Here at OnInnovatioon we are starting a new series of interviews titled Innovation in Education. The idea is to discuss the rapidly changing face of technology and information as it relates to education. OnInnovation realizes that there are many innovators out there that are sharing ideas about how we can make education better. Today we have a student from Michigan State University named Eric Jorgenson.
OnInno: Hi Eric, why don’t you tell the readers a little bit about yourself and what you are passionate about?
Eric J: Well, I’m 20, a senior at Michigan State University, a business geek and capitalist.
The easy answer is “Entrepreneurship & Innovation” but those have become a bit ambiguous lately, so I will try to be more specific. I love learning things; being inquisitive/curious always leads to interesting new perspectives and opportunities. Another passion of mine is building things, in the biggest sense of the word. Challenging convention and creative destruction are really exciting to me; probably sometimes to a fault.
OnInno: Eric, We shared the Bill Gates video preview with you and a large part of his focus these days seems to be innovating in Education. As a student what do you think needs to be done to improve Education and more specifically the way students are being taught?
Eric J: Well, I know I’m shooting for the stars here, but I think it is a pretty fundamental problem. We have an education system that was designed to produce cogs of our industrialized, manufacturing-based economy. That is perfect for what we were doing, but not what the next generation will be doing.
We need to be focusing on creating problem solvers, critical thinkers, and innovators. Skilled workers, doctors, lawyers, and accountants of course, but everyone needs flexibility, a fluidity of mind that allows us to learn, unlearn, and relearn to keep pace with a constantly changing future.
The amount of information that will be created over our lifetimes is absolutely staggering. That is a fundamental change is our society that education has not adapted to. We grew up hearing that ‘the answers won’t be in the back of the book’. Yes, they will. They are in my pocket on my phone right now. We should be teaching students not just answers, but how to solve problems. Teachers and professors have no clue what the answers will be to the questions that our generation will need to confront. Our education needs to reflect that mindset.
OnInno: Eric, what are your feelings about standardized testing?
Eric J: The first words that come to mind are “necessary evil”. I don’t really consider them evil, though. I think they are crucial for testing baseline skills like reading and math. Perhaps tests overreach in terms of standardizing things that really should not be.
I totally understand the goal behind things like the ACT/SAT/GRE etc. It would be lovely if each college could have more comprehensive tests for each applicant, but that’s just not realistic. The tests are advancing though, and maybe we will see some interesting innovations there in the future.
From a University, I find them appalling. I consider scantron exams to be the defining characteristic of a university letting the economics of education trump the importance of real learning. They just don’t test the right things. Lots of students (myself included) are cruising through classes without ever acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge because our classes do not require us to.
OnInno: Eric, if you had the chance to put yourself in the shoes of one or all of your professors, How would you do things differently?
Eric J: Actually, I had a chance to do that very thing this semester. I was on a team developing a new course on entrepreneurship for the University. I give professors credit: developing courses is hard. It is a lot of work to create even a boring class, let alone a creative and engaging one. Also, sometimes professors don’t have a lot of choice. When schools are squeezed for money, faculty size decreases and class size increases. It can be very challenging to be flexible and accommodate 500 students at once.
We made a specific point of a few key things.
We created experiences inside and outside of the classroom. For example, we gave teams five dollars and a few other supplies, and two hours to make as much money as possible (results were astounding; some teams made over $150 in <2hrs).
We involved guest lecturers. We wanted to impart life wisdom, stories, and perspectives; best done through other people. This also generated great connections and mentorship develop.
We had students meet each other and the community that they were interested in. During one whole class period we brought in community members and entrepreneurs, and facilitated one giant networking event.
Using current resources. Not textbooks, but TED talks, lectures from Stanford/MIT, blogs, books, and news articles. These are all the materials we use in class. It allows us to be flexible, current, and forces us to keep the curriculum relatively current, with new resources.
OnInno: Eric, this sounds like a very innovative approach.
Another fantastic practice is the tackling of real problems as part of a curriculum. There are abundant problems out there, lots of opportunities for mental horsepower to do useful work, and I think schools could make much better use of this, and build wider bridges to practicality. I wrote much more about Open Innovation in classrooms.
OnInno: Eric, Last but not least, a philosophical question. If you could advise a student who is tremendous in a subject like math but very poor in a subject like History, which subject would you recommend they get a tutor for? and why?
Eric J: Math. Depending on the level. Obviously basic math/reading skills are crucial for all to be functional citizens. Past that, I think that specialization is a good thing. Not compulsory over-specialization, but voluntary.
In this case, the person could hate history and love math. They would suffer through history, wasting time and effort on a subject that would ultimately be meaningless for them. Let them focus on math, or the history of math, etc. We will create a tremendous mathematician, rather than a sanded-down mathematician with forcefully-installed, irrelevant history information.
Well-roundedness is necessary to a point, but I think we over-do it in many ways, and try to fit everyone into a mold, at the cost of hindering some incredible potential. This is one of the great failings of the mainstream education system.
OnInno: Eric, this interview has been very enlightening and I think we could all learn most from the people folks like yourself that are thinking about ways to change while being completely immersed in the current systems. If someone wanted to get in touch with you to read your essays, pick your brain or heck, offer you a job; How would they do that?
Eric J: If you are ever anywhere near Lansing, MI – I am always open to sushi and interesting conversations.
You can read me at: Adventures of Eric Jorgenson
I’m frequently connecting on Twitter as well @Eric_Jorgenson
Thank you Eric for being our first Innovation in Education guest. If you have any thoughts or comments that you would like to share with Eric or us here at OnInnovation please feel free to do so in the comments. If you would like to share your thoughts in an upcoming Innovation in Education interview please feel free to mention that in the comments as well!
See you next time!