Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Education as a Superstructure by Graham Brown-Martin

These are my notes from Graham Brown-Martin‘s closing keynote, “Education as a Superstructure” at the 2012 Mobile Learning Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 13, 2012. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. The official conference session description was:

“Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs have both gone on record to agree that computers, and technology in general, have had surprisingly little impact on schools so far. Much less, for example, than in parts of our society such as media, medicine, retail, communications and law. Our global population of 7 billion people boasts over 6 million mobile connections. By 2020 the number of mobile connections is set to rise to somewhere between 25-50 billion depending on which forecasts you believe. So there really isn’t a question mark over the value, penetration or ef?cacy of mobile devices in a learning context. After all those children and learners who have access to a connected mobile device are almost certainly using their device already for learning related activities even if they don’t know it. Today, in the UK alone, 50% of children age 8-12 own an Internet capable smart phone. Yet the majority of these learners are prohibited from bringing these powerful tools for learning to school. So what is happening here? Why are our schools and universities the last hold out from the digital and mobile revolution?

He is passionate about education and the human condition, and hosts a fantastic conference in London: “Learning Without Frontiers”
– he likes to push your buttons and make you think

Showed a video he made recently for a movie he’s making with Noam Chomsky

Why has technology not transformed education?
– it probably won’t
– not much change in terms of

I’m outside the system
– expelled at 14 for entrepreneurial activities with organic chemistry from public schools
– I’ve managed to find my way in life by starting conversations, sometimes they become arguments
– I’ve built “Learning Without Frontiers” on this basis: people passionately interested in the discourse about transformation and reform

– a movement leading the discourse about transformation and reform in education
– you need other voices in that dialog for transformation

transformation is a funny word
– we don’t really ‘get it’
– lots of policymakers use this word
– what’s behind the curtain? You can’t predict disruption that well

We generally fear transformation, so we often confuse this

Interactive whiteboards are a good example of educational technologies which are complete crap

Education will not change until we recognize and challenge its center al role as a superstructure supporting the economic foundation of society
– this makes us squeamish
– let’s play with this…

There are lots of graphs out there that show I’m right…
– Ray Kurzweil, “Mass Use of Inventions”
– in reality now esp with net/connected society we are experiencing exponential change, not just linear change
– documenting this is part of what I’m doing here

superstructures: how society works
– over the centuries and thousands of years, how do we get to the civilization we have here

superstructures legitimize, support and reinforce societies’ economic foundation
– politics, religion, mass media, family, education

citing Italian philosopher Ramsky (?)

The base shapes the superstructure
– relations of production
– means of production

– education
– family
– politics
– mass media

This is rooted in Marxist thoughts

This is not pro or anti-capitalist
– let’s look at the collapse of the banking system / banking crisis
– what happened: political and judicial forces / elements of the superstructure rapidly moved to support the SQ
– laws were changed, austerity measures implemented
– British police equipped with plastic bullets to shoot at students for the first time ever
– lots of people are protesting: this is a broad movement

The logical conclusion of the industrial revolution means you make money by moving things around: commodities
– this isn’t sustainable
– bankers taking home huge bonuses while we are still teaching kids in prefab buildings

Economic and technological determinism
– revolution time again?

The windmill
– society with feudal lord
– agricultural
– limited manufacturing
– restricted education

Steam Engine (1750)
– society with industrial capitalist
– industrial revolution
– industrial scale education systems

The Digital World
– who are the new masters?
– what is our technology determining now?
– What is the foundation for education?

What we didn’t know in the industrial revolution was about effect of putting CO2 into atmosphere
– also population growth

The industrial revolution is running out of steam, we are entering a new phase: The Digital Age / The Information Age
– more connected society

Our world dominated by Google, Facebook, Apple, and Pearson have huge influence
– Google essentially organizes all our information
– it’s an algorithm: SEO determines where things ‘sit,’ but that affects what we think– this is a big deal / powerful role


Apple has more money than the U.S. Treasury

Pearson: owns the assessment system
– they own the testing AND
– they own all the content you need to learn to pass the assessments
– what a business model that is!
– “It’s pure gangster”

You heard the term ‘old money”

napsterfication – redux
– where is the disruption?

People + Technology break cartels
– how would the cartel of education be broken (who is the customer for education? the pupil? the state?)

Khan Academy, OER, TedED
– I think these are just illusions
– I am not thinking the future of education is start/stop videos
– stay at home to learn / go to school to play is marketing
– I don’t think this is the future of education

What would these look like if it was genuinely disruptive
– attacking the way we test: the assessment paradigm?
– we’re not seeing that, however

Mobile learning is not Khan Academy on an iPad
– we need to do something far better than that
– what if we asses students based on what they can do?

Kurzweil: By 2013 computers will be sentient
– will we allow that to transform education?

Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a the it will live its whole life thinking it’s stupid.”

Why is this important?
– bigger challenges than we have ever faced


Trailer: We are the people we’ve been waiting for

Climate change is a sideshow compared to some other things
– value of the dollar/pound to natural resources
– how do we get through these challenges of resource shortages

Our global economic footprint is horrific
– we are overshooting massively
– graphs of fueling population growth: oil, coal, biomass..

Robert Reich: “Growth is really about the capacity of a nation to produce everything that’s wanted by its inhabitants. That includes better stewardship of the environment as well as improved public health and schools.”

We need a system change

The purpose of education: enlightenment or indoctrination?

