The debate about innovation and education is ongoing. I have been hearing about this since a decade ago, when I landed in the academic field. So, what’s new?. The impact of technology have forced a change in the way we teach, from chalk to digital pen. Although I know teachers who still want to use talk and chalk (and as long that works I think is a legitimated tool as all the others), most of us have been moved into sharing the space of our storytelling talent with the tedious powerpoint, beamer, digital boards (which actually never seems to work as they promised will do) and to incorporate all kind of tricks and treats into our lectures. Teachers have almost been forced to become entertainers.
Are we then assisting to a third re-birth of learning? I say the third because the first one took place during the Renaissance and the second during the industrial revolution. Let’s take a short look back.
Third re-birth of learning
During the 14th and 15th century in Europe, we saw how scholars start focusing more in humanistic topics and areas, switching from religious to more secular approaches. Humanistic lectures took over the floor at the major universities in Europe and started to discuss about the meaning of things, more than the memorizing techniques of previous academics. And in order to find meaning of things, the students needed to know not only about the exact sciences and the mysticism of the religious texts, but also to take a look into art, philosophy, astronomy, history, poetry, literature and the classics, the Greeks… In the Netherlands, the Moderna Devotia brought even a bigger revolution, the possibility for woman to access the same forms of education than men, despite the fact they probably were kept even busier with extracurricular activities such as needlework, dancing and probably cooking. We have to understand that most of the population at that time were not able to read. Most of the transmission of knowledge was done orally. However, the invention of the printing press in the mid 15th century made books widely available and this translated into an increased literacy rates all across Europe. No question, that was probably a big revolution for them, as it has been for us, lectures of today, the impact of technology and social media. This video recreates perfectly my comparison, with a fine sense of humor.
Gamification in education
The easy access to books created a new revolution inside the classrooms. Reading was an important part of all curriculums around Europe. Culture was linked to reading. Translation of books started back then to make knowledge available to people who could not read in Latin or old Greek. The classics were suddenly available for everyone. It was then as well a sense of innovation in education, looking at forms and methods that could improve the process of learning.
Nowadays, where a lot of modern lectures are experimenting with gaming as a tool for teaching, we should not forget that back in the 17th century, John Locke already introduced games as part of the educational process. He influenced considerably the education in Britain and North America and his work In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1697) already points out to the complexity of learning and he points out to techniques of practical learning, for example through games.
Human Capital in boxes
It was the industrial revolution which seemed to damage that process of innovation started back in the Renaissance. We needed to standardize education as we were doing with the production of things! Education was another form of industry and the students were products that needed to be organized, classified, tagged, and deliver in bunches of ages, subjects, capacities and grades. We dehumanized the humanistic approach and start delivering human capital in boxes. The education system was as well one of the tools to start building national identities and defining the nation state concept.
It looks like this system was working well for decades. At least our governments thought so, not even considering that the protests of students and lectures during the last decades in different countries around Europe were, more than a sign of rebellion, a symptom of a serious illness. Education as we know it, is dying. We cannot teach future generations to fix the problems created in the last two centuries with the same tools which created those problems in the first place.
Join the New Renaissance
This time the revolution is starting down upwards. While top down measures and legislation is still stacked in structures of the past two centuries, students and lectures are already moving in the 21st century and they are even visioning the 22nd century as we speak. As the nation state concept dilutes in the globalised world, the education as a tool from the nation state reclaims no borders. While the educational institutions’ understanding of applying technology limits to boring and unfriendly Learning Management Systems, students and lectures are trying to break the walls of the classrooms by engaging with others using all kinds of technologies, not even forgetting the most powerful one: face-to-face. While governments are deciding to take arts and humanities out of the curriculums all across Europe, students and lectures are demanding a new Renaissance. A humanistic approach to all forms of education, because after all, we are humans. While ministries of education and educational institutions sell to be thinking out-of-the-box by investing millions in stupid learning systems and digiboards that do not work and lack maintenance, students and lectures are now, more than ever, thinking with and in-the-global-box to speak out loud that we do not live in a world of boxes anymore, that one size does not fit all, that A’s and B’s and C’s do not speak for who we are, that education is a serious business and the only tool for freedom and contribution to a better society. I am in for this new re-birth of education! Who dares to join?
By María Garcia Alvarez