What would it look like to reinvent education like we’ve reinvented news media?

I’m writing this blog post from unused space in the San Francisco Chronicle building. The Chronicle has had to scale back recently, and so the space is getting used by number of early-to-mid-stage web startups. A few dozen feet from me is Change.org, a nifty activism platform that’s busy delivering customizable content on a suite of customizable platforms to a generation that hasn’t cared about a newspaper in over a decade. What does that generation’s kids think of textbooks?

Educators face an incredible challenge: constructing and delivering compelling content to distracted audiences with very few resources. The apocalypse and emerging rebirth of news media is an important example of how the systems which deliver this sort of content can be radically reinvented. Many of the tools making up this new wave of media can be directly applied to educational challenges, when they can’t they serve as an important inspiration.

There’s no question that the education system is structured more like a newspaper than a mashed-up twitter prediction algorithm, and for the time being that’s probably a good thing. Still, it’s worth asking what a reborn education system would look like.

Who produces the content?

Newspapers: Most content is produced by national and international press syndicates, with a handful produced by local reporters.

Schools: Most content produced by national textbook companies, with a handful produced directly by classroom teachers.

New Media: An-ever-shifting mix of experts, formal journalists, video artists, graphic designers and everyday individuals. This mix shifts based on the needs of the storyteller.

New Schools: ?

Who arranges the content?

Newspapers: Editors decide which national and international stories to run and which local stories to approve among their staff. Reporters have a small amount of leeway to arrange stories as they wish.

Schools: A combination of national, state, and local agencies decide which content students must learn. Principles and teachers have some leeway to arrange curricula as they wish.

New Media: Sophisticated algorithms aggregate, filter, and prioritize content from across the internet. Consumers customize these algorithms to suit their preference.

New Schools: ?

How is the content displayed?

Newspapers: With ink on paper. Newspapers have shifted focus to online content, though they are struggling against waves of new competition.

Schools: With ink on paper, chalk on a board, or verbally. More advanced technology is generally available to teachers and is becoming ubiquitous among students in the form of cell phones.

New Media: In whatever platform the end consumer prefers, including but not limited to laptops, e-readers, televisions, pocket LED projectors, cell phones, smartphones and printers. There is a strong preference for displays that are fully interactive and wifi-enabled.

New Schools: ?

How do users interact with the content?

Newspapers: Articles can be read, circled, clipped out, photocopied and physically shared.

Schools: Students are encouraged to highlight important ideas and take notes in the margin. Workbooks can be filled out. Answers to questions can be shared verbally.

New Media: Content can be shared, rated, and commented on in a wide range of online social networks. Content regularly “goes viral,” inspiring an exponential spike of sharing and derivative content. This possibility of widespread recognition inspires widespread creative contribution.

New Schools: ?

Does that get any ideas flowing?

Do you know of educational innovators who are filling in some of those question marks? Please share in the comments section.

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