Posts tagged ‘learners’

March 17, 2012

Open Learning Sources

by t.e.d.d.y.

Every time I bring up the topic of open-source learning to my students, I get the same question. But why? Why would anyone want to provide anything for free? After all, people spend so much time creating something. And then it just gets out there where other people can access it and what’s more… change it. So what is the point to that?

Well, I joke that they should stop asking and just take advantage of it. But seriously… there are many reasons why scholars and education institutions want to open their research, courses, and training to the public for free. Here are some:

    • To test innovative methodologies and content
    • To attract students to their paid programs by offering free older content
    • To gather marketing data on demographics of interested audience
    • Get feedback from users on content and technical aspects of their programs for further development
    • Pure passion for the subject and sharing it actually is very rewarding for the authors

These are just a few reasons. I’m sure there are many more.

The point here though is, how do we use all that great content to our benefit? It’s really amazing how rich these open-learning environments can be. And they are available for anyone any time.

Below are links to some open-learning programs from a few universities. The list is just a limited list and if you do a more in-depth search on the subject you will find that there are such resources around the globe. These are courses are provided free of charge from universities such as MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and others can be completed by anyone. They are non-credit and do not count towards a diploma from these institutions.

Open Yale Courses

Free courses provided by Yale University.

MIT Open Courseware

Free courses provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

webcast.berkeley

Free courses provided through webcasts by University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley)

Carnegie Melon Open Learning Initiative (OLI)

Free courses provided through the OLI by Carnegie Melon University

The Open University (LearningSpace)

European open learning source supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Connexions

We heard a TED talk about this project by Rice University.

Coursera

Platform for open courses by University of Michigan, Stanford University, UC Berkeley.

January 19, 2012

What are your thoughts on the new Apple’s iBooks 2?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Photo by apple.com

A much anticipated event by Apple has revealed that the company is reinventing the textbook and offering some interesting opportunities for educators and students.

In case you missed the event, you can watch the video recording from the Apple website. Or you can see how it developed on the CNET live blog transcript.

How do you feel about this new technology?  What are your thoughts?

November 17, 2011

You call this a webinar?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am participating in a webinar as we speak.  I won’t say what the title is or who organizes it as it is not important.  All I will say is that the audience is training managers in companies.  The important thing here is that this webinar is exactly the same as the last five webinars I attended.  It’s a lecture.

While I’m listening, I am writing this blog post (talk about boring and not engaging enough) but I am also smiling and shaking my head because this webinar is the perfect example of ineffective presentation/training.  And believe it or not, it’s a trend – most webinars are the same.  So despite the huge push in education to move away from lecturing and to use technology as a tool providing interactivity, we are using a web-based platform to reach our audience and lecture them.  Isn’t that a controversy?!  The only interactivity I am seeing so far is a few questions with answers we vote on and then they show us the results.  You can also ask questions on the side which will be answered at the end of the webinar.  In other words, we are using a 21st century technology for a 19th century presentation style.

And yes, I do understand the restrictions… it’s hard to get many people to collaborate or interact in a certain time frame… it’s hard to take all feedback from everyone and respond to it… etc. etc.  But the very definition of a webinar (according to Webopedia) is that its key feature is:

its interactive elements – the ability to give, receive and discuss information.

If we are going to lecture or just transfer information to a large audience, then we need to have a Webcast.  Asking people to answer questions, show them the results to which your only comment is: “Oh these are interesting results!” and then go on with your lecture… is NOT interaction.  That is a survey – one way communication.  A webinar is a workshop – the medium is live online platform.  The medium for a traditional workshop is a classroom face-to-face interaction.

The so-called webinar is still going on… don’t ask me what I remember from this speech (that’s exactly what it is).  I couldn’t tell you to save my life.  There is a bunch of graphs and colourful charts… but still no interaction.  I don’t even know how many people are watching this.  The lecture is one hour long.

So I guess when planning a webinar, we should think about our audience and how we can engage them.  One question to ask is: “Would I do this if I was in a real classroom with everyone sitting in front of me?”.  If the answer is no, don’t do it.  Think about a conversation and how to excite your audience.  If there are too many people to include in a conversation, there are ways to manage that:

  1. Split the group into smaller groups and let them choose a “speaker” who will report back to everyone once they have completed a task
  2. Split the webinar into 2 or 3 sessions and repeat the content with different groups of a more manageable size.
  3. Consider doing a Webcast.

