Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Newbe speaks out...

Okay, this bog started as a result of reading a post on OLDaily, that lead me to an article entitled Fluid Learning, on the blog entitled The Human Network, which led me to Michael Werner's interview of Stephen Downe on the Halfanhour blog. After reading these two articles, I came to the following conclusion: I know so little as to be dangerous!

I realize that I am new to the web 2.0/21st Century Learner era, and that indeed the ‘curve’ is out of sight for me, but the more I read lately the more I am confused about two things: who decides what is taught and where does all this technology and new philosophy fit in with the curriculum that teachers are supposed to teach?

Please let me explain before I am shown the door. The ideas put forth in Fluid Learning are quite similar to many others I have read in the past few weeks. The main thrust seems to be that the ‘concept of education’ needs to be overhauled. This I do agree with, but I must admit that the future vision of what this world would look like is somewhat blurry. The Fluid Learning seems to believe that all we need to do is remove the issue of control and simply post the ‘lectures’ and ‘lessons’ online, as MIT and others have done, and students around the world will be able to log on and presto, education in the new model! Yes, I do firmly believe that students can learn in what we now refer to as non-traditional environments, this is not the issue. Who decides what is posted is the issue! I will return to this matter later on.

The article in question continues on by outlining the steps that are required for the new education paradigm to be successful. Included in this plan is the remaking of the teacher into, well, some sort of web page librarian, one who knows where to point the student to get the information. “The instructor can not know everything available online on any subject, but will be aware of the best (or at least, favorite) resources, and will pass along these resources as a key outcome of the educational process.”

Fine, I can live with this individual’s vision of the role of a teacher. As I can also live with the concept that only in hands-on subjects, such as “engine repair”, will students ever have to be in the same room as the teacher, or “Lecturer”. The next step seems to be that students will teach students and that the world will come together to teach each other. Again, okay, nice sentiment, and one I try to embrace as I strive to move my students into this world of collaboration. The writer then outlines four steps that will ensure the success of the new ‘school’. Simply video capture the lectures, share everything that teachers, or rather Lectures, produce, be open (in terms of software, devices used, and non-filtered networks), and finally connect the students to instructors. This last step implies that students should be able to contact instructors at anytime as well as have access to peer to peer or ‘“crowdsourced” learning” ‘. Once again, I am in agreement with the sentiment put forth, that being that the philosophical nature of education must change to embrace the way the world is today! Yes, I am in total agreement with the many blogs I have read that shout the same message – Change is needed sooner than later!

However, it was not until I read the interview of Downe that I realized what has been keeping me up at nights. Downe talks about empowering the student by removing the barriers that block the student’s ability to access “real world activities”. It was here that I began to understand what was missing from the numerous blogs I have read, that being what will be taught and the how, as in the practical side, as in the ‘here, use this tool’ to teach these outcomes from the mandated curriculum. I take great exception to Downe’s simple assessment that all that needs to happen is for teachers to give over control of the classroom and bang, nirvana!

The first issue that I struggle with is the curriculum, known as the Program of Studies in the jurisdiction that I work in. This document is well thought out and supported by a large number of educators as being representative of basic knowledge that all learners should possess upon completion of a set amount of time. (12 years for high school/4 years for a degree…)I cannot imagine that anyone would support the notion that education could exist without some sort of ‘cannon’ to adhere to. There must be some set of information required in order to post it online, or to lecture, capture and share with the world.

If it can be accepted that a curriculum is needed, my second issue is simply that of implementation of real world solutions. I have a responsibility to attempt to teach the students in my classroom a set of specific criteria that has been approved by the government that I work for. It is all well and fine to express the need to change the system, but there needs to be some accounting for those of us who must endure the transition period. I am no so young and naive as to believe that this transformation will be quick and painless.

As with previous professional development that I have encountered, I find that many experts preach to the converted. In the case of Assessment for Learning, I discovered that many lectures contained the same basic message – AFL is good! Yes, I got that the first time, was onside and ready to go, but found very few authorities lining up to provide me with hands on real world this is for you to use today solutions. I am aware that many new technologies are available for use in the educational setting, and yes, as Downes suggested, I try to use and learn a variety of these applications in my daily life, however I am still looking for the prophet who will 'show me the way' in terms of combining the new applications with my current curriculum. Yes, twitter is a useful tool, but how can I use it to teach one of the 67 specific outcomes I am to cover in less than 90 classes. I am being buried alive by the philosophical approaches that I have been reading for days now, but what I really want/need is to stumble across someone that is putting two plus two together and finding out that it equals a real world solution, one that I can insert into my classroom tomorrow morning.

I will be the first to admit that I have not read anything close to all that is out there on the web, but I have spent many many many hours reading excellent blogs that detail the need to change the education system. I will concede that perhaps what I am facing is the newbe (I am sure that there is a new word these days for what I am) experience, where one is overwhelmed by all that is new…I will also concede that this rant is without a doubt a call for help from one who is lost.

I am not without hope, just hoping others can find me…


1 comment:

John Ferguson said...

Excellent posting!

When I read Downe's article/interview I was left with the feelings I had after many of my philosophy classes in university. It wasn't an article with answers, but, in my opinion, showed the possibilities of the future.

I disagree with some of his assumptions. The role of the teacher for one... It seems he has a view of the teacher as an authoritarian, the ruler of the knowledge. This is long past. Todays teachers tend to be facilitators. How can we help the student learn in the best way for the individual. As teachers we don't all create the box for the students to fill... We help them build understanding through a variety experiences.

Now this can take the form of:
multiple intelligences
discovery education
technology integration

These are all a variety of tools to reach the variety of students we contact. However, students are students because they need to be taught how to learn. How to understand their voice. How to be citizens.

The curriculum becomes the 'canon' the link from class to class and student to student. It becomes the common language in the 'networks' that they are learning to build.

The 21st century learners need to be taught whats applicable in the 21st century just as the 19th century student needed to taught to survive in the 19th century.