Schools must adapt to a world that is not only connected, but whose learning styles are changing, panelists said.
Educational institutions are still "designed for the assembly line, and that's what I want to change," said Cathy Davidson, a professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University. The Internet has proven that users enjoy sharing what they know in a cooperative fashion. "We have to teach to that world. We don't begin to teach to that world," Davidson said.
Schools have traditionally taught the virtues of repetition and specialization, "and now we're in the information age, and none of those skills work in the information age," she added.
She spoke in a conversation with John McGowan, a professor of humanities and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC. The discussion was part of Thursday's events at Collaborations: Humanities, Arts and Technology, known as the CHAT Festival, which continues through Saturday.
Davidson is co-founder of Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, or HASTAC. The organization administers the annual $2 million MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition.
She cited as an example of a new style of learning the process she used with co-author David Goldberg, with whom she wrote "The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age." Before that work was published, both authors put their work online and allowed anyone to correct, edit or comment on the work. While she and Goldberg took authorship, they employed those suggestions, and the work is an example of collective authorship and learning, Davidson said.
Davidson cited several examples of schools that are trying to use collaborative thinking strategies to teach to the digital age. In one of her classes, students do assessments of each others' work. Davidson said she has been struck by the "profound questions" the students ask, and the high quality of the writing that students produce.
While schools do many things right, there is much room for change, Davidson said. She said the arts should not be considered separate from science and the social sciences. "Scientists are just cutting themselves off at the knees" if they don't collaborate with the humanities, and the reverse is also true, Davidson said.
In response to audience questions, McGowan said that leaders in business already say they are moving toward a more collaborative way of working. "The larger cultural forces are moving in that direction," he said. Davidson added that education too often is "far more recalcitrant to change" than other institutions in society.
No Child Left Behind, the federal school reform act, "happened because people knew there was a crisis," Davidson said, but "they didn't get the answer right." The reform effort made assessment an end in itself, rather than what it should be, "a tool to help us teach better," she said.