Alec Couros shared this video. It’s a clever advertisement about lighting. Main message:
Our homes have changed radically over the past century. So why do we still use lighting that’s based on 19th century technology? Well, that’s all about to change.
Isn’t this an apt metaphor for education, specifically schooling? I really think so. So many aspects of life have changed but the way we view learning and teaching in most schools and many tertiary institutions has changed very little since the Industrial Age.
I know that some educators reading this post will disagree, even be offended. It’s not that we don’t have expert, committed teachers. It’s not that students learn nothing; of course they do. It’s just that the internet has opened up access to information, and the new opportunities to connect to information and people, the ability to create something online, to collaborate, to ask questions, to learn outside the classroom/course, to follow your passion, to drive the learning, to make a difference – all these things have changed the game. We can teach content well, we can also teach specific skills, but what are we doing to teach students how to learn what they will need when they leave school – because that is unknown to all of us. Learning how to learn – we’ve heard it all before, but what does it mean? If teachers were forced to be learners in an unknown learning environment, would it make any difference to their perception of their role? When we’re used to teaching what we know and have known for years, are we out of touch with what it’s like to be bewildered learners?
We don’t know what our students will need to know throughout their working lives but we should recognise that the learning will be continual, and they won’t be in cosy classrooms with dedicated teachers. The curriculum is unknown. The only thing we know for certain is that being able to navigate the learning journey is imperative. Will our students feel lost or will they know how to find the people they need to help them? Will they know what questions to ask, and will they feel comfortable developing their learning networks, or will they feel they have failed because they are not used to initiating their own learning journey?
There isn’t a simple solution to this but there is the possibility of changing the game. Right now I’m enjoying the personal interactions in Connected Courses. I’m learning so much from other people through conversations, sharing of information and projects, of digital tools and research methods. Many blogging their way through this course have said what I’m about to say. Much of the learning is not explicitly related to a task. The incidental learning is getting me going – motivated, that is, to go in for more. Yes, there’s a structure, recommended readings, topics and videos to watch, but there is a choice of what, how much and when we do something. There’s company – that’s the best part. There are platforms like Twitter (#ccourses), Google+ (#ccourses), Facebook and others, where we can go. So as soon as we read something, as soon as we watch a webinar (in real-time or archived), in which we meet the facilitating people – and these people are contactable through social media – we have the opportunity to jump into one of the many platforms and say what we think, ask questions, benefit from other viewpoints, gather further information from our network, initiate or join projects or create things (eg #dailyconnect).
Why can’t learning be like this for our students? Why don’t all teachers enjoy a professional community like this one?
(Why can’t I stop asking rhetorical questions?)
I’d like to finish with a slab of transcript text from Anant Agarwal’s TED talk: Why massive open online courses (still) matter. (Thanks to Yin Wah Kreher’s post).
Here he is talking about peer learning.
Let me tell you a story. When we did our circuits course for the 155,000 students, I didn’t sleep for three nights leading up to the launch of the course. I told my TAs, okay, 24/7, we’re going to be up monitoring the forum, answering questions. They had answered questions for 100 students. How do you do that for 150,000? So one night I’m sitting up there, at 2 a.m. at night, and I think there’s this question from a student from Pakistan, and he asked a question, and I said, okay, let me go and type up an answer, I don’t type all that fast, and I begin typing up the answer, and before I can finish, another student from Egypt popped in with an answer, not quite right, so I’m fixing the answer, and before I can finish, a student from the U.S. had popped in with a different answer. And then I sat back, fascinated. Boom, boom, boom, boom, the students were discussing and interacting with each other, and by 4 a.m. that night, I’m totally fascinated, having this epiphany, and by 4 a.m. in the morning, they had discovered the right answer. And all I had to do was go and bless it, “Good answer.” So this is absolutely amazing, where students are learning from each other, and they’re telling us that they are learning by teaching.
Students learn really well with a great teacher and a finely tuned class but they can also take a more active part, and the collective whole can become better than the one-to-many model.