7 Innovators Views on Education at Skillshare’s Penny Conference

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Skillshare's education conference

I recently attended a conference on the future of education, hosted by Skillshare. Skillshare is helping to facilitate lifelong learning by helping anyone with knowledge, skills and passion, to teach. “Our vision is to democratize learning by empowering teaching. To build a world where you can learn anything from anyone.”

The Skillshare Penny Conference asked the speakers, “If you could reinvent education for the 21st century, what would it look like and how would you build it?

Here is a summary of what many of the speakers had to say:

Michael Karnjanaprakorn, CEO & Co–founder of Skillshare

  • Learning can happen anywhere
  • We learn by doing, asking and making
  • Anyone can become a teacher
  • We need to share education resources
Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway said, “How important is information? How important is oxygen to life?”
Tony Wagner, Author: Creating Innovators (Review of Creating Innovators book)
Teaching used to be about knowledge and scarcity. Teachers had knowledge they needed to impart to students. Now that knowledge is free, we don’t need that anymore. It isn’t important what you know, it is important what you can do with what you know.
Routine jobs are being outsourced. The set of skills needed now are critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, agility, initiative, effective oral and written communication and the ability to analyze information. Is that what schools are teaching? We need to re-position from a consumer economy to an innovative economy.
The culture of school is radically at odds with the culture of learning:
  • School is all about individual GPA. It should be about teamwork
  • School is about specialization. Innovation needs to cross discipline boundaries.
  • School is highly risk adverse. Innovation requires fail early and fail often.
  • Learning is a profoundly passive experience in most schools. That is why we are good consumers but not innovators.
  • We rely on extrinsic motivators where intrinsic are much more important
Value unstructured time. Play can lead to passion. Passion leads to a profound sense of purpose.
Kio Stark, Author and Teacher at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program
Kio discussed the importance of both physical spaces and websites that allow people to work together. For physical space, it is not only sharing the space, but sharing resources and ideas. Then there are websites such as stack overflow for programmers to help each other.
She also believes in shared knowledge on the university level. “We still need universities, but we need them to be open.” MIT is in the forefront of open courseware. “Sharing what you know is not a small act, it is a big way to share the culture we live in and I hope you will do it.”
Aaron Dignan, Founding Partner & CEO of Undercurrent, Author of Game Frame
What is it about games that make them so engaging? They are a highly structured experience. You are continually trying to get a higher score or to the next level.
In education, games put subjects into context. Where you don’t know why you would ever need to learn certain things and where you would need it, in a game, everything you do is needed to move to the next level. That is why we find game tutorials boring, even in games we love. Monopoly is a great educational game. You learn strategy, managing money, negotiation and probability.
Eddie Huang, Chef & Owner of Baohaus
Just reading books is very passive. Learning needs to be more active. Write in your books. Interact with them. Reading isn’t everything. “We are looking for genius in the wrong places!”
Adora Svitak, Educator, Author, Curator of TEDxRedmond and 14 years old
(Absolutely one of the most amazing teenagers I’ve ever heard or seen)
Our image of a teacher needs to change. Teachers don’t have to be certified to be called a teacher. Teachers should continue to learn forever. Learning shouldn’t be limited to six subjects a day.
Adora’s parents hired tutors for her to learn about a variety of things she wasn’t learning in school. Most of the tutors were college students. Students often make the best teachers.
Be passionate. “Who shall dare to teach shall never cease to learn”.
Zach Sims, Co–founder of Codecademy
21st century literacy needs to include algorithms. An algorithm is a simple series of steps to program something. It is now a time when it is much easier to make things than ever before. “The computer is our generation’s factory”.
As demand for programming has risen, education for it has decreased. Enrollment is up in college, but most high schools don’t teach it, so the students are unprepared when they get to college. In college, Computer Science is taught, which isn’t always practical, as compared to Computer Programming, which is.
“We are teaching technology of yesterday with methods of yesterday”. New methods of learning have not been embraced. The concepts of learning are separated from the application and the practical.
Coding should be the building block for everything. A recipe is an algorithm. Think of it that way.
If you are curious why Skillshare called this education conference, Penny Conference, you can read the explanation on the Skillshare Penny Conference webpage.

See also:
10 Back-to-School Articles for Teens, Tweens and Parents
Help Education Science App Creator Get Funded on Kickstarter
Cartoon Book Guide for Scratch Programming for Tweens and Teens


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  1. Darlene http://adventuresofamiddleagemom.com :

    The educational system needs to catch up with changing times from what I’ve read here…and from what I’ve observed in the classroom over the years. One good start would be if teachers stopped “teaching to the standardized tests.”

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