“I wanted to avoid the usual doom and gloom—the usual ‘it’s all crap and there’s no hope for the future,’” says Eli A. Kaufman, GOOD’s director of video production and the creator of our latest education micro documentary, “Future Learning”. Instead of making a film about everything that’s wrong with America’s schools, Kaufman and his team set out to answer a key question: “How do we make learning more relevant to the lives of our students?”
However, Future Learning isn’t about “educators in the classroom or about the out-of-the-box teachers who are pushing the envelope,” says Kaufman. Instead, “it’s about people who are out of the box of education completely who are trying to improve the system.” The half-dozen education technologists Future Learning features are sparking conversation across the globe—innovators like Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, Sugata Mitra, an education scientist and professor at Newcastle University in the U.K., and Catherine Lucey, the vice dean for education at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, who has come up with a pedagogical approach that employs technology that serves new models of learning—and not just for the sake of having the newest gadget in the lab.
Creating the film was personal for Kaufman—he’s a new dad whose son will one day attend public school in Los Angeles, and, like many of us, he believes in lifelong learning. But, education’s also in his blood—Kaufman’s the son of two teachers, and before he became a filmmaker, he spent three years teaching eighth grade English “to Bridge and Tunnel kids” in New Jersey and a year teaching at a private experimental school in Los Angeles. The film stems from a series of minute-long webisodes that Kaufman’s team created for GOOD’s education page partner, University of Phoenix. Because of his teaching experience, Kaufman realized that the footage being left on the cutting room floor could add value to the current education conversation.
Kaufman says the education innovators he filmed have a fresh perspective since they’re “not right on top of the issues.” However, their ideas aren’t without controversy. At one point Mitra,—who is well known for his “Hole in the Wall” experiment where he put unattended computers in villages in India to see what kids would do with them—suggests that maybe we don’t need teachers anymore. While that certainly pushes buttons, Kaufman says he had to step back and realize that what Mitra means is that the role of teachers has to change from that of lecturer to facilitator, mentor, and coach.
Kaufman says he can see how the innovators’ lack of actual classroom experience might make some teachers reluctant to listen to their ideas. “They’ve never had to put together a lesson plan or a scope and sequence that would help a kid,” Kaufman says. That doesn’t make their ideas less legitimate to Kaufman, but making the film made him realize that there are real limitations to tech-based solutions. A computer can’t teach “those life skills that only a master teacher can teach”—and which require people to be in the same room—”how to become a citizen, how to problem solve, and learning how to be a collaborator,” Kaufman says.
Above all, Kaufman’s optimistic that the ideas shared will spark conversation about how we design a learning experience that matters to our students. “There are people who are really investing the time to make learning better,” says Kaufman. “I hope other teachers feel that there’s hope, too.”