Cisco Canada Blog

Prepr #EduChallenge Panel

January 16, 2015

Great things happen when you connect the unconnected. This is why I enjoy participating in hackathons, where developers, subject-matter experts, such as educators, designers, business gurus, entrepreneurs and other interested (and interesting) fellows co-create our future. In November 2014, Prepr invited creative minds from across the GTA to take on the #EduChallenge. The weekend-long hackathon started with a panel discussion hosted at the Mozilla Foundation. The intent was to provoke deep reflections and challenge the participants to transform education in Ontario.

The panel was hosted by Jason Shim (Pathways to Education), featured Ruth Childs (OISE), Steve Tam  (Indiegogo) and me. We could not have been a more diverse group: a university professor, non-profit sector leaders and a representative of the private sector. While we agreed on many points, we also had very different perspectives on others. Below are my takeaways from the event, as well as some thoughts on how technology influenced education in 2014.

For more on #EduChallenge, view my recap on Storify.

The challenge of teaching and learning with technology
We all agreed that mobile devices have invaded the classrooms. Wi-Fi has become as important as water and electricity. Students can pull answers, data, facts and formulas “out of thin air.” That should sound exciting. Knowledge has somehow become a commodity, and sharing it has never been as easy. At the same time, it has never been so obvious that merely repeating factoids does not make us smarter. We still need to understand what it all means, and we still need to be able to explain this to others (and to make a reasonable argument). Put another way, teachers still need to teach.

My belief is that educators have been challenged to change their teaching approach. If teachers focus on reasoning and sense-making instead of data (widely available in a variety of formats), then students might better understand why a particular subject matters for the rest of their lives. Students should also be encouraged to develop an inquisitive nature, questioning facts and opinions, and to make up their own mind. They have powerful tools, and they should use them. Why? Because in the “real world,” it will all be about becoming more productive.

The promise of The Internet of Everything (IoE)
Representing Cisco at the event, I was proud to hear our company receive high marks for predicting major technological disruptions and leading industry changes. Last year was an inflexion point, as suddenly everyone realized how connecting people, data, process, and things creates an enormous value (search your local store for connected thermostats, fitness bands, smart watches).

What’s exciting for today’s entrepreneurs is that over the next 10 years, the Internet of Everything is expected to represent a $19 trillion dollar opportunity ($490 billion in Canada alone) and students graduating today can begin to tap into that right away!

In addition, developers can join Cisco DevNet for free to find more than a hundred APIs to integrate their code with Cisco technologies, and forums to share best practices with more than 100,000 developers. The opportunities are endless for young, creative minds.

Cloud-based sandboxes will be available early this year to speed up development (while saving on your Internet bill). Furthermore, our Toronto Innovation Centre for the Internet of Everything will open its doors in 2015 to Canadian entrepreneurs and innovators who want to leverage the network to claim their share of this new connected market. A fair number of their innovations will accelerate the transformation of the classroom (and campus), to make it more productive and delightful at the same time.

The #EduChallenge panel had contrasting feelings about the impact of technology in our lives. Some feared that computers would predetermine our lives from an early age. (For example, you are assigned to be a farmer because the world needs farmers this year, how exciting is that?) But I stressed that technology is a tool we use to make our lives better and that education has a role to play in making sure we are aware of the boundaries of technology, including privacy and ethical issues. For example, the Smart Home project lead by Professor Keshav (the Cisco Canada Research Chair in Smart Grid) and his team at the University of Waterloo allows homeowners to control how much data they want to share with the public.

The learning process, and the innovation process, has some twists and turns. Ruth Childs drove the point across that we should allow for failure to happen, and we should learn from it. Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari and mentor to Steve Jobs), during his brief visit to Toronto last November, said that schools (and teachers) should foster three qualities in students: enthusiasm, entrepreneurship, and creativity. If we can develop a thirst for learning in our students, and basic skills to learn how to learn, what else do we need?

I challenge educators and innovators to create delightful learning experiences for students. Share your ideas and progress in the comment section below

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