So I had a pretty privileged experience about a week ago. A man I do a lot of work for over the past several years, Frank Fitzpatrick, organized and hosted and produced “Education: Disrupted” at Pepperdine University, an event that may have laid the groundwork for a meaningful shift in the paradigm of how education is approached. It’s no secret that the current education system has its fair share of challenges, and methods of keeping students interested, engaged, and motivated seem to have become ever-elusive memories of a not-so-distant-yet-forever-ago past. Having already introduced his Why:Music interactive education initiative to everyone from Perimeter Institute to Singularity University and TEDx, Fitzpatrick seemed ready to stir some new questions into the mix, likely one of his big motivators in producing this thing.
His main angle coming at ‘Education:Disrupted' was "Enhancing Creativity and Learning Through Music, Media, & Technology - To come away with valuable new insights and practical connections for more successfully executing our visions and creating meaningful impact on the future of education.” As the founder of EarthTones, a non-profit dedicated to music and film to promote social change, and as a Grammy-nominated producer, he seems to have a pretty good handle and vested interest in and his passion truly shined through.
The people he brought together in this room provided some of the valuable ideas and insights that were brought to the table were truly inspiring and many of which were pivotal shifts in the approach towards teaching future generations in useful and effective ways. A lot of it was waaaay over my head (these people have some serious brain activity going on…), but some of the standout moments for me were:
-Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari and BrainRush (and the guy who gave Steve Jobs his first job), emphatically stating that that “change is coming” before laying out his ‘5 Rules for Learning’ (extreme time pressure, active every 5-10 seconds, spaced repetition algorithms, adaptive to each student, add schema when possible). His statement “Even a wrong answer is knowledge” certainly stuck with me, as did his most incendiary proclamation that “The classroom is dead and we just don’t know it yet.”
-Esteban Moctezuma Barragan, the Executive Chairman of Esperanza Azteca and President of Fundacion Azteca, who has put together over 50 youth orchestras in under-developed areas around the world, stating “it’s much better to practice values than to teach them.”
-Jennifer Groff, Vice-President of Learning and Program Development for MIT's Learning Games Network, who gave us a pretty incredible look at how emerging gaming technologies are helping children learn and retain in classrooms like never before.
-Erik Gregory, Chief Field Officer for Pearson, who traveled to just about every country in the under-developed world, conducting field research for methods of learning that work best, provided the following anecdote - Noticing that there were no textbooks being used, he was compelled to ask ‘where are the textbooks?’ The answer was ‘Well, if you see anyone with a textbook, they’re most likely being punished.’ As a representative from the world’s largest textbook publisher, that struck him hard...and that’s when he knew that the education system needed a serious overhaul…quickly.
-Christopher Nicholls, the Executive Producer of Disney Interactive's "Fantasia : Music Evolved" even showed up to give us a super secret sneak peek at what has come from the almost 5-years of development the game-changing video game - an insanely interactive experience in which your hands and movement and actions actually conduct the orchestra in magical real-time, teaching children music through fun, personalized, creative interaction.
Perhaps one of the highlights of the day was the closed-session roundtable that culminated in an adjoining room after the presentations. It was a constructively heated discussion that covered topics ranging from how to work within the current systems and how to work outside of them, and the benefits of each approach all the way to how much digital interaction and customization is possible and essential for effective efficient implementation. Brains were picked, alliances forged, and ideas blossomed.
As if that wasn’t enough, to top it all off and stay true to the theme, the team behind Education: Disrupted brought in an artist to live-illustrate the entire event from beginning to end. Patti Dobrowolski of Up Your Creative Genius was documenting what was happening through colorful live illustrations as each speaker presented, as well as during the roundtable that followed. At the end of the event, many of the participants were blown away by it and couldn’t help but express that it was one of the main things they were taking away from this event, and all asked for images of the final piece for their own collections.
And hence, it worked - the art helped the message engage the brain.