When considering a Webcast… there are a few things to take into consideration:

  1. If it’s too long, no one will listen. (people don’t have time for a 2-hour lecture, not even a 1-hour one)
  2. Think about the value of the information you are providing.  Will you be able to hold everyone’s attention for even 15 minutes.
  3. What are the take-aways from your Webcast?  Are you going to provide a recording in the form of a podcast for people to listen later?  Are you providing a handout they can download and use later?

Hm… the lecture is still going on… I’m 10 minutes from its end so I’d better check my email and go for lunch… Hey, at least I wrote a post for my blog. :)

November 14, 2011

Learning at School vs. Learning at Work: Are We Prepared?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is clear that no matter how much we try to prepare students to be successful on the workplace, we cannot completely cover everything that they will experience once they start a job.  Simple reason… we can’t read the future yet.  If your students were Grade 9 six or seven years ago, and if they went to college after high-school, they will likely be starting their first “career-oriented” job right about now.  If we think of this time in terms of history of technology inventions and developments, by the time your students graduate college and start working, school will have prepared them for pretty much nothing (or very little) of what they will find on their workplace.  Take a look at this timeline, outlining what happened during these six or seven years since being a Grade 9 student:
(it’s almost 2012 now, but lets look back at 2004 as a starting point)

2004:
Facebook was launched.
Notebook PCs outsell TVs during the holiday season for the first time.
Mozilla Firefox 1.0 is released.

2005:
GoogleMaps is launched
YouTube is founded and comes online Feb 25, 2005.
Microsoft XP Professional is released.
Microsoft releases Xbox 360.

2006:
The blu-ray is first announced and introduced.
Toshiba releases the first HD DVD player in Japan.
Twittr, aka Twitter, launches officially.
Sony releases PlayStation 3.
Nintendo releases Wii.
Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows Vista to corporations.

2007:
Apple introduces iPhone.
Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 to the public.
Google releases Google Streetview.
Google releases Android.
Amazon.com releases the first Kindle.

2008:
RIM named “Canada’s Top 100 Employers”

2009:
Facebook (launched in 2004) overtakes MySpace in Internet traffic.
Microsoft released the Bing search engine.
Gmail gets out of beta and released to the public.

2010:
Apple introduces the iPad.
Apple introduces iPhone 4.
Amazon reports that it is selling more Kindle books than hardcover books.
RIM announces the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer.

2011:
Microsoft acquires Skype.
Apple introduces Apple 4S.
RIM lays off 2000 people – the biggest lay-off in its history.

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So in a nutshell, we couldn’t have prepared our students for all of the above.  We couldn’t have taught them about social media, Internet bullying, mLearning, etc.  And considering the timeline of all events, it was impossible for us to predict all these changes.  And naturally we cannot predict what changes will happen six years from now.  That’s a normal thing and shouldn’t be a reason for concern.  Until we actually learn how to use a crystal ball, we have nothing to worry about. (So educators, please stop worrying about not being able to catch up with technology :) )

However, there is another thing we don’t prepare our students for, which is quite different from what they experience at school: learning on the job.  Yes, we talk about life-long learning and constant exploration and curiosity.  However, the learning process that happens at work, is very different and could be quite challenging if one is not prepared.  When our students graduate school, college, university, they are coming out of a system which encourages a different type of learning than the one at a workplace.  Below are some characteristics of “learning at school” and “learning at work”.  While these aren’t set rules of how learning happens at both places, they represent a general picture of what happens.  There are always exceptions of course.

LEARNING @ SCHOOL LEARNING @ WORK
Follow a lesson plan Often there is no plan
Learner-focused and teacher-driven Learner-driven and company-focused
Learn then apply Learn as you apply
Individual learning style in your own pace Individual learning style in the company’s pace
Talk to go-to person (teacher) then self-explore Self-explore then talk to go-to person (mentor)
Learn for a test/exam/graduation standards (fixed quantity of material) Learn continuously (indefinite quantity of material and knowledge)
Team-work is preferable but not always a requirement Team-work is preferable AND a requirement
Change is usually minimal Change is usually constant
Learning causes change Change causes learning
Single source of assessment (teacher) Multiple sources of assessment (managers, peers, etc.)
Steady predictable learning curve (due to following a prescribed curriculum) Dynamic unpredictible learning curve (no curriculum)

Have you noticed other differences?  Please add them to the list.

So how do we prepare our students?  Are we prepared ourselves?

