“All hands to battle stations”

I am a StarTrek fanatic, and so these words will always reverberate in Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) clipped British accent.  It felt like battle stations that Saturday, the room packed by Marina Gorbis and her talented team at the Institute for the Future’s “Hack the Future of Education” day long session.

Hats off to the IFTF team for realizing the urgency for reinventing education and for calling all hands to battle station.  They packed the room with diverse set of people who had with one thing in common, a passion to change the status quo in education.

You need all hands to make a dent in education’s problems.  And we have to feel a sense of urgency. We need to get to battle stations, now. We need a solution now and it is going to take everyone working together to make that happen.

I have always felt it rather presumptuous to assume that only the high priests of Higher Ed should be invited to these sessions of problem solving about education.  A typical academic conference, the usual venue for discussion and collaboration of these issues is depressingly uniform with mostly faculty and higher education administrators and salesmen.  Conversations float around the usual circles, the usual obstacles are trotted out, the usual ideas, locked into the usual frameworks are discussed, hands are shaken and agreements made over the usual glasses of wine and nothing really changes.

But Saturday was different.  You had some unusual academics, the innovators in an old regime, but the ones most open to innovation, ones who were actually taking risks by doing cool things: Southern New Hampshire University (@snhu), Center for the 21st Century University at Georgia Tech (@c21u), San Jose State, Stanford, CSU, Berkeley.   The Department of Ed was represented by Hal Plotkin, my favorite DoEd guy, remarkable visionary and doer.  He fills me with hope that the government may actually be helpful in all this. Then you had a small cluster of big companies, with IBM’s most imaginative thought leader, Jim Spohrer (@jimspohrer), AutoDesk, SimCities. The Foundations were listening, Gates (@gatesfoundation), Kaufman, Edutopia, Gordon and Betty More.  I loved the group of small companies, including the startups that are really taking this whole industry apart.   CodeHero (“Coding is literacy”@primerlabs), Udemy (@udemy), Minecraft, Singularity U (Startup and Academe), BioCurious (Opening lab sciences to the world @erigentry), ScienceHackDay (Get everyone hacking science together) and OpenStudy (#Take 10 Teach 1o, peer learning for the world @OpenStudy). Anya Kamenetz (@anyanya) representing the Press, and finally, remarkably the students, the learners, from high school to recent graduates.  It was eyeopening to hear their voice, to add their opinion to the table – and humbling to hear their candid opinion of the education we have built with years of  research and funding.

The solutions to educations many problems are not going to come out of one sector alone, certainly not from Higher Ed institutions or from the Government.  I doubt if industry can or should solve these problems. Certainly foundations are trying to establish fertile ground to nurture innovation. And start-ups can come up with out-of box thinking but can’t take it down alone.  But together, with the right attitude we can. For this to happen, we need more venues like the IFTF Convening, where the bouncer doesn’t check your degree at the door, where the doers and the thinkers are valued and the stakeholders have a voice, and where all sectors of this ecosystem are represented.  Different voices, different perspectives, different contributions. After all, even Captain Picard needed his Klingon and Android to “Boldly go where no one has gone before”.


About Preetha Ram

I am an educator (Dean for PreHealth and Science Education at Emory), social entrepreneur (Cofounder of OpenStudy, a global study group to connect learners) and visionary (let's build a classroom for the world to study together). A chemist by training (Yale), I like to solve problems by building bridges at the edges and interstices of disciplinary boundaries.

Posted on April 3, 2012, in E-learning, Hacking Education, open social learning and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you so much for this post (and the wonderful Star Trek analogy!).

    What I would like to see is the association community involved in these discussions as well. The depth and breadth of the education, training and professional development delivered by trade and professional associations is so often overlooked in discussions regarding the future of education. If we want to embrace learning from a truly holistic point of view, then we need to look at learners where ever they are in their learning life-cycle. That includes the multitude of educational programs adults participate in the post-secondary arena delivered by trade and professional associations.

    Associations occupy the “post-post-secondary” world and wouldn’t it be nice to see the association community at the table more often?

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