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Michael Hernandez, Google For Education
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“All this time, energy and money, for what? Go ahead and create something.”

Michael Hernandez is a LA-based author and speaker, Apple Distinguished Educator, Google for Education Certified Innovator, as well as award-winning cinema and broadcast journalism teacher.

Interview by Vincenzo Angileri. Artwork by Marilyn Yee

The education system is dead. Let’s face it. Our academic model is based on memorisation, suppressing originality instead of training problem-solving minds. Design students are forced to ‘build a portfolio’ instead of understanding a job that’s changing everyday. The real world doesn’t work this way. Business doesn’t work this way. Tragic? Not really. There’s a lot of opportunity, and we are rolling up our sleeves to create something new.  Together with LA-based educator Michael Hernandez, we discuss the future of education, what we can learn from the American model, and how we can create programmes that teach creativity, empathy and innovation.

 

Creativity as an asset
Vincenzo Angileri

School used to be about books, about memorising information. Now that this information is available to everybody, everywhere, and at any time, shouldn’t education be about making sense of it? In other words, shouldn’t it be about creativity instead of just providing access?

Michael Hernandez

Creativity should be defined in a broad sense. It’s not just art, painting and drawing, but a mindset of originality, of problem solving, and collaboration. The idea that you have different versions of things. You make room for mistakes, improvements and revision. Think of the iPhone itself. It’s really far away from what it used to be.

The role of creativity is being able to manage and come up with multiple solutions, not just that one right answer. It’s a culture. Creativity is a mindset where you’re able to deal with change and failure, it’s the realization that there are many right answers. If you say, “What’s the right way to design a car?” There’s not one right way. “What’s the one right way to solve climate change?” There’s more than one.

People think creativity is easy and it’s about luck when it’s really not. It’s actually rigorous. Creativity takes time. It takes hard work.

VA

In a conversation with Russell Brand, Yuval Harari admits that to stay relevant “every human being will need to reinvent themselves every 10 years”. What are your thoughts on this? Is creativity the key to resilience?

MH

Creativity is — or it should be— interdisciplinary. Rather than saying this is only for math, and this is only for English, and this is only for science, we should be looking for connections between disciplines, connections between phenomena, connections between skill sets. The design thinking process is for science, art, language, research, health, business. This is where it all blurs together. This is where we can adapt to change.

Revolution in Education
VA

How is education evolving?

MH

The old model doesn’t really work and there are a lot of educators out there trying to change the model of education. It’s not compatible with how the world works. Still, there is a lot of resistance to change. There are some schools and some places that are trying something new and different, and there are other places that aren’t.

The shift is trending towards innovation, creativity, design thinking, and empathy. I see this happening with the thought leaders I know.  In the real world, in the business world, it’s not about memorizing things, it’s about assembling a team and tackling a project in creative ways. It’s about problem solving and coming up with new ideas.

VA

What’s the problem with the old model?

MH

Traditionally, schools have taught us that there’s only one right answer, and we’re always seeking that one answer. And that’s a problem because again, it doesn’t connect to the real world. You cannot wait for someone to give you the answer. This creates a mindset that is not dynamic, not able to handle change. The political result of that can be seen around the world. Whether it’s economic change or demographic change with migrations and things like that, and the world is changing very rapidly. People have difficulty managing that.

What’s the end goal for the current education system? Is it just to memorise information quickly and regurgitate? Or is it to do something else? Knowledge and information are two different things. You’re going to lose the race if you want to recite facts quickly because my phone can do it faster than my brain can. You’re always going to lose. And that’s the system we have set up right now, to get into college you have to memorise.

VA

Sir Ken Robinson says that this is not the time for evolution, it’s the time for Revolution. How can we start this? Or, talking in a more practical way, where do we start from?

MH

Everybody has to get over their fear. If students have to get over the fear of being wrong, teachers have to be untrained, to embrace this new mindset, and to get over their fear of not being the most knowledgeable person in the room.

I think the big fear that teachers have is we like to be in control. We’re control freaks. And it’s hard to let go and let things not be completely in order. Because it’s not the military. That’s how the Western system of schools started. It was to train a military system, not to train designers or problem solvers. So I would say the biggest obstacle is fear, and people have to get over it. It’s like Yoda said. “You must unlearn what you have learned.” We need to make spaces safe for our teachers to experiment, and we need to make our classrooms safe for students to experiment. To learn to speak the language of encouragement and to see what happens when you can have multiple answers, gradations of quality or of success, within certain projects and assignments.

New Education, New Business
VA

Let’s say we convince teachers to work this way. How can you convince a whole school? How can you convince a company that is providing education for its workers? How can we find the right argument to convince people that it is worth it?

