In a fast-paced world, where technology is ever-evolving, Associate Professor Miriam Tanti discusses the importance of a ‘Slow’ approach to technology-rich education.
During the 25 years I have been involved in education it has undergone significant change. I have witnessed firsthand the impact global influences, accelerating change and increased technological complexity have had on education, knowledge, teaching and learning. I have watched, as education has become increasingly perceived as the key to national competitiveness, tilting education’s balance in favour of the vocational and economic development of human capital and on the commodification of learning and teaching. Education now utilises a model crippled by too much content and too little time to think, built upon the provision of knowledge and skills that governments think businesses require, informed by political agendas looking for ways to educate more people to even higher levels. All of this contributes to the dichotomous relationship between technological advancement and innovation on the one hand, and the conservation of humanity and the humanistic pursuit of knowledge, understanding and wisdom on the other.
My research is not anti-innovation or technology, in fact and perhaps surprisingly, it demonstrates that the modern world need not sacrifice concepts of right, wrong, ethics, morals and long-term vision, to technology. But rather, the informed and purposeful utilisation of technological innovations can help orchestrate a recovery of education and humanity. To do this, I offer an alternative to the ‘fast’ of 21st century life and education, through the sharing of a ‘Slow’ way of living, teaching and learning. A Slow approach that embraces the joys and challenges of discovering one’s self and one’s natural rhythm and tempo in a speed-hungry world, an approach that identifies teaching and learning as humanistic, social and multidimensional and puts this view forward as a guide for future developments in education.
What is ‘fast’?
The increased emphasis on the economy, ubiquitous nature of technology and the pressure on educators to serve the needs of ‘the knowledge society’ is breeding a culture of Fast knowledge. The National STEM School Strategy (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2013) and the Digital Education Revolution (Rudd, Swan & Conroy, 2007 plus other reports) saw the rapid increase in access to technological resources and an interdisciplinary understanding of STEM, which required teachers, and students, immediately adopt these new initiatives. The immediacy of adoption, without sufficient pedagogical dialogue, critique and reflection limits the effect a ‘national strategy’ and ‘educational revolution’ can have on learning. This is educational reform focused heavily on the ‘here and now’ and short-term measures that are unlikely to adequately prepare students for a 21st century world of uncertainty, complexity and changing technological innovation.
The exploration of ‘Slow’ is best approached through Slow Food, which was the Slow Movement’s founding organisation. Slow Food was a revolution conceived in Italy when McDonald’s opened a franchise amongst the historic architecture of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. A revolt was held in the name of traditional foods that were increasingly at risk of disappearing forever as a speed-hungry world turned increasingly to fast food over food that was ‘good, clean and fair’; food connected to people, culture and place – Slow Food.
Fast food represented everything commercial and industrial; where ingredients were sourced internationally with the financial gains a priority over taste, where food preparation was centred on standardised procedures regardless of location and tradition and where food did not reflect the culture, local climate or conditions – each hamburger a clone of the other, completely disconnected from the city in which it was purchased and consumed. A metaphor we could aptly use to describe 21st century education. A system where teaching practice still reflects its industrial roots; where the emphasis is on knowledge that is standardised, of specific use and that which can be measured, over that which is merely contemplative and demonstrates respect for our cultural inheritance; where exam results are prioritised over engagement in rigorous discussion and debate for no reason other than to pursue one’s natural curiosities and establish deep connections; and where the focus is on short-term rewards over long-term implications.
To counter the fast food trend, Slow Food was established to protect traditional culture, the environment and biodiversity. In the Slow Food manifesto, Slow is defined as an awakening of our senses through a strong philosophical position motivated by the desire to experience life more fully, to enjoy the company of like-minded people through which one can pursue one’s natural curiosity. Second, Slow values tradition and character, because eating well means respecting culinary knowledge and honouring the complexity of the gastronomic practices undertaken. And third, Slow is about making moral choices, where taste holds the central position supported by our direct relationship with food growers, our direct link to the natural environment in which we live. A philosophical position that education too could benefit from.
The literature on Slow in education is embryonic, as most debate has occurred only in the last 20 years. There have been a few advocates for Slow in education, the most prominent being Holt (2002), who called for the commencement of the ‘Slow School Movement’. As a result, I undertook a large research project to explore exactly what Slow may look like in education, and the benefits.
The research uncovered the essence of Slow in education as consisting of the following elements: fostering a Slow state of mind, discovering natural time, valuing the process of learning, nurturing connectedness and embracing Slow technology. Below is a brief summary of each.
State of mind
A Slow state of mind is one that is mindfully aware. It is open and responsive and requires continual examination and reflection, as the tensions between Fast and Slow are evaluated on an ongoing basis, and as a way to translate experience into meaningful learning. A Slow state of mind encourages us to engage with the moments of our everyday lives in a more considered and meaningful way, to feed our sense of curiosity, as a catalyst for questioning, searching, hunting and inquiring – leading to a journey of engagement and investigation of the world. This is important in the development of learning for the long term as we move into the complex and unknown territory of the future, with issues and problems that have no definitive answers and solutions.
Discovering natural time
Slow requires time – time to think deeply, talk more, explore, reflect, engage and rejoice in each moment. Students need to be able to exercise choice and control of what feels like the right number of tasks to undertake; reflecting tempo, rhythm and pace in tune with, and unique to, each individual. Such a view of time, one that is more subjective, personal, dynamic and supportive of the connection and engagement with learning and learners connects education with meaning and authenticity.
In this way time is transformed, providing an opportunity for learning to resonate with students as the learning activities flow naturally and in tune with each student’s world, tempo and rhythm.
Shifting the focus to the process of learning, away from a focus on ends, means creating activities that encourage learners to think, take risks, succeed, fail, collaborate and communicate.
Projects and problems are a way of piquing learner interest, offering intrinsic motivation, and awakening curiosity and demand for information over extended but flexible periods of time. In this way, learners become active participants, not passive recipients, with a call for each of them to be engaged in continual thought, inquiry, discovery and action as a way to develop empathetic, caring and compassionate people who value learning.
Slow is about connecting to self, others and place. Connectedness is a way of thinking described as looking inward to the internal rhythms of the self. It involves asking life’s bigger questions to gain clarity, insight and wisdom. Understanding ourselves is to be able to give sense and purpose to life and can be recognised via learners questioning, trying, challenging, testing and experimenting.
In addition, connectedness encompasses the emphasis and opportunity to work with others to generate new ideas and initiatives as a way to broaden one’s perspective and increase empathy and awareness for the consequences personal decisions and actions can have on others.
Slow in education
Slow, in education, will not naturally occur – it needs to be made explicit. Making Slow experiences a part of education requires educators to be conscious of the value and role of Slow.
The implication is that educators need to open up these areas of inquiry. It is also through awareness that Slow can cause educators to question personal epistemologies, so that Slow might be adopted in their own lives too. Educators need to re-conceptualise Fast in their personal and professional lives in order to foster an alternate, slower reality in the future. This is thinking that would take us into the depth of our experiences: ourselves, others and nature. The implication is that such thinking and understanding could see the personal experience and education effectively pursued through the experience of Slow.