Putting Joy Back Into Learning

Putting Joy Back Into Learning

Alien Points

Editor's note: This piece was written in April 2013 for the Education Innovation Summit blog to address "..an idea you have or problem that you are trying to solve in ed innovation, ed tech or education in general." 

Part of the secret sauce of great education is “joy.” We can create powerful adaptive learning systems, intricate curriculum or curriculum tools, and mountain ranges of data. But the best structures in the world need a teacher’s smile — and a student’s eager, waving hand — to be anything close to 100% effective.

If we lose joyfulness and a sense of play in education, we lose. We lose curiosity, we lose students’ attention, we lose teachers’ inspiration. Keeping joy in the mix is everyone’s challenge and no one’s responsibility.  It’s particularly challenging right now because a very diverse set of players are all weighing in on what the “future” of education should be. Diversity is more than good; it’s great. Creativity and new ideas bubble out of such mixing pots. But it surely helps if those different groups can find harmony and even happiness in working together.

What’s the key for teachers, entrepreneurs, policy makers and philanthropists? Here’s what I’ve seen–and I hope that you will add in your observations and comments.

Great teachers have always had fun in the classroom. (In fact, when the teachers have fun, so do the students.) Fun happens when kindergartners are making a mess with paint and glue, when middle schoolers start telling jokes in Spanish; when high schoolers turn themselves into marriage counselors for Macbeth and his troubled wife. One piece of evidence: Gallup recently reported that teachers are “most likely” of all professionals to say that they “smiled or laughed a lot yesterday.”

Plenty of teachers see education technology as throwing water all over that kind of joy. Analyze data? (Where’s the fun in that?)

By contrast, entrepreneurs take enormous joy in creating solutions to problems. Efficiency is fun. Great design is fun. The best entrepreneurs are quintessential problem solvers: give’em a challenge, and there’s an app (or better, they can build an app!) to solve it. What they don’t experience is the fun and joy of seeing kids’ faces light up when they “get it.”

We started EdSurge in 2011 on the belief that we could help spread excitement and optimism about where education could be headed. Most of the time, we keep our feet firmly grounded in authentic news of what’s happening in classrooms, startups, boardrooms and policy-making venues. We believe there’s an important role for thoughtful criticism as well; particularly as edtech innovations are used more broadly, asking tough questions about efficacy and usefulness are essential.

But once a year, oh, say, at the very start of April, we go in for some unabashed fun, too.

For this year's April Fool's Day, we created a spoof newsletter with headlines like this: FORECAST: STORM CLOUDS THREATEN TO ‘MAKE IT RAIN’ STUDENT DATA”… “‘INCU-TODDLE’ TAKES FIRST STEP” …  “REVIEW: EA’s SIMSCHOOL: TOO HARD FOR US!”

Why? Because we shouldn’t ever become so busy that we lose our connection with delight.  Entrepreneurs can have fun when they create the products that help the teachers find joy. And that is the heart of our challenge in edtech. Because otherwise, as we reported in "EdSurde," all you’ve got left is Swiss cheese education–full of holes.

More commentaries on "..an idea you have or problem that you are trying to solve in ed innovation, ed tech or education in general" are available here.   

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