today's schools are the cumulative result of centuries of extremely limited thinking about the nature of learners and learning; about their aptitudes and potential for continuous, lifelong growth and development; about how to organize learning opportunities; and about the pedagogies and processes that promote learning success.

He uses "the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the layer upon layer of outdated thinking and practice that form the enormous inertia" against change. The four layers are summarized as:

Feudal-Age Agenda - the education system is viewed as an overt and pervasive mechanism for sorting, labeling, and selecting students for educational, social, and economic futures. This is exemplified by the elaborate system of educational credentials based on students' demonstrated academic achievements. and the education system acts as a societal gatekeeper.

Agrarian-Age Calendar - everything is defined by how much time it's supposed to last: student eligibility for learning, courses, grade levels, curriculum structures, people's roles within the system, employment contracts, credit systems, class schedules, attendance requirements, "promotion," and more. The system is time-based and opportunity to learn is defined by, and limited to, the blocks of time that are determined by the clock, schedule, and calendar.

Industrial-Age Delivery System - time-defined organizational structure is reinforced by "delivery" of curriculum, which unquestioningly uses the assembly line process of industrial-age factories as the guiding template. Specific things are assumed to have to be learned for a specific amount of time from specific books, by students who are of a specific age and assigned to specific classrooms and teachers. All of this must proceed at a uniform pace. Any student whose learning level, learning rate, or learning style doesn't match this uniform unfolding of the curriculum becomes a problem for the system. Note that this assembly-line process limits learning of critical skills, knowledge and curriculum to specific weeks, or even days. If the student misses the stuff "covered" on a specific date, he or she may never "get" it again.

Bureaucratic-Age Culture - based on Peters and Waterman (1982)'s thesis that organizations define "themselves around roles rather than goals, procedures rather than outcomes, precedent rather than future challenges, teaching rather than learning, programs rather than achievement, time rather than results, and curriculum rather than performance". In short, the focus of bureaucracies on means is "tight", while their attention to ends is "loose".

Carol Twigg [1994] also looked at the issues of preparing citizens for the information age using the 6W's. In what students need to learn, Twigg identified that "driven by the information explosion…viewing a college education as mastery of a body of knowledge …. is becoming outmoded." She quoted that the Big Six accounting firms "have declared that no one can master the content of their discipline in an undergraduate education".

There are dramatic changes in who is learning too. Undergraduates are commencing their study at an older age, many with full-time or part-time jobs as shown by the statistics quoted in the next section. This is also related to when students learn. For instance, Twigg suggested that in US, 75% of the work force will need retraining by year 2000 as old jobs disappear and new ones emerge due to the global economy. Students need flexible learning arrangements. The traditional full-time learning model will fail to serve the needs of such students. On the where students learn, these working adult students would need flexibility and would like to learn from home as well as work place. Twigg suggested that new tools will need to be available while students learn. Finally, as we know more about how people learn, more changes in the pedagogical functions of higher education institutions will be needed.

An education system must take into account these changing needs of the learners:

  • accommodate students' needs in respect of pace, time, place and duration

  • provide for a range of ability and different learning preferences of students

  • greater autonomy and accountability, so that learning responsibilities reside with the learners but continuous assessment of their performance enables just in time help when problems are detected

  • learning as a holistic process where digital technologies are integrated into a well-designed curriculum that recognises the role of social interaction in the complete learning process.

The next generation is also fundamentally different from us. They are born digital. They have different learning style.

"Why the current education system (at least for the developed countries) fails" is not the question we should be asking. The real question should be

What should the education system for our kids be?