MH

I’m not sure about Europe, but in the United States there’s always a big comparison between education and business. We want to run a school like a business. We run government like a business. To answer to your question: just go ahead, compare companies that have been successful and those that haven’t.

Take Kodak. They were one of the pioneers of engineering and science in the early part of the 20th century, and now they don’t exist anymore. And why is that? Because they never got on board with digital cameras and digital formats. They were trying to go against the tide, and they lost. To survive, companies have to adapt. You need to look to innovators and look at their model. My guess is, like you’re finding in your research, is that it’s a design thinking process that’s allowing companies to become successful and finding solutions to problems. You need to convince institutions and school that this is where you want them to go.

Do something and share with the world
VA

What’s the point of learning through authentic and real challenges? What is project based learning?

MH

If all of your students spend all this time and energy, stressing over your assignments, why can’t they be doing something worthwhile that’s actually going to have an impact? Why pretend? Actually do something. Go ahead and build that thing. Go ahead and make a product that can have a positive impact on climate change, for example. Create a website where your work is published publicly. Make people can read it.

Let’s ask a question, and then answer that question through research, activities, and assignments. This way, you’re hitting on all the key learning components: figure out what you need to learn, what problem needs to be solved. Then you do the research and come up with a plan, collaboratively. Then you enact the plan, developing your device or your project. And then, you reflect on it and share it in some kind of form. That’s where the trend is heading.

VA

A project is a way of “retaining” information, creating an entity to hold and bring to life what you’ve learned along the way. A project can reach beyond the limits of the classroom, it can be shared. Is project based learning a key to knowledge propagation and cross-pollination?

MH

Sharing your work and public evaluation are crucial. I teach film production and broadcast journalism, so we always have an audience and you’re always getting some kind of feedback whether it’s by number of clicks or audience reaction.

We did a documentary about Cuba a few years ago and uploaded it to YouTube. One day, one of my students got a comment from a local. He thought these American kids didn’t really understand what they were talking about. He was going to set the record straight, in a thoughtful and concerned way. So she started a dialog with him in the comments section trying to explain her purpose, and understand what he meant.

The fact that she got a real, authentic evaluation from somebody was a really big eye opener. This wasn’t because of a test, an essay, or a teacher’s grade. It was because it was a real project, based on real people, with real issues. And it was published for real.

Education as entertainment
VA

I think most experiences I have learned from in my life weren’t serious, they were engaging and fun. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” How important are Fun and Humour in education?

MH

You have to have charisma. You have to have passion. You have to make learning fun. And when I say fun, I don’t mean easy, I mean that you can see that you’re enjoying the learning. That there’s a purpose behind it, and you understand why so you can get behind it.

Why would we want to do anything that was painful? I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember any of my multiple choice tests that I ever took in high school. Can you recall fondly a test that you took? I bet there was probably a field trip or a project you worked on that you remember really well. You probably worked really hard on it, you cared about it, and you saw real-world connections. Learning is a process of achieving knowledge through experience.

VA

TED, In a nutshell, School of Life… What makes these educational YouTube channels so successful is the entertainment factor, something lacking from the classroom. Is this something teachers should learn from?

MH

A couple of years ago one of my students told me that he learned more from YouTube than from his teachers or his parents. A lot of teachers might have interpreted that comment as threatening. “I’m going to lose my job because I’m going to be outsourced by videos”, right? And if that’s how you teach, then maybe you should. But instead of being threatened, I thought “let’s figure out how you’re going to make a video. And let’s figure out how we make sure that video is accurate.”

Instead of thinking that we have to be the smartest person in the room, and we have to hold on desperately to all of that information, we should acknowledge that there’s a lot of other information out there that we don’t know. We should let our students see that it’s ok not to have all the answers.

Video is king
VA

How long until video-culture overcomes all other forms of content?

MH

Video is a very powerful medium because it incorporates a lot of emotion. As educators, we need to embrace this. No matter what the format is, right now it’s video but who knows what it’s going to be in 10 years time, it’s going to change. We should expect that.

VA

Techniques disappear while a mental structure and cognitive skill set stay.

MH

It isn’t just about training kids to use video cameras, and editing software, and social media: it’s what do you do with that information once you have it. There’s a really important role for educators.  How do we know what we know? And what can we do with this information? We need to help our students make connections with what’s happening in the real world, to do something with the content rather than just memorise it.

Social and political change
Simulations and fictional narratives
VA

As part of masters programme and as an artistic project, we’re dealing with fiction as a tool to create awareness. I wanted to know what your thoughts are on fictional narratives as a tool for learning.

