Right now, it is now. Whether you are reading this from a beach in Sydney or an apartment in Manhattan or on an African savannah, it is now. Despite the distance, the now you and I experience is the same now. Our clocks tick at the same speed (battery dependent) and the earth rotates at the same speed. Whether you are awake or asleep or doing an exam or playing golf, right now, we share this moment. Time does indeed pass for all of us. Chronos marches forward and we must follow lock-step in his wake.
Some of us may feel time move more slowly or quickly. We lose time or gain time or mentally splice and dice time, intentionally or not. Regardless, time flows. A series of moments pass whether we like them to or not.
In a globally connected world, we can have a multi-person Skype call or Google Hangout with people from all different timezones in order to share a moment together, live. We can chat about the mundane or we can shake the foundations of the possible, or usually something in between. We can share that moment and, in the case of learning, we can learn together regardless of where we are or who we are. There are barriers to this, some more difficult to overcome than others, and that is the purpose of this post: to try to imagine how few barriers we now have to truly be a global learning community and what impact this has on the status quo.
Some barriers that have been somewhat overcome include:
- Distance (Skype doesn’t care how far away you are if you have a 3G or internet connection)
- Cost (many technologies are now incredible cheap to set up and run)
- Language (Google Translate has come along in leaps and bounds to the point where it will read images and translate using augmented reality – try the iOS app and do a simple Google search for a translation, hold your device over it, it will scan and translate the words visually).
- Curriculum requirements (the Australian curriculum and its various iterations have plenty of opportunities for connections with other contexts)
- Technical skill (most of the current technologies required to undertake a collaborative experience require only minimum training and practice)
- Accessibility (many nations are participating in initiatives to achieve universal access to the internet, even in developing countries)
If I want my students to learn about World War One, say the Gallipoli Campaign, I can now connect with various people from around the world in order for students to gain a wider understanding of the event than is provided by my retelling of it or the textbook or a website. We could Skype with an historian to discuss the most recent thinking (as we did with Tom Holland), we could Hangout with a museum curator to see some primary source materials, we can have a live debate with another school or – as @cpaterso has done – we could chat with a school in Turkey to gain their perspective.
This can be done fairly cheaply, with basic technological knowledge and training, wherever we are. The main barrier to any of these global connections is time. There is the usual time to organise, plan, and prepare for such experiences (and there is sometimes quite a bit of behind-the-scenes organisation) but more critically the fact remains that the Turkish students are sitting in the now but several hours “behind” us in time. Can we conduct the call during school time? Is it school time in Sydney or in Istanbul? We can share the now but we can’t share the timezone (usually) with those we want to learn with overseas.
The idea of asynchronous learning (where teachers and students work at different paces or at least at different times) answers part of this, but time does still haul us back into line (or several distinct and separate lines) and makes us conform to the requirements of our now. However, this will only remain true if we accept the fact that school is the only place that students do any real learning. If we put that aside for a moment and think that students can truly learn anywhere, the possibilities are quite extraordinary and confronting to many school systems.
Indeed, if a student found that another school had a better mathematics program than their current school, in theory they could enrol (mentally at least) in that course and gain the learning experience they need regardless of where that course was run, how it was run, by whom it was run and in what language. They might be sitting in my Year 9 History class at 10am on Tuesdays, but they might have mentally checked out because they have already completed a Year 11 Modern History course online over the holidays. Similarly, there might be a student in that same class who has not yet mastered the knowledge and skills presented in Year 7, yet we still march forward, doing the best we can.
I simply can’t accept that in 2015 we can keep resisting the idea that learning no longer takes place only in schools at a time suitable to the timetable, in a place suitable to a teacher, in a way suitable to a curriculum document. I fear that schools that do not attempt to challenge the fundamental aspects of an industrialised education system will be like a Japanese WWII soldier sitting on an isolated Pacific island, waiting for news of victory when the war has been over for decades.
With so few barriers to learning whatever they want or need, whenever they want, in so many forms and from so many sources, do schools and systems need to adapt to this reality? Or are we confident that our processes, expectations and legislated requirements are robust enough to keep us in Chronos’ march? Are either of these realities the right one for learners?
All the best for 2015 – I look forward to learning with you and facing Chronos together.