Getting Smart expresses Tom Vander Ark's vision for a future education system built on the realities of current and new technology. It is a future vision that most educators will not like, nor will find easy to support. It is a vision that makes you think and a great illustration on the ability of new technologies to drive a different view of the future based on new fundamentals.
The technologies Vander Ark discusses are, on one hand, a continuation of current consumer technology trends and, on the other, a revolution to the educational status quo. The book provides a strong, coherent and well-argued point of view that covers not only the application of technology to learning but also the implications of that application on the entire education system.
Learning is the operative idea in Vander Ark's book. Learning in terms of the outcome technology supports, what students actually do and the future of a re-imagined education system. The book can be divided into these two areas.
The first part of the book, chapters 1 - 6, concentrates on technology and the changing learning environment. Vander Ark describes how learning is different in an environment where it is self-paced, self directed and open to the best materials available. Vander Ark covers the impact of adding social networking and gaming to the learning process in ways that drive beyond what you may think of as traditional learning management systems.
The technologies Vander Ark foresees are not Internet applications that facilitate teaching (ala Blackboard) but consumer technologies that facilitate exploration, learning and demonstration of mastery at the individual level. These chapters are enlightening to people in helping them think of technology as a path to re-imagining education rather than electronically paving the way to the old schoolhouse.
The second part of the book, chapters 7 - 9, discusses the operational, policy and regulatory implications of these new technologies and the need to re-imagine the education system. In these chapters Vander Ark deals directly with issues of certification, the entrenched educator employment model, funding issues and national policy. Each of these topics are discussed in a frank and no holds barred way as Vander Ark sees a system in need of replacement rather than reform.
The ideas in the second part flow and fit from the implications of applying new technologies to learning. A call for funding individual students rather than school systems, national certification and opening up the learning supply chain to private as well as public sources are all discussed.
This is a policy book. It is intended to shape the learning and education debate in terms of advocating for greater use of consumer technologies to support individual learning and reduced emphasis on the formal structures of current education systems. Both parts reflect a fundamental re-imagination of learning and the systems required to support that learning. I say learning rather than education as throughout the book Vander Ark advocates that the education system is fundamentally and irreparably broken.
The book is provocative without being too sensational. New technologies are discussed in clearly and descriptive language so people who are less familiar with them can understand.
Extensive use of third parties and other visionaries, which not only strengthen the argument but also, provide examples that, is helpful.
A forward looking view on the impact of technology that looks beyond web 1.0 automation to web 2.0 consumerizaiton and socialization of learning.
Provocative from the standpoint that Vander Ark discusses the impact of technology on the entire education system not in terms of reform but in terms of creating a new and different system. You may not like the ideas, but they are well formed and flow in ways that are consistent with the way technology is changing the world.
Much of Vander Ark's arguments suggest that there is nothing really salvageable in the current education system. This will lead some readers to reject his argument and presentation, which is unfortunate as there are some interesting ideas in the book.
The book is light on evidence and data. While the book uses examples to support its argument, many of them are related to for-profit companies. At times this makes the book read more like a charter school advertisement than an assessment of education policy and choices.
There is limited discussion of the downside of technology in learning. Vander Ark does not talk much about the potential for propaganda, dogmatization, security, privacy and other issues raised by the application of technology. This presents, as challenge as the book gives the impression that there is no downside to tech in learning.
Some will read the book as a one sided shout out for pro-commercial, anti-union, anti-teacher policies and practices. FOX news and conservative radio will eat this up. If you choose to see it that way, then you will reject everything outright and this book become more propaganda than policy influence. However, readers who take a step back ask what is the impact of technology on the future of learning, rather than education, will get more out of the book.
Overall, recommended for educators and policy makers who want to learn more about the potential for technology to re-imagine a central part of the way we live. Non-educators will get much from this book as well, predominately the first part. I have enjoyed the book as it provides a comprehensive statement of one view on how technology changes the focus, features and future of an entire industry. I have learned from reading Getting Smart and if you are interested in the topic, then you will too.