Preparing 21st Century Media Students for Constant Flux: John Seely Brown and Finnish Schools

Hollywood and other institutions are concerned with preserving the value of their stock and business models - but ongoing changes in infrastructure (for the foreseeable future, John Seely Brown predicts "constant flux") are challenging old revenue streams and the way we prepare students for the future.

How to prepare students for careers in media in the 21st Century?

Creative experiments with 21st century media that are shared online can facilitate "social learning" - which is a powerful predictor of success.

But US schools are not set up to recognize collaborative online work and problem solving that engages with a changing (non-traditional) infrastructure.

Universities abhor failure - but the 21st century media infrastructure is changing so quickly that the assumptions underlying any work can change overnight - e.g., the architecture supporting promising work can shift and a 21st century researcher must move on without regret or recrimination.

Are the old models of academic research incompatible with the work that must be done?

How can 21st century media students succeed in an academic system where the measures of rigor and success have been inherited from prior centuries?

Starting in the 1980s, Finnish schools set about reforming themselves - abandoning traditional assessment and rote learning. In Finland today the only standardized test is the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of the equivalent of American high school. Instead of testing, teachers are trained to create their own measures. And instead of homework, teachers are trained to facilitate creative play and cooperation.

Although Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States, that doesn't entirely explain why Finnish 15 year olds rank near the top in reading, math, and science of all industrialized countries. Norway (another small homogeneous Nordic country) uses a traditional system of education (similar to the American) with mediocre results. It seems that well-trained teachers and responsible children are more important to the success of a country's school system than the nation's size or ethnic makeup.

But how can we train teachers and students to make content for platforms that are not yet in existence?

How do the tools for productive inquiry into 21st century media creation differ from the tools that trained prior generations of media-makers?

21st century abilities, for example, the ability to see patterns that no one else has seen before, cannot be learned simply by looking backwards.

In the 21st century, students must be taught that media tools and structures will not remain the same. Students must be prepared for an ever-shifting landscape where mastery of technology and historical systems is important only insofar as it aids productive inquiry.

As the context will constantly be changing, the emphasis should not be exclusively on "content." Students need to know that their solutions must be adaptable - capable of being reframed in terms of context.

Could the US follow the Finnish model and emphasize creative collaborative play over homework and standardized tests?

Perhaps, as John Seely Brown suggests, 21st century media students should receive more education in terms of games and riddles. As in gaming, the freedom to fail over and over again must become part of 21st century media education. And, as in solving riddles, instead of relying on familiar forms and recognizable shapes, "sudden epiphanies" and improvisation must be supported.

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