Adversity promotes innovation and we are right on the cusp of seeing innovative leaders coming up with alternatives, systems and options.
Many have heard of Khan Academy by now. If you have not, please do yourself a favor and check it out here. Khan's vision is to offer a free, accessible education to anyone with an Internet access. He has assembled a wonderful team and as of this post over 140 million videos on his site have been watched by people from all over the world.
One of the goals of Khan Academy was to Flip the Classroom. Details of this movement can be found here. The basic thrust is to let students learn the knowledge level learning and maybe even a little application at home and then in class students can engage in higher level learning and doing. Wonderful concept and one that will come to fruition in our near future.
Not everyone sees Khan's work as the end-all savior for educational change. Many detractors point out that although the videos available at Khan Academy rival most paid services, especially in mathematics, simply flooding educational videos at kids at home is not the educational change necessary. You may get the gist of the concerns from this article. Critics may not have heard some of Khan's speeches in which he offers the disclaimer that his works are simply the first step.
Much of the work mentioned above is a positive step that works within the system to begin the arduous task of changing the behemoth of a system firmly entrenched in the United States. Another movement believes that game play and game theory needs to replace current practice in order to provide a working education system. There are many recent champions of such Gamification. One very popular force is Paul Anderson. He has worked for years to transform his entire practice of teaching science into a game. You can learn all about his great work here. Like all innovators, his passion and organization are inspiring many to think again about what works and what learning should look like.
So much excitement, so much that is "new", right? Wrong! At the turn of the 20th century, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell developed a system of learning to help British Army Scouts learn basic skills like first aid and survival skills. This system he then applied to young boys to create the boy scouts. This system of education involves small units of study laid out with learning resources, projects, and product expectations. As learners complete their units they get a merit badge and other units are "unlocked" for continued study. All these years, the basics of gamified education have been laid out and silently working in a volunteer organization while our country continues to spend billions to save what many consider a failed system. Why don't we take gamificaiton experts from around the country and pump some of that money into them to produce the tools and resources and the new system we need to move forward? The short answer is that corporations are already frantically cranking out their interpretations and implementations in the hopes of getting school boards to invest in their solution. Even among the educational revolutionaries out there now, collaboration between forces seems limited by fame, production, and of course the potential profit margins.
I am a collaborator and feel that by working together, educators are so much more effective than individuals trying to survive in the safety of our classroom. I have studied games my entire adult life and have been an educator for two decades. Gamification may not be perfect. It may even only be successful with particular demographics. The point is our current public education system offers only a monopoly option based on seat time and made up subjective grading policies. With the addition of high stakes tests, educated adults are even now giving students the power to fire any educator they collectively wish to remove. Whether our current system collapses or we continue to plod through it's inefficiencies, we need to break up the monopoly to allow for different educational models to exist in our society. Current educational funding formulas not only discourage diversity of models, it effectively prohibits any hope of parallel systems. Like it or not, change will be happening soon. As parents and learners start experiencing some of these new models, the "business" of school may find itself out of a job. I know we teachers often don't have much time outside our 12-15 hour days, but if you teach, you may find it worth finding a few hours a week to look into these other models starting up and brushing up on skills necessary to adapt to those models. Come join the revolution.