Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gathering STEAM - Building a New Network of Creative Education for the KBE

"Toy Train" Archive NSW Library Australia. CC Public Domain   
"The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."

"When all think alike, then no one is thinking."
Walter Lippman

Creative Education and the Knowledge-Based Economy version 1.2

STEAM Driven Education

In Technology and education the rails are slowly being laid and the momentum is gathering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).  STEAM is beginning to make larger in roads into early educational programs and curricula across the US; beginning in elementary school and middle school. Put aside the notion that Technology is just about IT, making movies, two-minute videos, creating cool interactive brochures, functional slideshows, websites and edgy desktop publishing pursuits.

There is more to technology and innovation than just Information Technology - or developing the next cool app or viral video. Some local groups, organizations and even governments are focusing on a more back to basics approach to Technology, "looking under the IT Hood", offering Pre-Tech and Pre-Vocational programs both formal and informal such as the Maker Movement which was jump started by MIT and Make Magazine. Take a look at the Maker Movement piece which aired last summer on PBS Newshour...

                             Watch How Making Stuff Helps Make Science More Appealing to Kids on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

The Boiler Room: Policy Matters, Strategic Priorities and the STEAM Engine

STEAM is already in the developmental pipeline as being the next big wave and prioritized educational theme from rural, underserved areas which in most cases are where the new manufacturing bases and   
Vocational and Technical schools are located; and into wealthier more affluent public school districts. Most educators, educational institutions and technology businesses are becoming familiar with the concept, terminology and likewise beginning to promote and advocate for STEAM programs. STEM (the more aptly known moniker) has also been given more national emphasis from US businesses and policymakers. 

Though there have been some prioritized funds set aside, a raft of Op-Ed pieces written from industry and government perspective decrying a National Innovation Gap and National Security Issue, the reality is that funding shortfalls in federal government, states and overall limited program funding avenues has hampered program support and adoption. One such group that uses a consolidated voice is the STEM Education Coalition which is a national advocacy group that addresses local and national issues pertaining to STEM education.

The Greenhouse: Planting Seeds, Adaptation and Weeding

The now classic educational methodology of inquiry-based, problem solving and using the idea of creative play is an extremely important, useful and and some would say a rather risky approach to STEAM education. Why? Creativity is hard to quantify in a neat graph or spreadsheet or much less understand or grasp - Creativity in many countries is considered to be an educational luxury that is not necessarily or usually visible or concrete.

Yes, there are some great assessment tools out there such as performance-based assessment, portfolios, exhibits, etc...but most policy makers and officials like the quick and easy numerical-based snapshot approach and do not want to have to weed through things like e-Portfolios due to a variety of digestible factors such as time. Arts are usually the first programs to get cut in an age of tight budgets and declining state/federal funding. Creative problem-solving or solutions-solving doesn't just happen in the quantifiable-world of mathematics - which is the most number-crunched and internationally assessed educational subject in the world today for global policymakers.

Knowledge Management: Creative and Experimental Acts of Failure

from Youtube -Failed Attempts of Early Flight

Though most of us take things and innovation for granted; many applications that we use and see today were in some cases driven by accident, happenstance, failure, risk-taking, foolhardiness, initial rejection and then mass acceptance through ultimate perseverance. Historically, in some cases the best "tool" or innovation did not win out in the "marketplace" - some were inspired marks of genius which were regulated to the dustbin of innovation history. Citizens and policymakers want quick and easily quantifiable results; whereas, creativity, play, tinkering are very difficult to understand from a factory-driven management perspective - some consider creative play to be time wasters which are difficult to process through number crunching via sophisticated algorithms and computers. The issue of the "consumer" is that we want things provided for or made/manufactured right the first time - we are not witness nor have the patience to care about the process concept, prototype, Design Cycle, analysis and re-design - we want IT now! Any creative act or creative person, scientist or inventor in many ways undergoes this familiar process.