MH

The architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Bilbao Museum, was a professor at USC. One of the assignments that he gave his students was to design a house for zombies. Nobody knows what a zombie is. You have to get outside of your comfort zone to understand what their particular needs are, and not to place value judgement on them. That’s the real-world connection to businesses. If you’re designing a building or a form of transportation, you have to think about what the needs are of that particular demographic. In Frank Gehry’s case, they can’t have daylight during the daytime because that burns their skin, and they have to figure out places they can store brains to eat. They’re limping around, so we can’t have stairs, we have to have other ways to move throughout the house. It was a great simulation.

What’s nice about games, fantasy, or simulations, is that you’re free to do whatever you want because there are no preconceived ideas about what should be or what you know or perceive. And when you’re done with that simulation, you can step back. What if you compare it to the real world? What if you were a country? What if you were this type of person that actually exists? What would your preconceived ideas have been?

It works great as a comparison because you make the connection between how you would ideally solve a problem, while highlighting what your personal biases are. Whether it’s the story that we tell ourselves about our personal life or how our personal baggage has skewed our view of other people.

Empathetic education
VA

Empathy is important in many fields, but in design it’s essential. How do we teach empathy?

MH

How do you really understand somebody? Do you prejudge them based on your own experience? Or do you actually go into that space where these folks live and understand their condition? It’s about experience in the real world. It’s about trying to understand other people. And it’s about acknowledging our preconceived ideas of what education should be and what people need to know.

VA

It’s about going out of your comfort zone. Designing and researching in somebody else’s shoes for a while.

MH

We have that opportunity as educators to put students outside of their comfort zone and into the real world, and help them navigate through all the challenges that they’re facing when they’re dealing with these research projects, and when they’re encountering other people. When I try to do these projects and send my students out into the real world, they’re afraid of going to a neighbourhood that’s not upper class because they come from a pretty wealthy district. I specifically give my students a challenge to go to a part of Los Angeles that is not clean, and comfortable, and the people don’t look like you, maybe they don’t even speak the same language as you. I’m not intentionally making their lives hard, I’m pushing their limits and putting them outside of their comfort zone. In real life you will be outside of your comfort zone often, it’s about how you manage that.

The Industry
VA

Last year you were one of the speakers at the SXSW, a festival that mixes cinema, education, and music, among other things. Education seems to be becoming more transversal. Where do you see the education industry going and how do we keep up?

MH

I think professional development for teachers is more important now than it has ever been. Conventions are important because education changes rapidly, technology changes rapidly. And it’s important for educators to continue their education. We need to practice what we preach. We want our students to be lifelong learners so we need to be lifelong learners. I’ve learned a lot through social media channels. Some thought leaders are sharing really good articles and other resources.

VA

What’s the future of online education?

MH

If you know where to look for it, you can find it. The trend has actually been growing a little bit away from social media. People aren’t quite as active as they used to be. They’re looking for curated sources and information from people they can trust around a certain topic.

In the United States, they have this flipped learning model they’ve been talking about for a few years now where the content is online, and you come to class with that information to do something with it. You have discussions and you work on projects, so that class isn’t just a place to dispense information, it’s a place where you work and collaborate with others to use that knowledge for meaningful purposes.

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Credits
Interview by Vincenzo Angileri
Edited by Bis Turnor
Portrait by Marilyn Yee
Editor in Chief Rafa Martínez

Insights is a place for discovering visions of the world that cast a light on contemporary ideas about communication and new disruptive business models, strategic territories which we daily explore within our work.

Bio

Based Los Angeles, the educator, author and speaker Michael Hernandez is an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Google for Education Certified Innovator, as well as award-winning cinema and broadcast journalism teacher. Recognised by major universities and national organisations, Michael brings practical classroom knowledge to bear when developing innovative teaching and learning strategies. With nearly twenty years of experience and the aim of empowering students and educators to affect social change, his work emphasises collaborative education, creativity and interdisciplinary storytelling.

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Creativity

As Robert E. Franken points out in his book Human Motivation, creativity is the tendency to recognize ideas, alternatives or possibilities useful in problem-solving, communication and entertaining ourselves and others. There’s a tight relation between creativity and design thinking as they both help to foster students’ abilities for creative problem solving.
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Design Thinking

Design thinking is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking – starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. By considering both present and future conditions and parameters of the problem, alternative solutions may be explored simultaneously.

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Media Literacy

According to the Center for Media Literacy, media literacy is is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.
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New Education

In a moment when new learning standards are being adopted and education is turning into entertainment, the concept of ’new education’ is shaking the traditional frontal educational models by including of creativity, design thinking, challenge or project-based learning and media literacy. Altogether, a new model empowered by the hyper democratization of digital information and shaped by new narratives, technology, innovation and new strategies for teaching and learning.
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Project-Based Learning

According to the Buck Institute for Education Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.