Educating The Glowing Rectangle
Monday, October 18th, 2010
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the statements made by Bill Gates earlier this year regarding technology and education. His comments regarding the eclipse of “place-based” universities are compelling, broad-minded, and long-sighted for sure.
However, we found his comments regarding a more specific topic – one particularly close to our hearts – to be more immediately actionable. To quote TechCrunch’s coverage:
One particular problem with the education system according to Gates is text books. Even in grade schools, they can be 300 pages for a book about math. “They’re giant, intimidating books,” he said. “I look at them and think: what on
Earth is in there?”
According to Gates, our text books are three times longer than the equivalents in Asia. And yet they’re beating us in many ways with education. The problem is that these things are built by committee, and more things are simply added on top of what’s already in there.
Gate’s assessment of how textbooks got to be larger and less effective lacks nuance, but his assessment of the problem is succinct and echoes the many of such observations floating about (including of our own). In the end, Gates advocated a technological solution.
Of course, we agree. However, ‘technology’ is too broad a term for how the solution must be implemented. There is now a small crop of textbook delivery apps, all of which simply port the existing (derided) books onto the glowing rectangle platform. Sans ‘added value’, these solutions simply replicate the issues in a new context. This is not an example of technology solving the problem; it is technology replicating a problem.
Any real solution must begin with some serious thinking – user research, ethnography, and the other tools in the kit of your average User Experience outfit must be brought to bear. Let the users (profs and students) educate us on the next steps. Let’s educate the Glowing Rectangle rather than the other way around.