– do you train for passing tests or educate for creative inquiry

“Be obedient, don’t ask too many questions, don’t cause a crisis of democracy” – Noam Chomsky

John Dewey nailed this in his writings about young people following their own path of learning (in contrast to ‘you were born in Detroit, so you’re headed for the factory)

My point is our problems are bigger than we’ve ever had before
– we need to enable our young people to reconstruct our superstructures in ways that may scare us
– extinction may be on the line

Is the purpose of education to support economic growth
– “Countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us today” – Obama
– “Higher education in this country can’t be a luxury it is an economic imperative” – Obama
— interesting comment when you look at the cost of higher education now

DAvid Cameron
– “So for the future of our economy, and our society, we need a first class education for every child”
– he worked in PR before becoming Prime Minister
– we are dismantling our educational system in the UK now
– biggest transfer of education in the UK right now, not providing education for the poor
– this is BS

education automation potential is huge
– when politicians start getting interested in education like this, I get worried
– education is a new football
– what they mean is: How can we reduce the costs of education

In business, how do we reduce costs
– look at fast food like McDonalds
– based around mediocre and standardization
– could we abuse the art of teaching to the point where we turn our teachers into factory workers?
– I think this could happen: online learning (show a video, give students some questions)
– I tweeted recently cynically: why don’t we just make an app to help kids pass tests

we have to be very careful about how we use technology with education
– it can be abused for only certain groups to get education
– just give the poor some computers, some rooms, and

Sculleyfication: where the creative brilliance is automated out of the process to the point where things become bland
– this is a story between Steve Jobs and John Sculley

Commodification and automation process: we saw this in the dark ages of Apple
– remember System 7
– it became bland
– only when Steve Jobs came back he changed it into the most successful company in the world

Simple question: What if Steve Jobs designed schools?
– completely closed, everything had to be approved, only eat carrots…
– no, I”m talking about design

We now have something designed in the industrial revolution
– what if we designed schools so it could transform
– instead of medicating ADHD, creating structures where all children can succeed / fly

education + technology = #fail

Research on OLPC showing reading skills not improving
– maybe we should have given them computers to play WOW and

stop doing dumb things with technology, we need to do transformational things
– QR codes

Technology is like a pedestrian conveyor
– some use them to accelerate
– some coast and look at the view
– some fall off

Are we just accelerating the same thing with technology in education: reinforce old practice (new wine in old skins)

Failure is GREAT, that is where you get your best learning

conrad wolfram
– mathematician
– story of the 2 maths

TEDx Brussels – Conrad Wolfram – 11/23/09

Most of our kids now have a pretty powerful computer in their pockets
– 80% of what we do in math class is calculations
– we need to put more emphasis on teaching

Why do we learn maths?
1- technical jobs: drives economic development
2- world is a quantitative place, it’s hard to survive in a modern society if you’re not being quantitative and mathematical
3- critical thinking: structuring thinking in a critical way

When we say we are learning math, what are we really doing
1- asking the right questions (what is the problem – this is SO critical)
2- let’s take that theoretical world picture and turn it into a mathematical form
3- verify me

What are we doing today in schooll?
– spending about 80% of our time on part 3, which is exactly the part computers do
– we should be using computers to do step 3 in almost all cases
– some estimating and mental arithmetic are still needed, but for the most part we should focus on types 1 and 2

math is not equal to calculating, it is a much bigger subject
– not surprising that we get this confused
– typically calculations have held us up
– computers change this

calculations are the machinery of maths

This process doesn’t dumb down maths, it liberates students to go further and beyond

We have generations of learners convinced they can’t do maths and don’t like maths, yet we see they can in video games and so many other contexts
– kids now at age 8 and 9 can do calculus

We are doing a similar thing in science now
– too often math is taught like Latin: a dead language (yet it should be taught as a dynamic, exciting topic)

Michael Brooks, scientiest
– wrote book: “Free Radicals”
– now learning about “brand science”

Michael Brooks – The Anarchy of Science

When kids are asked to identify scientists from a group of photos, most kids select the people who aren’t smiling because their stereotype is that scientists aren’t fun

Let’s turn this on its head with examples:
– Crafty Galileo
– Sneaky Einstein
– Rebellious Crick and Watson
– Reckless Barry Watson
– more

These are excellent role models for teenagers
– kids love science up to age 10, then their opinions drop off the scale

Thanks to brand science, however, you’re not allowed to tell students this is what science is all about

so mobile learning..
– innovations rely on disruptive thinking

how to you embrace and allow that kind of thinking in a school science lab

STEM subjects are no different than learning guitar or piano, they are DOING subjects
– we learn by doing
– now we have sufficient technologies so we CAN transform learning

Mobile has transformed the world: I’ve traveled a lot in Africa and seen this
– never before have so many people been connected or shared so much information, mobile is the driver

Global incidents are first reported, shared and discussed by the world via social, mobile media

OUr great grandchildren will look back on this time in the same way we look back at the industrial revolution

The economic, social and technological changes that are occurring in today’s society are not begin reflected in today’s education superstructure

Our objective must be to make the term ‘mobile learning’ obsolete

we ARE a movement

If every child is connected via a high-spec personal device how would learning and teaching change?

It’s the economy stupid

We have to recognize the central role and purpose of education in supporting transformation
– because of the economic times we are in, we need to make the case for our change
– we need to make sure that we are living for a foundation worth living for… (showing Britney Spears “Toxic” video of her as a airline stewardess)



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One response to “Education as a Superstructure by Graham Brown-Martin”

  1. Michael J. Farris Avatar
    Michael J. Farris

    When you share your thought process, student for whom the process is new or insightful can model their activity after you. Thanks for posting! (Students have a hard time sometimes seeing what is most important as they jot ideas down. Often the goals can be mistaught. Notes for insight vs. notes for passing an exam, for example).