One way is incorporating bits of “work” learning into collaborative projects.  In one of my courses, I set a deadline (for fun) to complete a task in class.  The results didn’t have to be perfect and the activity was not graded.  In a very short time, my students had to work together (small groups) and find out as much information as possible on a topic.  When the deadline was over, they had to drop everything they were doing and attend a “meeting” where they shared what they had achieved.  The exercise was fun because the speed of work kept everyone going and motivated to finish.  There was no competition (e.g. which group collected the most information).  It was a fun thing to do.  When sharing, everyone provided their point of view and allowed for other groups to contribute.  The end result was great.  The exercise not only taught them what a tight deadline is, but also revealed that you don’t have to have perfect results to be able to share them with the team.  The team is what makes the end result… “perfect”.  Also, my students all noticed that if you set unrealistic goals for yourself (too much work in too little time), it can be quite challenging.  Finding ways to overcome these challenges or communicate their concerns openly is extremely important.  And that’s exactly what happens in the work place.  If you are not able to communicate properly and assess your abilities fairly, you keep saying “yes, I can do it” and then end up with too much on your plate and a whole lot of stress.  Sometimes on the job, you have to learn something very fast because you don’t have all the time in the world to get up to speed.  This is a task that may cause a lot of stress.  If you don’t know how to handle it, it could lead to the natural resentment and disappointment.  That’s why addressing the issue of different learning environments with our students is important and will help them become successful and more adaptable in their work.

November 7, 2011

Where is the next innovation in education going to come from?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: nokhoog_buchachon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because I love innovation and going against the norms…

I always expect the innovative approach to training and education to come from … well, education.  However, the latest trend in training methodology comes from the corporate world.  Perhaps it’s because the pace there is quite faster than it is in schools and universities, for example.  Or maybe corporations are more open to risk.  Whatever it is… changes are happening.  And because they are coming from the corporate world, this is a bigger need for a change at schools/universities.  After all, they are preparing the future workforce.

More and more companies emphasize on the social element of training.  If we have to look at a breakdown, informal learning happens 80% of the time, and the rest 20% is dedicated to the conventional model of courses and workshops supported by a self-paced element.  The big change here is in the perception of what is effective and what is less so.  Apparently, the social informal type of learning is way more effective than asking people (new employees, customers, partners, etc.) to sit down and read for days so they can get up to speed.  Mentoring is a huge part of it.  Pairing people and even teams to work and learn together is crucial for quick learn-on-the job experience.  But it is also impacting morale, team work, communication… in a good way.  Actually, the impact is great.

The sceptics would ask if it’s possible to measure success of such training model.  The answer is yes.  There are multiple metrics that one can apply.  From surveys and satisfaction reports, to setting assignments the learner needs to complete.  For example, in one company, the team lead requested that all new people who start at the company must attend courses and workshops, read documentation and participate in group discussions and meetings for the first half of their first day on the job.  By the end of the day, they were supposed to create a scenario or a solution to a real problem they learned about during that day.  In addition, they had to come up with a plan on how they would train the next new employees who come on board.  The solutions and proposals were presented to senior staff and managers and evaluated on the spot.  That evaluation does not mean to praise or punish.  It has two roles: provide constructive feedback to the new employees on areas they can improve; and it also demonstrates weaknesses in the training material which might have caused confusion or difficulty for the new person to learn.  The goal of the exercise is to improve the learning environment and support new people on their path to life-long learning.

So the metrics may not be quizzes and tests… it’s a bit more creative than that.  Imagine the amount of solutions companies can have that new people have suggested based on what they see at the company.  Maybe this new employee will identify a problem the company didn’t know they had.  Either way… it’s a win-win situation.

From an education point of view, this model looks very ambitious.  I understand that this would be difficult to apply in the traditional sense of a learning environment.  However, it pushes us to think in a direction very different from what we have now.  It makes us evaluate the effectiveness of what we are comfortable with.  The easiest thing to do is get everyone to do a test, sum up their results, and give them a grade.  If that’s the easiest way though, wouldn’t our learners take the easiest way to prepare for that kind of assessment too?  For example, if I am a learner who knows that at the end of my semester, all I have to do is show up and write a test to get a grade, I would not really care about the content of the course too much.  I know that no matter how much I study, eventually it will come down to three things:

  • my test-taking skills
  • a little bit of luck
  • a little bit of knowledge

So why should I bother remembering or learning any data if I have strong test-taking skills?  I’d read the material once, maybe twice.  But only to get a good idea of what the course is about.  On test day, though, it will not matter too much.  All I need is to pass the course.

