The network effect is powerful, and a source of tremendous value, and we need to understand how it works.
Networks depend on standardisation – a consistent, accepted standard for how computers talk to each other, or how all Lego bricks fit together, or how a community works – a shared language and set of expectations that make it easier to collaborate.
We need these norms – they allow us to communicate, to work together better and faster, to make assumptions, even to ignore each other in relative safety. Norms, the middle ground, are the gravity that holds us together, the board from which we spring.
And there’s the tension. Norms that are too numerous or too binding tie us down. Our instinct is to break free, but it’s a dance: without norms and standards (social-cultural, technological), we fall apart. There’s nothing to stand on, push off, be in tension with, break free from.
Without springs and gravity there are no trampolines, and no difference between flying and falling.
Whether we like it or not there’s always other stuff going on: we’re teaching what we think of our students, whether we value other people’s time or feelings, how we think we should speak to people, how a person might be in the world…
All the time – consciously or not, or both – teachers are sending messages about what it means to be at school, about what education is for, whether this stuff we’re learning is part of the thrill of a lifetime or a necessary chore.
We play a huge role in determining whether or not our students like school, and the qualities that we reward and emphasise – risk taking or obedience, creativity or following the script, delight or the humdrum, kindness or indifference or worse – shape our kids’ days and so – their futures.
As with so many things, what we do and how we do it speaks louder than what we say.
Education – formal education at least – is concerned with equipping people with tools: skills, knowledge and ideas that will empower them them to live a flourishing life and achieve their purposes in the world.
We’ve talked about the importance of sharing a vision of the flourishing life with our kids – the best that we are able to give – and a definition of success that includes writing their own definition.
We asked “Who are we empowering?” and looked at the importance of being aware that as we share knowledge and technical skills, we’re also shaping the people who will use them. Value-neutral education is impossible and undesirable – our kids need to learn values and ethics, and its far more important that they see these in action than hear them articulated, although both is best.
If we think of skills, knowledge and ideas as tools in a person’s hand, the questions so far are all about who will be wielding these powerful tools, and what we hope they’ll be wielding them for.
There’s a second set of important qualities I’m calling attributes. These are the qualities that determine how effectively a person might be able to use their tools for a given purpose. In ourselves and others, most of them lie within our influence but outside of our control. Here’s a shopping list, with a bit of repetition. The lines are blurry at best – values, attributes, and tools are very intertwingled – but I’m giving it a go.
A reflex to kindness
Determination – persistence – grit – and the will to succeed
A sense of hope
Curiosity and a desire to learn
Creativity and resourcefulness
Integrity and ‘right honesty’ (blurring the line back into ethics here)
A love of fun
A positive but clear-eyed outlook – hope
Positive regard and right respect for others
Empathy and compassion
An inclination towards teamwork and helping others
Humility and the ability to receive help
Tact and social grace – courtesy and politeness
Courage (“the virtue without which none of the other virtues matter”)
Some balance between caring what others think and really not
A sense of peace
A sense of humour
What have I missed?
**edited 05/12/2018 to add ‘a sense of humour’ – thanks to Mas K
The internet feels saturated with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content to demand our attention for the next million years. Even if you could manage to squeeze in another tiny innovation, who would notice it among our miraculous abundance?
But, but… here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet! The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. It is only becoming. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that point look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016. People in the future will look at their holodecks and wearable virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars and AI interfaces and say, “Oh, you didn’t really have the internet” – or whatever they’ll call it – “back then.”
And they’d be right. Because from our perspective now, the greatest online things of the first half of this century are all before us. All this miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-on-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit – the equivalent of the dot-com names of 1984.
Because here is another thing the graybeards in 2050 will tell you – Can you imagine how awesome it would be to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it in the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”
So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole of history to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”
The last 30 years has created a marvelous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. But what’s coming will be different, beyond, and other. The things we will make will be constantly, relentlessly becoming something else. And the coolest stuff of all has not been invented yet.
Today truly is a wide-open frontier. We are all becoming. It is the best time ever in human history to begin.
I heard someone talking about driverless cars explain that the technical side of things was becoming almost inevitable. In a sense, solving the problem of how to get cars to drive themselves is on its way to being easy.
The hard part is helping the car to decide who to hit if it has an accident.
In an accident a human might have to choose: hit a bus or swerve to hit a car; hit a family on the pavement or a child crossing the road.
These are usually reflex decisions – there may be rights and wrongs but fear clouds judgement and the mistakes people make are inevitable – and ultimately forgivable.
But a car driven by a computer? They might be sent out of control by an accident, but still have billions of computational cycles to make their decision in the seconds before impact. So we can imagine that a driverless car faced with the situation described above could have time to see its options clearly and have time to evaluate them and make a meaningful choice.
What do we teach it to choose? The machine forces us to think harder about our moral choices, as things that weren’t real choices before become so.
And the same is true in education: as things happen faster, as the augmentations (more on augmentation later) expand our power and widen our reach, we ask with greater intensity: who are we empowering? How will they decide to use their power?
When John Acton said “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he was wrong, of course. We can’t hold that view and be in love the idea of empowerment at the same time.
Power doesn’t corrupt, per se, but it is an amplifier. Tools, technologies are amplifiers, multiplying the potential of what’s already there. The more powers we have, the more important the moral foundations of our humanity become.
This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.
Look at the nearest child. How will they know what’s important when there’s no-one around to make decisions for them?
What will they live for?
What will they work and fight for?
Which prices will they think are worth paying, and which should never be paid?
Before basic skills, these moral underpinnings are the foundations of education. There’s a place for teaching values and ethics – also known as morals – but the best way to learn them is to see and experience them.
This is a fundamental question that we often overlook – and incidentally I think it underlies many of our fears about artificial intelligences.
We often ask: What are we building? Can we trust the machines?
It’s rarer to ask: Who are we augmenting? Can we trust our children?
We spend a great deal of time focusing on technical aspects of education. We concentrate on the raw materials and tools – information, ideas, knowledge and ways of understanding, skills – and neglect the more difficult conversation about deeper ethical or moral foundations.
As we augment our children (and our peers, and ourselves) with new and more powerful tools, we need to pay attention to how we’re shaping them as people – the people who will use those tools to change the world around them.