If one looks at twentieth century innovation and significant strides in say travel from horse and buggy to cars, steam trains to bullet trains and planes to spaceships - most of the early advancements in transportation by many business and industrialist initially scoffed at the idea of why do we need such things and that they were impractical - in some cases they were disasters or death defying PR stunts. Of course, there were some famous proclamations by IT businesses, such as IBM about the future and need for computers and software innovation.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. 
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
 "I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice-Hall, 1957

The other issue that education normally doesn't address is the creative act of failure and learning from mistakes. Yes, even in innovation there is failure - nothing happens or is developed overnight in a clean room, petri dish or industrial-sized vacuum without the sustained push of strong forces like government intervention such as, NSF, DOE or DOD support. War and US DOD has rapidly supported and spurned on our technological innovation and dominance throughout our history, especially in our late 20th and early 21st Century - where innovative failure may have occurred because of lack of funding or quick capital infusion. From educational advancement opportunities such a the national GI Bill to medical innovation and treatment - triage's, ER and medivac helicopters - or to - IT innovations such as computers, advanced imaging techniques and the Internet. Regardless of what we say, think or our political leanings, government is and remains the main primary Engineer, coach and financial supporter of early technological innovation both here in the US and around the world.

Waiting on the Platform to Catch the STEAM Train

Hybrid seeds are now being sown in K-12 school programs, universities and districts in underserved educational sectors to benefit regular students not just for the gifted and talented populations. Early exposure and sustained intervention is critical to power STEAM driven education.

These are just initial ideas and thoughts to get the convo going - more discussion coming in later posts.

Trivia - What is the most commonly used form of people-moving transportation in the world today?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

OK, But Where is the Real Technology Innovation?

Radio-Electronics 1949. "The Radio Hat". CC Public Domain.

OK, Social, Mobile and Consumer-base get the easy money and media accolades but what about the Real R&D lurking behind the red curtains? Or at least under the red radio hat!

As some folks are aware the gadgets and gizmos that we now possess in our hands, homes, work, schools and car in most cases was developed nearly 50-years ago, even most of the math, forms, functions and source code came about from that age as well. In some cases, some of the conceptual ideas, wireless radio innovation and ways we transmit things, has been around over a hundred years – sparked by the adaptation of generated industrial electricity and some guy named Tesla who died broke and regulated to obscurity.

Unfortunately, at this time, money, time and talent is chasing and being diverted to gold prospecting in SM and the next app, though most are all actually losing money and many start-ups will fail in their quest. Some critics say that we are just tweaking and localizing our marketing tastes and that the web is dead and just an electronic flea market to sell goods and exchange services far and wide.

Most of the IT/Technology industry is either rebranding or rebadging or marketing things that have been in place or conceptualized in the mid-twentieth century. And the dirty green truth is that our electronics and search capabilities are more power hungry than ever – electronics and e-waste abounds, just look at the recycling centers and recycling e-waste programs here and in developing countries.

In regards to IT innovation in education, the dynamic and locus operandi is still appropriate new hardware and the educational software will sort itself out later. The new metric and market thought in programming is intelligent software and big data – I thought that was what spreadsheets, data visualization and fancy graphic charts were for? What have we been doing with all these machines for all these decades – lighting up painted ping-pong balls? I guess I was wrong.

I do hate the notion that when we speak about Technology – most think it is just IT, computers, SM, and the next consumer gizmo. Yes, there is more out there in Technology; most gradually being adopted, tinkered with in a small garage or lab and off the popular technology PR radar and in some fortunate cases actually making some money.

Yes, there is a quiet Technology Revolution happening before our very eyes and most of it is published in obscure journals or kept behind secure closed-door innovation centers sprinkled throughout hubs and clusters. But that is not all….

So where do we stand with Technological Innovation? Are we just receiving marketing of artificial reality and science-fiction dreams?

I would encourage you to look and read a few interesting articles in regards to Technology and Innovation to spark an inward or outward conversation while you are in your garage, evil-genius lab or deep earth bunker:

(The Atlantic Piece)

(How Technology Can Fix Education)