Now imagine, I have to actually come up with a plan to impress my instructor and fellow classmates.  I know that there will be no test at the end.  I know that my grade really depends not only on my knowledge and what I have learned, but also the effort I put into preparing for this course.  Imagine that the response from my peers will affect my grade.  I know all this.  What would be my plan of attack?  First of all, the project/assignment will involve a lot of critical thinking on my part.  I need to come up with clear enough message to get everyone on board with me and get them to support my idea.  Then, before presenting or submitting, I’d get some feedback from peers just to make sure I am being understood.  I’d get feedback from other instructors too and see what they have to say.  Then I’ll put it together.  On “assessment” day, I will have to defend my idea and impress my audience.  The feedback I receive will not be critical and putting me down.  It will be constructive and encouraging with very sound reasoning behind it.  Even if I have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch, then I know I didn’t do something right and I have to make it right.

Now that’s a quite interactive way to evaluate students’ achievement and involve everyone in the process.  Students will benefit not only by being able to receive feedback and implement it in their work, but they will also learn how to give feedback.  This is an exercise for the whole group.  It’s not easy to provide constructive feedback.  And how else would students learn how to do it?  It’s not enough to just say you like or don’t like something.  How about the “why”?

October 25, 2011

Google SketchUp in the Classroom

by t.e.d.d.y.

I found this really interesting video from the Google SketchUp site on how it’s used in the classroom.  Teachers use the tool in their lesson plans to enhance their teaching and engage their students.  It encourages students to be creative and fully involved in the lesson.

Check it out:

September 26, 2011

Studying and teaching for the test: Students’ and Teachers’ worst nightmare

by t.e.d.d.y.

Traditional or the way I like to call them “military” types of assessment have no place in an education system of the 21st century.  Are we still studying for the test?  That’s because our teachers are teaching for the test.  Teachers in the U.S. (in North America in general but mostly in the U.S. especially after NCLB was implemented) are held accountable for low test scores of their students.  So what do we have here?  Teacher who sneaks answers to students only to get good evaluations on their own work and get a pay raise based on these results.  How sad is that?!

Test scores mean that you can or cannot take a test.  They don’t represent your knowledge or understanding of a subject matter.  I have said this a thousand times.  Having worked in the test prep industry, I know that a test is taken not because you necessarily learn the content covered by the test, but by learning the tricks of test-taking.  Believe or not, it’s called “methodology of test-taking”.  Now that’s pathetic.  Who says for example that people with higher IQ are smarter than people with lower IQ?  The creator of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, warned that measuring someone’s intelligence is not a linear process and it cannot be represented by a single number.  In other words, Binet insisted that intelligence does not have a fixed quantity and it can also improve or deteriorate depending on many other factors.  Unfortunately this part of this explanation behind the infamous IQ test were ignored.  Even today, based on an IQ test, a lot of states make decisions on whether to convict someone based on their IQ test score.  How ridiculous is this?!

Anyway… before I go off topic… the bottom line is, studying for the test is wrong and cannot lead to anything good or productive… like learning for example.  Studying does not necessarily lead to learning.  There are many examples of why tests have negative effects on learning.  And there are examples of why having no tests leads to better results.  I was reading an article about the education system in Finland and I was amazed.  Finland has no tests for its students and teachers and is rated among the highest achieving countries on innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.  Why is that?  What’s the magic formula that got them there?  Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains it like this:

There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is “Trust Through Professionalism.” The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that’s without any testing at all.

Can you believe this is actually working?  Not only is it working, it’s making the education system in this country flourish.  It’s making its teachers and students flourish.  The focus is on teachers’ professional development and trust.  Every teacher in Finland must have a Master’s degree.  For every ten applicants to become teachers, only one gets to go into a classroom.  This high expectation but also flexibility has turned the teaching profession into one of the most prominent in the country.  Professor Wagner continues:

So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland’s performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.

Professor Tony Wagner narrated a documentary on the education system in Finland called “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System” and is the author of a book “The Global Achievement Gap” (find a link and full title in the BookBuzz page of this blog).  Professor Wagner says that Finland has “defined professionalism as working more collaboratively”.  Teachers actually have time during the day to work together and constantly improve their skills, curriculum, and lessons.

So why can’t we take this lesson and move away from the “military” 19th century type of teaching and teacher preparation?  Tests are not the bottom line of who our students and teachers are.  Giving a raise to a teacher because her students scored high on a standardized multiple-choice test is so wrong that it is beyond anything natural that might happen in a school.  I may sound like a broken record but I will quote Sir Ken Robinson here.  He says that schools should go back to a more agricultural model of functioning and move away from the industrial model; to a customized model and move away from the fast food model.  They should create the circumstances under which students and teachers can “grow” organically.  Just as you provide water and sun for the crops to grow, schools should nourish students and teachers to reach their potential and be motivated to create and love what they do.  I believe Finland’s education system has done just that.

