The Future of Education: Geography Matters - but so Do Other Things

Opportunities and Challenges in K-12 Education

Chris Swanson, the Vice President of Education Week, Cindy Marten the Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, and Dr. Helen Soulé Executive Director of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills addressed “Opportunities and Challenges in K-12 Education” in the first Esri Education GIS Conference plenary.  One educator described this session as a “repeat” of “professional development talks” he’d seen. I wondered about how relevant the discussion was for the educators in the room.

Moderator Governor Jim Geringer asked the speakers to articulate their takeaways at the end of the session which I paraphrase below:

Swanson - Place matters in education because of difference between state and local preferences and oversight. But school is about more than what happens at school: the environment and home and in the community contributes positively or negatively to teaching and learning.

Soulé - Communities need to use technology to build a re-imagined vision of what learning looks like for all students. [If you are not familiar with the P21 vision of skills, do give its website a look. Lots of attendees were taking pictures of those slides.]

Marten - We need to bring the power from the individual to gather the community and take action. But we need to use data (geographic and otherwise) to measure change. We need to use data as a flashlight to guide us in moving forward, rather than as a hammer to punish.

The Future of Higher Education

Scott Thomas of professor and dean of Claremont Graduate University School of Education opened the “Future of Higher Education” plenary. He argued that online education will never be elite because it’s incomplete. Students, he argues, must come together physically to have all the experiences that make up an education. One challenge we have now, he noted, is that we don’t measure learning. The good news? Technology can help us with that.

Anthony Robinson of Penn State took more of an “online” perspective. (at right, image via @trbaker) He argued that indeed distance is not a problem with online learning. In fact, a recent study shows no quality difference between residence and well constructed online education. While open educational content is nice, effective high level learning, further up Bloom’s taxonomy, requires “more.” That “more” can be added via MOOCs, in addition to “on campus” as Thomas suggested. Robinson was quick to emphasize that MOOCs are not all online classes; they are one special type. Those in and outside education should not conflate the two! 

Esri’s Chief Scientist, Dawn Wright addressed the growing number of PhDs who do not go into academia, but into industry. Esri has many such PhDs. Mostly, she argued the attitude on campus needs to change in a few ways. Faculty need to be rewarded for things beyond bringing in grants and teaching. They should be rewarded for outreach to the next generation Another change that’s needed: a change in the perception of GIS as somehow a “lesser” data science.

The most telling insights, I think, were in the responses to moderator David DiBiase’s final questions: What will be the biggest change in education in 10 years? What will not change?

Biggest change:

Thomas - significant integration of residential and online learning
Robinson - 1/3 of all higher education enrollments will be in fully flexible/competency based programs [See for example SNHU, WGU, UW-Flexible Option]
Wright - students will truly understand the Internet before they enter college (the current “digital native” idea is a myth)

Biggest element that will not change:

Thomas - I’ll still be using slides of students at desk (residence education) in my talks
Robinson - the size of the education workforce will be the same, or larger
Wright - financing college will still be a problem

Published Monday, July 14th, 2014

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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