Orienting global change by changing education

As it was the case two years ago, this year’s meeting of Knowledge Federation in Dubrovnik brought an upsurge of activity. Knowledge Federation is reorganizing, and at the same time expanding into new domains. To give you a flavor, I quote this email that I sent yesterday to the students of our new international “Systemic Innovation for Collective Creativity” course. This course is currently arranged through Inter University Centre Dubrovnik.

Dear A-players,

The educational game-changing game we drafted together earlier this month in Dubrovnik is now beginning in earnest.

Our point of departure is a gestalt: We look at the world ‘from a mountain top.’ What changes in education does the world need?

There are many ways to begin to federate this gestalt; this morning I woke up thinking about one—Giddens. Anthony Giddens is the public sociologist in England, so much so that at the turn of the millennium the BBC invited him to deliver a state of the world report to the British people. His reply was broadcast as a series of lectures, and also published as a book titled “Runaway World.” What I want to show you is from another book of his (as quoted in my book manuscript):

We could also begin by pointing at the lecture that Bruno Latour (a similarly influential French sociologist) is having this afternoon here at the University of Oslo. The title, translated from Norwegian, is “Latour about the ecological crisis: Why are we not acting?” Latour is asking: “What do we do when the questions are too large for us all? What do we do when we are so cut off from nature that we no longer feel responsible for the man-made changes to the Earth?

Put those two pieces together (we are now federating): Could our inclination to favor ontological security and disregard the real one be an answer to Latour’s question? And could this inclination be instilled in us through education?

By its very social role, education re-creates the world, in each new generation. What we want to do is create an education that creates a changing, evolving and aware world. (This is why we didn’t begin by learning the rules of a conventional professional game, but by co-creating a gestalt.)

Once the gestalt is in place and we have agreed on a direction, we continue in two ways. They correspond roughly to the two group projects we have created in Dubrovnik.

The first is to create a mechanism by which the educational content is delivered. How education works. What mental and ethical muscles it trains. We have already started doing this, on that Thursday in Dubrovnik. The course mechanics we were designing together is conceived so that it satisfies all the main ‘boundary conditions’, which contemporary education will need to fulfill: It is flexible, life-long, functions by ‘pull‘ rather than ‘push,‘ it is globally federated (hence the economies of scale allow for large investment into quality and technology), it stimulates and rewards conscious and collaborative co-creation to respond to actual needs, and creativity… What we need to do now is make the record of what we accomplished on that day available to everyone. And in parallel to that, have our Tools group create the nuts and bolts of the course mechanics we have agreed on. In what way shall we communicate with one another? (A Google group? A Skype group?) How shall we organize and federate the knowledge resources that pertain to our new subject? (Create a domain map—on DebateGraph?) In what way shall we keep track of everyone’s thought and work process and contributions? (Create a personal blog for each student?)

The second way is to produce the content, what is to be learned. What will our students, namely you and your peers who will be taking this course in the future, need to know in order to be able to do ‘systemic innovation for collective creativity’ (re-create key socio-technical systems, in particular the ones like education, or science and innovation, in a way that can unleash collective creativity)?  We have already started doing this as well, on our last day (Friday) in Dubrovnik. The results of that day too need to be made available to everyone. And in parallel to that, we need to begin federating the relevant material. We have seen that some of it will be in response to the ten questions that form the core of the course. Other material will be up to you to decide. We have also seen that this year’s class, our very first one, we have an additional challenge, or perhaps we should rather call it an honor— to federate the work and the message of Douglas Engelbart.

As Sam told us on that last day in Dubrovnik, Engelbart foresaw already in 1951 that the information technology will one day be capable of interconnecting us into a collective or global mind—able to understand and resolve our increasingly complex problems. Engelbart then undertook to develop the corresponding technology and interaction techniques. The technology he and his collaborators created was adopted, and it led to personal computing as we know it and to an enormous creation of wealth. The rest, the co-creation of knowledge-work systems, and of critical insights, has not yet been put into practice. The existing social structures—in academia, and in entrepreneurship—provided Engelbart no way to implement the second part of his project. This second part of Engelbart’s project is still knocking at the door of our cultural mainstream, so to speak, it has not yet found its proper place in education, or in IT innovation. You are now going to change that. One of the first things the course we are creating together will do is federate Doug Engelbart’s work and message, i.e. integrate it into an academic program. We are fortunate to have Mei Lin Fung and Sam Hahn with us—they have collaborated with Engelbart for many years; in 2008, at a conference in San Jose Tech Museum and Stanford University, they co-created the Program for the Future, to continue and complete the unfinished parts of Engelbart’s project. To motivate you for this part of the project and to provide the touch and feel, before I traveled to Dubrovnik I wrote a blog post about the meaning of Doug’s project in relation to ours.

This course is not an end in itself, but a new beginning. By creating this course, we want to empower young people, including yourselves, to complete whatever Engelbart envisioned, and indeed many more game-changing systemic innovation projects of your own. Those among you who are studying towards the Ph.D.—Emily, Jasmina and Sasha—will be able to bring systemic innovation into their academic practice; Katarina, who is a leader of the entrepreneurship branch of the eSTUDENT organization, Sarah, who has clear entrepreneurial plans, and Luka, the leader of the ZIG Project, will be able to bring systemic innovation into entrepreneurship. Ingela and Fran, whose interest is social entrepreneurship, will also have something solid to work with. And Lazar and Sinisha, who are presently both independent system developers and entrepreneurs, will have a chance to join a most interesting strategy game, where markets for new technology are created in the natural way—through real-world systemic change.

You now have only one significant challenge to overcome—to free yourselves from the daily routine, even when it seem meaningful and safe, and to choose your direction. Or in other words to not wait for us elders to organize the work for you, but to take initiative and do it yourselves. The rest will be easy. You are an extraordinarily talented group of young people, and I have no doubt that you’ll have even more fun working and creating together than you had in Dubrovnik. And that the game-changing course that you’ll create will be a shining success.


:- Dino

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