Doubling Down on Experimental Public Education

 


If we were creating Sesame Street from scratch in 2012 would it use Scratch? A Scratch-based Facebook? A Pre-school-MOOC? If we wanted to create a large publicly-funded 21st century education equalizer — what would that look like?


At Bard we like to experiment, particularly with education. Bard runs various public high school early colleges throughout the country and is involved in higher education throughout the world. Later this week, Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies (the program that gets the CS acronym on campus, computer science is shortened to CMSC) is hosting a conference on experimental education. Maria Sachiko Cecire, who will write a follow-up to this post, will speak at this conference about Bard’s new Experimental Humanities concentration she directs, and if distilled to a single quote:

“…provides students with the historical context, theoretical background, and analytical and technical skills needed to engage productively with new forms of humanistic inquiry in our digital age”

The concentration emphasizes the need to think critically in many modes at once, e.g. text, film, and digital media. As my first blog post indicates, my participation stems from an interest in promoting digital literacy and reforming our “read-only” digital culture, as Larry Lessig might put it. Ultimately, we hope literacy in experimental media can push the boundary in terms of thinking and education.


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Public television programs like Sesame Street were bold experiments in using the television medium for education. Most homes had TV’s; yet, many households couldn’t afford pre-school. Sesame Street saw an opportunity. (And the experiment worked). Sesame Street, unlike previous children’s television, prioritized education and more fully realized the benefits of TV as a medium. PBS and The Children’s Television Workshop were not driven by advertising and they were not filming actors reading radio scripts.

An updated version of this story might go like this: Most homes have Internet connections; yet, many households can’t afford college. Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs) see exactly this opportunity.

Both of these educational innovations, Sesame Street & the MOOC, took place in broader environments. For many years, for-profit online and distance education programs have existed, just as the pre-Sesame Street TV landscape had various children’s programming. But again, PBS had two things those did not. PBS was not-for-profit and it was using the TV medium to its fullest. The fact that not-for-profit institutions like Stanford and MIT are backing the MOOC’s help convince us they are about education over profit. One might argue about whether the MOOC uses its particular medium (the internet connected computer) to its fullest, but it is surely moving the state-of-the-art farther along.

Other than the MOOC, what would a 21st century Mr. Rogers look like? Of course, Mr. Rogers can be seen on YouTube and Dinosaur Train has an iPhone app. But these are very similar to filming the radio announcer. If you wanted to create a large publicly-funded 21st century education equalizer — what would that look like? If you were creating Sesame Street from scratch in 2012 would it use Scratch? A Scratch-based Facebook? A Pre-school-MOOC?

Every four, eight or twelve years politicians use PBS (our Public Broadcasting System) as a symptom and a symbol of wasteful government spending. When viewed through the lens of the public funding television programming, the spending seems fanciful. But, more accurately, when viewed through the lens of the public funding education, programs like Sesame Street, and it’s PBS kin, are critical. PBS serves an important role as an educator even beyond pre-school. Its other cultural TV, radio, and internet programming provide an important experimental education channel for all ages — or as one of my colleagues called it K-to-GRAY education.

But like that one computer science class that landed you that killer job, Sesame Street alone might make putting the whole PBS education on the national student loan economically worthwhile 😉

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