The Flipped Campus: Motion and Daily Life Learning
Part One of a Three-Part Series
As we sit nearly motionless at our desks and in our classrooms participating in various new “active learning” experiences, many of us often find ourselves longing for regular breaks that let us move around and shake things up. This longing should not come as a surprise. Play and physical activity, it turns out, are an essential daily need for most learners. We have a core human need for bodily movement and there is exhaustive scientific evidence that connects motion and learning – even the most basic and non-disruptive motion based on our daily activities. For example, the daily commute transport mode decision is critical to attention and learning according to a Danish study from 2012:
Kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.
Currently there are exciting formal efforts under way to improve bodily exercise during school led by education expert groups such as the Brain Breaks program for elementary school children, developed by the Educational Materials Center at Central Michigan University Global Campus. More on these efforts in the next installments.
Still, those who are most engaged in the direct relationship between technology and learning are the least interested in confronting the fundamentally deleterious and powerful effect of technology on our sedentary lifestyle. Perhaps it is this silence that has prompted the US Surgeon General to recently announce the Step It Up! program. With less than 30% of American high school students getting a minimum of 60 minutes a day of aerobic exercise as prescribed by the Surgeon General, and with half of all Americans suffering from a chronic illness – this is a bona fide health crisis.
Virtual silence reigns amongst EDUCAUSE, the New Media Consortium, and a host of educational research associations such as AERA and AECT who have a direct interest in facilitating and investigating the effective and efficient use of instructional technologies. These groups are in turn supported implicitly by those like learning expert and Temple University faculty Jordan Shapiro who recently wrote that “resistance is futile” regarding screen time (Sept 30, 2015 Forbes):
Screens are now a ubiquitous part of our lives. It is a technology that has been completely integrated into the human experience. At this point, worrying about exposure to screens is like worrying about exposure to agriculture, indoor plumbing, the written word, or automobiles. For better or worse, the transition to screen based digital information technologies has already happened and now resistance is futile. The screen time rhetoric that accompanied the television—when this technology was still in its formative age—is no longer relevant.
“For better or for worse, the transition to screen based … technologies has already happened” ..!? Is this a low point in our defeatism and current dismissal of scientific data used to address our reality and to solve problems together? It is true, many parents and children ‘worry about agriculture, indoor plumbing, the written word, and automobiles.’ What is more, there exist core differences amongst ‘automobiles, agriculture, the written word, and screen time.’
Personal mobility, health, cognition, community leadership, ecology, and many, many forces are at play in our daily lives and certainly relate to learning – our ability to learn, the quality and societal context of that learning, our passion to learn, and our ability to solve problems through better learning. The bottom line: some of these things are actionable for us all to change for the better, while some problems really are out of our collective control. Education is an imminently appropriate institution to investigate what is in our control, what is out of our control, and to test the limits of different hypotheses through experimentation.
To ignite our passion for learning, many education researchers and leaders are calling for a rethinking of how we structure education. One fundamental shift might be to focus on solving a common societal problem or set of problems, rather than offering a traditional, sequential plan of study comprised of traditional college courses. Writes David Wiley of BYU, CEO/founder of Lumen Learning, and a major force behind the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement:
Ali Carr-Chellman, Tom Reeves, and I participated yesterday [October 30, 2013] in “AECTx,” a keynote session in which we each gave 18 minute talks. Without coordinating ahead of time, each of our talks focused on using educational technology and educational research to solve large, societal problems.
Say these educational experts; stop focusing our research on things like learning analytics, mobile learning, online learning, 3D printing, The Internet of Things, and so on. Instead, start to focus research on societal problems such as obesity, child abuse, crime, lack of literacy, racism, sexism, poor motivation, and so on. As someone who was present at that historical AECT meeting, I would add to the research focus areas: personal mobility, basic human health, human empowerment, and freedom of expression inside and outside of institutions.
Such a structural shift in education could usher in one of the most exciting epochs in American education history and transform the institution from the defeatist culture that abounds today, to one of empowerment. No longer would education suffer from the tired debates that bleed into mainstream media – such as the current, polarizing debate between the cheerleaders of technology who say it’s all about embracing it, versus the dour predictors of doom such as Sherry Turkle and her dystopian observations that suggest a very lonely and fragmented society that technology rules over, whatever we may wish to do or to change about it. Either way, the message is loud and clear: You are alone if you try to do something to change and improve the world.
Instead, applying technologies to valid, real-world, highly contextualized (read:facilitated) learning experiences associated with solving daily-life societal problems would likely introduce an unprecedented sense of empowerment and deep understanding amongst learners who are now together, collaboratively and methodically changing the world. Now students could opt for the learning institution with teaching experts who are addressing the problems that the learner cares most deeply about and wishes to engage for personal and professional reasons with others of similar profile and who share the same passions. Suddenly education could become responsive to our reality and could redefine its mission based on performance in this arena, rather than as a passive hero that periodically produces a profound new set of data for us to ponder – on a screen, sitting passively.
A current global problem to solve that plagues us all in our daily life is our sedentary lifestyle caused largely by the overconsumption of motorized mobility technologies. Whether it is the predictable, daily traffic congestion in all US cities, the dangers to self and family posed by motor vehicles, the local pollutants that are particularly toxic to our children and elderly, the environmental damage caused by CO2 and other harmful emissions, or the detrimental and costly health effects on our communities and society; we are all affected negatively by cars and other motorized vehicles.
Campuses and educational institutions offer the perfect vehicle for addressing this problem, complete with a place where we all go to and from and spend time learning and socializing, a campus with supporting wireless technologies and infrastructure, and an institution with the experts who can facilitate such learning based on specific disciplinary and interdisciplinary concepts.
Chapter Two: Context is King
Educational institution strategies to address the lack of motion in learning will be the focus of our next chapter.