Book Review – The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning

Book Review - The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning

Title: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning

Author: James Paul Gee

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (January 8, 2013)

The Anti-Education Era: Creative Smarter Students Through Digital Learning by James Paul Gee

Before we can be convinced of the need to get smart through digital learning, we need to be convinced of our own stupidity.

The title implies that the book will explain how digital leaning will create smarter students in an era the author terms ‘anti-education’. While Gee does explain that and does it well without much reference to buzzwords in educational technology, what the title (as well as the blurb) does not warn us is that there will be a confrontation of the state of the human being and an uncovering of the failings that we are oblivious to. In fact, Part I of the book, which comprises 15 chapters, is plainly titled ‘How To Be Stupid’, while Part II, titled ‘How To Get Smart Before It Gets Too Late’,  has just six chapters.

In other words, before we can be convinced of the need to get smart through digital learning, we need to be convinced of our own stupidity – and Gee does that by exposing mental comfort stories, the dangerous lack of agency or purpose among members of a community (or citizens of a country), and the damaging consequences of our stupidity, e.g. self-deception, inequality and hopelessness.

Unapologetic and deeply convinced for a smarter and more moral world, Gee writes simply and candidly to question our assumptions about education, the economy and society, and calls us to action: to connect, collaborate and create collective intelligence.

I touch on a few of Gee’s arguments that have struck a chord with me.

First, the bad news

HOW SCHOOLS MAKE US STUPID

Humans have the capacity to be reflective and thereafter embark on good actions. Gee calls this the Circuit of Human Reflective Action. The conditions for smart actions to take place are:

1) Initial mentorship so we can learn from people and experience in specific areas/domains;

2) Lots of prior experience;

3) Clear goals;

4) The actions and goals must matter to us emotionally;

5) There is an opportunity to act in a way that elicits a meaningful response from our community (local/global).

Unfortunately, much of formal schooling is highly passive with students imbibing knowledge without much opportunity to take meaningful action based on what they have learned. The lack of a compelling or meaningful goal of studying and attending school is exacerbated by the focus on testing and gate-keeping examinations. Furthermore, some students have initial mentoring (in the form of parents, out-of-school experiences, etc.) and some have not; nonetheless, “we pretend they are on a level-playing field” (p. 16-17).

WHEN STATUS AND SOLIDARITY DIVIDE US

Status and solidarity are powerful cultural forces that shape our identity and influence our everyday actions. We seek status in terms of respect from others. We also seek solidarity with other in order to have a sense of belonging and being accepted.  Such forces, however, may dull our senses and better judgment when status and solidarity become the only end goals of a meaningful life.

As a consequence, we accept and perpetuate particular world views and actions contrary to empirical evidence and facts, common sense and moral standards. For example, aspiring to own a club membership like your peers when your income cannot support it; indulging in bullying tactics along with your buddies when you know the bullied is distressed. These examples may appear trivial but they scratch the surface of a world beset with social ills and inequalities.

In our limited world of people who we want to like us, and people we want to be like, we disregard more rational thought and action, and more sadly, disregard other humans who fall below our flawed standards of human existence.

Now, for some good news

AFFINITY SPACES FOR ALL

In order to engage our students in more critical and reflective thinking, we need to lead them to an affinity space where a community of learners who share common passions and goals. They may come from a variety of backgrounds and have varying levels of experience and expertise, but by exchanging ideas, opinions and thoughts with one another, the group solution to the challenge is going to be superior to an individual’s effort. “[H]umans think and act better when we do so by getting the help of others and giving help to them” (p. 174).

Such affinity spaces would look like discussion boards and interest groups related to the simulation video game The Sims where players find ways to create objects of their desire such as building their dream house and accessories, as well as the various user-generated communities where players interact with one another.

I do believe that affinity spaces are not limited to an online environment and it is important to have real-life face-to-face connections in any affinity space to encourage authentic relationships among learners.

Exactly how affinity spaces are to be constructed is not the focus in Part II of the book but the end is really the beginning of our conversation of how to make use of our 21st century tools to enhance our student’s thinking, reflecting and doing while creating purposeful goals for them in a diverse and global community.

 

How I Use Open Educational Resources (OER)

How I Use Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are increasingly important when we consider the breadth and depth of material that are being produced by educational institutions, media production companies,  and even individuals. Equipping my students with web-based resources allows both my students and I to have access to high-quality and up-to-date information, whenever we need it, wherever we are. This frees me from creating teaching material from scratch and enables me to focus on teaching in class.

Watch a brief interview I did with Learning Academy , Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore:

Let me share some of the OERs I have used :

1. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) OER: Purdue OWL

 

For me, the most useful resource on this site is the section on APA Style. It contains sections on how to cite and reference for different reference materials, including print, web and recorded material. The information is presented in an easy-to-read format with clear examples for readers to follow. The information is also easily searchable which makes navigating a content-heavy website less onerous on the user. The Purdue OWL is a great example of how one educational institution creates and maintains educational resources and makes it available for free for educational use.

Terms of use of Purdue OWL materials in the classroom: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/551/01

 

2. Howcast Media, Inc

OER: Howcast Media, Inc.

 

Howcast is a media production company that specialises in high-quality and entertaining instructional videos. The videos are usually no more than 5 minutes long but contains enough information to keep the audience engaged. I have used their videos on presentations, writing and questionnaires in my classes. My students usually perk up when the lights dim and the video comes on.

Terms of use of Howcast videos in the classroom: http://www.howcast.com/faq

 

3.  The YUNiversity

OER: The YUNiversity

 

The  YUNiversity is a blog (and more) on grammar tips presented in an off-beat, humorous and engaging manner, and is especially suited for the current generation of youths. They post on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Medium and handle Q&As on ask.fm The YUNiversity is managed by an English graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and his wife. I share their posts on grammar tips with my students on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Terms of use of The YUNiversity materials in the classroom: Not obvious but here’s the link to their FAQs: http://www.theyuniversity.net/FAQ

 

OERs are indispensable in any classroom. I hope this post has got you thinking about exploring the world wide web of wonderful educational resources!