UPDATE from the news:  Here’s what happens when college admission depends on a test score.  When colleges only need the score, then students care only about… the score. –“7 Long Island Students Charged in SAT Scheme”

UPDATE: I found this excellent interview with Dr. Ben Levin, University of Toronto on the value of standardized tests and the differences between the US and Canadian education systems.

UPDATE: Edutopia’s article on how technology will help move away from a test-driven curriculum: “Critical and creative thinking cannot, and will not, happen in our schools unless we unshackle our teachers from the confines of our test-driven curriculum.”

September 19, 2011

“Doing the same thing and expecting different results is a sign of insanity” A. Einstein

by t.e.d.d.y.

The big talk of the day is change the way we teach, change the way we communicate with our students, change school policies, change standards, change funding, etc.  It’s all about change these days.  However, no matter how much change we aim for, we can’t achieve different results if we keep doing the same thing.  We still teach in the same classrooms we studied in.  Nothing has changed in the typical classroom since I was in Grade 1 – long time ago.  It’s still the same classroom today.  Rows of desks, the blackboard is now a white board, everyone is facing the front of the room where the teach stands (or sits), same rules apply for not getting up and moving, not talking, being quiet, pay attention, etc.  It’s exactly the same as it was created hundreds of years ago.  So why do we expect students to be motivated and to change their attitude if we are not changing the environment they learn in?

September 8, 2011

Are we creating a selfish learner?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Learner-centered education is a fantastic idea.  I personally see its benefits and celebrate the fact that slowly our education system is moving away from the boring production line type of education.  We teach according to the learning styles of our students.  We make sure they understand and are able to learn with ease and interest, excitement and ongoing motivation.  This is my personal opinion – student-centered education is key in a world of individuality and recognizing personality uniqueness as central to an accepting and tolerant society.

Let me play the devil’s advocate though.  I certainly don’t mean to discard student-centered education.  On the contrary, I am a full supporter and advocate of the methodology.  However, a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, reviewing a book by Dr. Ken Coates and Bill Morrison called “Campus Confidential: 100 Startling Things You Didn’t Know about Canadian Universities” got me thinking about the new generation of students entering our universities.  The authors say that students nowadays are more demanding and expecting higher grades than they deserve.  They don’t respect professors and address them by their first names.  Students, the authors say, expect that schedules, deadline, and classes can be changed to fit their work schedules.  In other words, they expect compromise and are critical of a set course system and syllabus.  If all this is true, then I can’t help but wonder if this whole “culture of students” is a result of the shift towards student-centered education.  If teachers in schools can adapt their teaching to match students’ learning styles, then universities should do the same.  Is this the first time that we actually are registering the effects of individualized flexible education where the student is the centre and dictates the course of their own learning?  And what’s more… is this necessarily a bad effect to have?  Is it necessarily good?

Dr. Ken Coates mentions in an interview with the Faculty of Arts at University of Waterloo that he scrapped his lectures this year and he is going to offer his students the opportunity to create these lectures together.  He says that instead of “lecturing”, he is going to engaging his students in discussion, research, and sharing in his classroom.  He, in the mean time, will have the role of a mediator where he guides his students towards the right type of information they need for a certain subject.  So instead of giving them the fish, he is going to teach them how to fish.  What a wonderful way to engage students and make them accept the responsibility for their own learning.  This is a typical example of student-centered education involving active learning and full hands-on student participation.

Yet, does that mean that the students who graduate and start their careers will demand the same from their employers?  Imagine a workplace which has to be constantly engaging and challenging in order to keep its workforce interested.  A lot of workplaces are already doing that by providing contemporary management techniques far from the traditional model of “the boss is always right”.  I mean look at Google.  Look at Apple.  Yet, many (way too many) workplaces continue the same way as before – hours of meetings discussing problems without finding actual solutions; blaming everyone for everything and never finding a way to solve situations; hierarchy which resembles the army; and complete lack of effective communication.  Is it just a matter of time before these workplaces are forced to change their ways?  Is it a matter of more people graduating university and becoming demanding employees who don’t tolerate a dull workplace?  And what will the implications be to such environment?  Only time will show I guess.

