Its unlikely that any of us will forget 2016 in a hurry, but amongst the political fireworks and celebrity mortalities, Tutorhub turned in another record year. Record visits to the website, record visits to the blog and record numbers of lessons held. Tutorhub hosted more than twice as many lessons in 2016 as in 2015.
Every month might bring a new record, but on behalf of all of us in the Tutorhub Team, we’d like to say a big thank you to students with their thirst for knowledge and to tutors who continue to show up in their droves with knowledge that stretches from the mainstream through to the most specialised corners of academia and professional education.
Replacing the nineteenth century model of learning model has been surprisingly slow and difficult. It may be due to the role that government plays in education, the politicisation of education on many countries or even due to resistance from parts of the teaching profession, but there is no denying that despite the advent of MOOCs, online learning environments and web resources, innovation has happened at the periphery, not the core of education. Given the importance of education and status of qualifications in our society, this is perhaps as it should be; no one wants to be the guinea pig for a failed educational revolution. Technology has had to prove its value and innovation has happened in a step-wise fashion. Which makes the emergence of social-networked learning in tertiary education particularly interesting.
Global access to high-quality online materials, open courses, peer discussion and a decentralised perspective to create communities of learning comprising teachers/lecturers and students form the architecture of social-networked learning. These building blocks are gradually being put in place and a tipping point may be closer than we think. The promise of lower cost, greater flexibility and increased access are very real, but the key may be that it does not require revolution, but evolution. Implementation can occur from the periphery towards the core and slip from tertiary through to secondary via more obscure subjects that lack critical mass – witness the uproar in the UK when certain subjects such as Art History were recently scheduled for elimination from the A level syllabus.
At long last, a path to innovation in education is becoming clearer. Change may be happening at a slower pace than some predicted, which is understandable, but the direction of travel is becoming clear. As with all things, once you know where you are going, the journey is much easier of you know where you are going.
In the modern era, where specialisation holds the keys to the kingdom, its worth remembering that it wasn’t always so. Hyper specialisation may be fashionable at the moment, but is it the only answer or even the correct answer with technology evolving so rapidly in most disciplines? Will the social media specialists of three years ago find themselves in such demand in three years time one wonders.
Asked to think of a famous polymath and Leonardo da Vinci will spring to mind. Artist, scientist and engineer; all time super hero, he hails from a time when it seemed possible to span enormous distances between disciplines. But a more recent example of successfully leveraging across disciplines might be Florence Nightingale. Mainly remembered as a nurse who tended to wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War, Nightingale was an accomplished mathematician who used statistics to in a modern and effective manner, a great social reformer and a medical innovator. What made Nightingale so effective was her ability to collect information at source, to collate it and present it in a thoroughly readable fashion. So far, so modern. The rose diagram that she (self-) published identifying cause of mortality in the British Army is a classic example of data visualisation that would make modern corporate power pointers hang their heads in shame.
Nightingale went on to set up the first modern school of nursing at St Thomas’ in London and was capable of leveraging skills from one discipline to another with great effect. Medicine, social reform, mathematics: all totally modern skills. Which begs a simple question: does it make you more effective to have an unusual set of skills or expertise that you can re-combine in unusual ways? Does it make sense to specialise in the modern sense or is it worth collecting together a eclectic set of skills before looking for ways to combine them in new fields. In many respects, becoming a traditional specialist is the easy way out – the pathways through education are neatly laid out and the problems are framed in a way that suits to knowledge base.
But does real innovation require a different way of looking at things, a combination of odd viewpoints?
The Education Endowment Foundation seems to be an interesting beast. At first glance, it looks like a really good thing, but I’ve learnt to approach such schemes with a degree of caution. Politics intrudes far too often in the world of education and you always need a healthy dose of scepticism. Still, any organisation that’s look to take a scientific approach to ‘what works’, to the extent of using randomised controlled trials, would appear to be on to something. I’ve always been of the belief that education should be the subject of sustained and relentless improvement, given its vital importance to our economy, our culture and our general wellbeing. If that’s a view thats supported by our political parties, then they do a poor job of translating talk into action.
If anyone has any experience or feedback from the EEF, I’d be keen to hear more.