A preview of the future from an educational innovator.
Davidson (The Future of Thinking, 2010, etc.), who codirects the annual HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning competitions, describes an experiment where most of a group told to count passes between basketball players in a short film fails to spot a person who walks through the scene in a gorilla suit. Too- focused attention can miss something unexpected. The author takes this insight as a key to examine the nature of attention, which she believes has deep roots in the educational system created to fill jobs where workers arrive at a given time and perform a specific task in tight coordination with other workers. As Davidson notes, students who don’t respond well to these expectations are pigeonholed as misfits, slow learners, troublemakers or worse. But brain research indicates that the educational establishment is out of step; it is becoming clear that our minds are capable of multitasking to a degree far beyond what the 20th-century assembly-line worker or middle manager was trained to do. After a brief introductory chapter, Davidson offers several examples of how the schools and workplaces of the future might look. Duke University’s 2003 experiment of giving the entire freshman class free iPods drew widespread scorn, but the experiment justified itself as students found innovative ways to use the devices in the classroom and lab. The administration grasped the iPod’s capability to connect the students’ work for group projects, such as a podcasting conference that distributed a lecture on Shakespeare worldwide. Elementary-school children are learning by using computer games, and other schools are abandoning traditional class structure to reach children who might be left behind in conventional schools. The revolution is reaching the workplace, as well—notably at IBM, where a significant portion of the workforce now telecommutes and many workgroups are spread out over three continents, connecting by teleconferencing. Further, the military is making heavy use of video games in training soldiers to use new weapons systems.
Davidson may oversell the revolution in thinking—there’s a lot of cheerleading here—but her points are worth pondering.