One thing I speculate with though is exactly that view of the student as individual and emphasizing on the custom personalized education that we are shifting towards.  If a student knows that her world of education is revolving around her, wouldn’t she require the same out in real life and workplace?  Would it be easier to just quit and not contribute to a team project because the rules are for everyone, and not different for different people?  Doesn’t that create selfish individuals who will prefer to work alone and independent rather than in a team collaboratively?  During the industrial revolution we trained people in huge numbers at the same time.  This is how the lecture and the military type of education were born.  Train as many people, in the shortest time possible.  As horrible and ineffective as it sounds, it actually forced people to rely on each other for knowledge and support.  When someone didn’t learn in class, they could just watch other people and learn by example.  That created the stereotypes and the similarity in performing certain tasks.  Nowadays, people don’t simply “copy” from others.  If they don’t understand, they either demand an explanation suitable for their learning style, or they walk away and move onto something more understandable, more suitable for their preference.  Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for isolation and abandonment of the team spirit?

In any case, we are not going back to another industrial revolution any time soon.  Student-centered education is here to stay and that’s a positive shift.  However, we need to keep an eye on the effects of these changes.  As educators it is our responsibility to be aware of such trends of behaviour.

August 12, 2011

Holding on to the 19th century – the academic paper’s days are numbered

by t.e.d.d.y.

Continuing my rant about change in education, I found this article (Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com) fascinating.  It reviews a book that’s coming up by Cathy N. Davidson, “Now You See It”, which questions a few beliefs in the academic world, such as the “academic paper” as a form of assessment in university.

Education does need an upgrade to match the digital age and it needs it fast.  Methods of teaching and assessment inherited from the 19th century (and even the 20th) are not relevant any more.  There are a couple of issues here that impressed me the most and made me think that wanting change and pushing it forward isn’t such a bad thing (makes me feel less guilty about doing it) :)

One of the issues is related to using the “academic paper” as a form of assessment.  The author of the book says that she noticed her students failing to write good academic papers at the end of their university courses, but at the same time were producing excellent blogs and Wikis which were perfectly well written and attracted a huge audience of interested readers.  She noticed that her students were capable of researching a topic, relating the information to their own experience and writing about it in their blogs and Wikis in a clear, interesting, and engaging way.  However, when it came to doing the same in an academic paper, they all struggled to express themselves and most of their assignments were hardly at a publishable or even acceptable level.  So what was wrong? The author came to the conclusion that her students’ writing skills may not be the problem.  The “academic paper” as a form may be the problem.  It’s a form we inherited from the 19th century when people had to learn certain rules and sequence of writing in order to be easily assessed by their professors.

The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

In this day and age, however, this form becomes irrelevant because less and less people will search for an academic paper (unless you work in academia) in order to get information or learn something.  Usually, people would look to the Internet to find what they need and that would be sufficient.  Another change from the 19th century is that professors nowadays do everything they can to limit their work with students.  Yes, I said it… it’s true.  How many professors have lost their jobs because they can’t teach?  None.  How many professors have jeopardized their jobs because they don’t publish enough research academic papers or don’t bring enough funding for their departments?  The number is quite large.  Professors have limited their direct work with students so much, that they don’t even grade student assignments any more.  They delegate the work to external “professional graders” who have never met the students and provide a “fair” grade that they think is appropriate.  Another option professors choose is computers… the matrix for grading is entered into a computer program and the program grades the assignment.

So if that’s the case, why do we have to continue writing academic papers which we don’t know how to write in the first place?  Why do we have to learn how to write them if nobody will ever be interested in reading them? (not even our professors)  Something has to change.

The second issue that the author of this book brings up is the question of whether multimedia and multitasking is as distractive to students as educators and parents think it is.  The author says that what seems as a distraction is actually the way students learn today.  I always mention this in my courses as well.  The fast that we can’t “multitask”, meaning watching TV while creating a video on the computer, while chatting with a couple of friends, browsing the Internet, and texting on our phones, does not mean that students of the new digital age can’t do it and do it efficiently.  Learning is not done during “me time” any more.  Students do not need quiet and piece behind a closed door with the TV and computer turned off in order to learn.

A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.

The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

This type of opinion and initiative gives me a lot of hope that things will soon start to turn around.  Education should enter a phase of transition not only in terms of allowing computers in the classroom… we are pass that stage… but in terms of teacher preparation, assessment, collaboration, methodology, even psychology.  I am hopeful that this will become reality sooner than later.

Read more on the topic at the Classroom as Microcosm blog.

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