Monday, April 21, 2014

Thinking in a blended world

When many teachers discuss teaching in a blended classroom, a flipped classroom, or just plain analog they are missing the point. Our world is already blended, but do students have the knowledge a skills to interact with it?   The internet is no longer a thing that people go to a computer to access.  Through wearable technology it has become become an intimate companion that walks with us throughout our life.  Students have access to the internet and the information that it provides 24-7, as long as their data plan is funded. (Which raises issues of equity for low income students).  Information has no longer become a thing that need to be memorized.  Information has become a thing that needs to be evaluated and manipulated into a meaningful context.  To prepare students for their future, they must receive instruction in different methods of thinking and solving problems.

While not the exact words of Einstein, the paraphrased version
of an New York Times Article: Atomic Education Urged
 by Einstein
Linear Thinking
Simple cause-effect thinking that ignores the relationships between systems provides an incomplete view of the world.  This type of thinking often results in negative unintended consequences.  The movement to promote bio-fuels is a prime example of this.  The linear thought behind this is that the US is capable of growing crops that can be easily transformed into fuel, reducing our dependency on foreign oil and pollution. Farmers will also benefit from increased demand on their crops as well.  I wonder if anywhere in this process anyone asked about the wisdom of burning food in our gas tanks?  Increase use of bio-fuels has resulted in more land being utilized for crops which has reduced the amount of land that is available for forests and grasslands that help to process carbon emissions.  A study determined that it will take over 167 years for corn ethanol to make a difference in the carbon content of our atmosphere (Sexton, Rajagopal, Hochman, Zilberman, & Roland-Holst, 2009).  Additionally, it will result in reduced biodiversity (Sexton et al., 2009).  The impact of bio-fuels production on the water supply also needs to be considered, not only is the damand for water increased, the chemicals that are used in farming can contaminate the water supply (Sexton et al., 2009). Anyone that purchases their own groceries has noticed the increased prices of food that has resulted from the competition between the table and the gas tank.  On a global scale food production per capita is decreasing (Sexton et al. 2009).

Systems Thinking
A systems thinking approach to bio-fuel might have resulted in a different decision.  A systems approach examine the internal functioning of a system as well as its relationship with other systems.  Systems thinking, developed in the 1940's has not gained popularity until recently.  Instead design thinking has dominated much of the decision making processes until recently.  The primary difference between the two problem solving methods is that design thinking does not include the external systems in the reasoning process.  Additionally, systems thinking recognizes the complexity of global relationships and recognizes the futility in trying to control all of the variables, whereas design thinking assumes that the variables can be controlled.  I would argue that either form of thinking is far superior to narrow cause-effect reasoning.

Importance of Learning Styles
Perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of emphasis on non-linear thinking is that it lends itself to a global learning style much more than a sequential learning style.  Studies have found that learning styles are influenced by cultures (Sywelem, Al-Harbi, & Fathema, 2012).  Global learners are in the minority and typically do not not perform as well in school,  this may be because most teachers are also sequential learners themselves.  Consequently, the information that is presented in classes is sequential without any accommodations for global learning styles.  Even the new Common Core standards which is meant to instill 21st Century Skills, does not address non-linear thinking.    Yet it is this type of thinking that is so important for developing sustainable development.
By Rob Koch

More information:

Systems Thinking in Schools: The Waters Foundation
  The Cloud Institute
The Creative Learning Exchange

Kurilovas, E., Kubilinskiene, S., & Dagiene, V. (2014). Web 3.0 – Based personalisation of learning objects in virtual learning environments. Computers In Human Behavior, 30654-662. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.07.039

Sexton, S., Rajagopal, D., Hochman, G., Zilberman, D., & Roland-Holst, D. (2009). Biofuel policy must evaluate environmental, food security and energy goals to maximize net benefits. California agriculture63(4).

Sywelem, M., Al-Harbi, Q., Fathema, N., & Witte, J. E. (2012). Learning Style Preferences of Student Teachers: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Online Submission1, 10-24.