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The next evolution of schools: Highlights from our chat with Will Richardson

What will schools look like in 25 years? Educator and parent Will Richardson sees profound changes beginning to bubble up in classrooms around the world. In the past, knowledge was bounded — both in books and in classrooms. But today, the internet provides nearly endless learning opportunities for anyone who is interested. Which means that education should no longer focus on dates and facts, all just a Google search away, but instead on critical thinking.

In the TED Book Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, Richardson outlines his ideas on how schools and teachers can step up curriculums. On Monday, Oct. 9, the TED Conversations community hosted Richardson for an hour-long chat about education. Read the full discussion — and see some of the juiciest interactions below.

Muhammad Hafiz asked:

How would you suggest reforming education — changing it from the traditional one to the modern one — in developing countries?

Richardson responded:

It’s a great question, Muhammad, because access is at the heart of the learning explosion. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t move toward a more constructivist, inquiry based experience in schools nonetheless. The emphasis can’t be on content as much as it is how to live and learn in a growingly connected world. As much as teachers can model this, the better.

Wm Chamberlain asked:

I am sitting with my class waiting for the buses to arrive to take them home. I work in the largest district in Missouri by square mile. It also happens to be one of the poorest. School for my students means something different than school for many others. It is a clean, healthy place where they can get food to eat and people that care about them. I worry about how the idea of schools may change to where school itself is no longer a physical space, but an online learning environment. This would be devastating for my community. What are your thoughts, will we see this happen?

Richardson responded:

We need to change schools but not do away with the powerful learning that happens in physical space, in face-to-face classrooms. I’m not convinced that can be replicated online, especially for young kids. Learning online is a huge part of what we want kids to do, but it still needs a foundation that only local spaces can nourish.

Ryan Gallwitz asked:

If you were building a new high school or middle school, what aspects of construction and design would you consider to support your vision of what school should be today and 25 years from now? From the learners’ perspective, what would that building look like?

Richardson responded:

That’s a long answer, but there is a book that captures much of that thinking titled The Third Teacher. Highly recommended.

Max Goldstein commented:

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed,” said William Gibson in 2003. I’d like to argue that the opposite is true — we now have excellent methods of distribution, but the content itself is lacking. The first part is pretty self-evident; the internet connects people as never before. But do we have the best content? Hardly. Instead, in the last decade we’ve ridden the wave of Moore’s law to excellent technology, but our understanding of human nature has been left behind. We now have the technology to do what Seymour Papert wanted to do in the late ‘70s, when he wrote Mindstorms, but we’re not doing it. Instead, the ed-tech “innovators” focus on repackaging old pedagogy, primarily lectures. The students’ chance to explore the subject matter is defeated by trying to get the right answers. What Papert suggests in his book is that right answers don’t matter nearly as much as the process used to obtain them. Humans do not think they way computers operate, so why do we treat online education like a file transfer.

And Richardson responded:

Thanks for the comment, Max. I’m actually just re-reading Mindstorms. ;0) I think we have amazing content stored on the Internet, but the job now becomes ours to find it, vet it, and learn from it. We can’t be waiting for someone else, schools included, to be delivering it to us. But I totally agree as to the dysfunction of the current system’s attempt to teach and measure only a small slice of what can be learned.

Why School? is available for the Kindle and Nook, as well as through iTunes. Or read it by downloading the TED Books app, which also allows you to purchase a TED Books subscription.

For more from Richardson, read the TED Blog’s Q&A with him, or check out his personal blog.