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Blended Learning Revisited

03/10/2010 2:15 PM 32"141
John Seely Brown, Visiting Scholar, USC; Dava Newman, Sm '89, PhD '92, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems; John Belcher

Description: Even when children are high achievers and facile with new technology, many seem gradually to lose their sense of wonder and curiosity, notes John Seely Brown. Traditional educational methods may be smothering their innate drive to explore the world. Brown and like"minded colleagues are developing the underpinnings for a new 21st century pedagogy that broadens rather than narrows horizons.

John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox, has morphed in recent years into the "Chief of Confusion," seeking "the right questions" in a range of fields, including education. He finds unusual sources for his questions: basketball and opera coaches, surfing and video game champions. He's gathered insights from unorthodox venues, and from more traditional classrooms, to paint quite a different picture of what learning might look like.

The typical college lecture class frequently gathers many students together in a large room to be 'fed' knowledge, believes Brown. But studies show that "learning itself is socially constructed," and is most effective when students interact with and teach each other in manageable groups. Brown wants to open up "niche learning experiences" that draw on classic course material, but deepen it to be maximally enriching.

In basketball and opera master classes, and in architecture labs, he has seen how individuals become acculturated in a "community of practice," learning to "be" rather than simply to "do." Whether performing, creating, or experimenting, students are critiqued, respond, offer their own criticism, and glean rich wisdom from a cyclical group experience. Brown says something "mysterious" may be taking place: "In deeply collective engagement in processes...you start to marinate in a problem space." Through communities of practice, students' minds "begin to gel up," even in the face of abstraction and unfamiliarity, and "all of a sudden, (the subject) starts to make sense."

Brown cites the entire MIT campus as a "participatory learning platform," where "people create stuff to be read and tried and critiqued," where cognitive "apprenticeships" lead to networks of practice. "Deep tinkering" is encouraged, which accelerates the building of instinct that is essential in creating a "tacit dimension" of familiarity with complex subject matter. This is "playing at its deepest sense," says Brown, and the way to create resilient students who "learn to become," and "don't fear change" in a world full of flux. Dava Newman has been looking for ways to keep MIT engineering students motivated and playful. She is working on design and build courses for engineering students that emphasize community and creativity. Engineering School planners are also considering a new degree option intended to prepare students "to tackle complex socio"technological challenges in energy, the environment, hunger," since students say they come to MIT in order to learn how to address such complex, real"world problems.

MIT Physics Professor John Belcher describes virtual laboratories complete with avatars that help students visualize key concepts in the field, such as Faraday's Law ("where everyone dies in electromagnetism"). Students eagerly engage in these virtual labs, which are accompanied by actual experiments, and create effective online communities for maximizing the experience.



About the Speaker(s): John Seely Brown left as Director of Xerox"PARC in June 2000, and stepped down as Xerox Corporation Chief Scientist in April 2002. He has published more than 100 papers in scientific journals and was awarded the Harvard Business Review's 1991 McKinsey Award for his article, "Research that Reinvents the Corporation" and again in 2002 for his article (with John Hagel) "Your Next IT Strategy."

His latest book, The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization, written with John Hagel, was published in the spring of 2005 by Harvard Business School Press.

Brown is a member of the National Academy of Education and a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and of AAAS, and a Trustee of Brown University, the MacArthur Foundation and In"Q"Tel.

He received an A.B. from Brown University in 1962 in Mathematics and Physics and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1970 in Computer and Communication Sciences.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, Teaching and Learning Laboratory

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