Oct 16 2013

Sir Ken Robinson: Innovation Is Essential to Higher Education

Perception is everything when it comes to gauging the effectiveness of technological innovation. What questions should higher education be asking?

We, as humans, will have a future, “and it will be a future worth living in,” Sir Ken Robinson told those gathered in Anaheim on Wednesday for EDUCAUSE 2013.

Robinson’s conference keynote address focused primarily on the ways in which the global population is shifting and exploding, and how technology can be leveraged to promote greater cross-cultural engagement and understanding, particularly within the educational setting.

“My concern is that government policies are focused on improving the old [academic] system, where the seeds of growth for a new system are all around us,” Robinson told the audience.

“Current systems are invested in a much more linear model,” he said, “but we need to teach the skills of creative thinking. We also need to recognize that the citadel has been stormed.”

“We also need to recognize that the citadel has been stormed.”

Robinson has written extensively on the subject and today is a recognized leader in the development of innovation and human resources in higher ed. A former professor of education at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, Robinson consults regularly with Fortune 500 companies, government and education systems in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Robinson’s “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” was published in 2011 as a 10th anniversary update to his New York Times bestseller The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Where We’ve Been

Robinson’s EDUCAUSE address touched on many facets of rapid technological innovation over the last 10 years, including the prevailing idea today that waiting 15 seconds for a smartphone website is infuriating.

“If you had said to most teachers in the 1960s that every child will have his own computer, they would have thought you were mad,” Robinson said. “Now we’re impatient with these devices.

“Technology, really since we developed flint axes, has been used to extend our reach in terms of agriculture, weaponry, whatever it is,” he said. “Probably, the more profound use is to do things we couldn’t conceive of. Suddenly, technology makes that thing possible.

“Technology is opening up. I think we’re undergoing a revolution now because of these technologies and it’s bringing into question many of the cultural differences that have plagued us for a long time.”

"If you had said to most teachers in the 1960s that every child will have his own computer, they would have thought you were mad."

The old established notion that everyone must go to college in order to have a good job for the rest of their lives is outdated and no longer true, Robinson asserted: “We still take for granted things that aren’t true.”

That system did well to serve the old industrialized economies of the West, he said, but those populations are now dying off as populations within the developing economies now explode.

“The world is shifting on its axis and becoming more connected. We don’t know if the earth can handle this. So the question is, ‘What is the threshold here?’

“We have to look more deeply in ourselves than we have. We have to think of radically new ways of feeding ourselves, valuing ourselves and the ways our institutions are run. Education is critical to this.”

Where We’re Going

"The promise of college, more and more kids are deciding it’s not what they want to do. It’s more expensive. The value of the degree has declined,” Robinson said. “We have at hand technologies that are radically changing instruction.”

And those technologies are evolving more rapidly than ever before.

Showing an image of Google Glass, Robinson joked that he didn’t think they would catch on.

“With these you can operate the computer just by moving your eyes. ... This next generation, what’s going to happen is that we’re going to be wearing computers. They won’t be separated from us.

“There are interfaces being developed now that require no physical contact and can be manipulated simply by the power of thought. … We could expand our own intelligence by having digital implants. We will have merged with information systems.”

And the value of such innovation lies in the beholder, Robinson said, recounting the story of Thomas Edison’s phonograph invention. Edison was attempting to record phone conversations, but others saw value in the phonograph as a way to record music.

“He came up, essentially, with voice mail, and people said, ‘Why do you want to record calls?’ They wanted to record music, and he said ‘Why do you want to do that? We have pianos.’

“They applied the wrong set of values to it,” Robinson said.

“Creativity is the process of making things, the process of having original ideas that have value. Whose values do you apply when you’re judging the works? Too often we misunderstand other cultures because we’re applying the wrong values to it.”

When it comes to the future of education, Robinson suggested that leaders should be listening to the entirely new set of questions children are now asking.

“Educational systems could strain talent. Our job is to bring new ideas, new ways where talent can blossom and bloom in a different way. That’s a global challenge.”


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