education in the 21st century…

so I was on a plane, coming back from Cairns (which is an odd place in Australia, full of beautiful beaches and things that want to kill you), sitting in my (cramped) seat, watching the little screen and choosing a variety of movies, I even listened to (most of) “a brief history of time”, and I got to thinking… why isn’t classroom education like this?

Teaching is … a bit stuck in the past. Does it make any sense that each class or school has an individual teacher responsible for teaching a particular subject? What you want is, the ‘best’ teachers in the whole world teaching the class. I mean, algebra hasnt changed for ever, so why do individual teachers need to teach? Why not just make interactive recordings of… 10, 50? different ‘best’ teachers teaching a class. Individual class teachers would need to faciliate, but not to teach. Students could have interactive screens like airplanes, choose their lesson, ask for clarification by accessing the same lesson taught by different teachers, or ask the facilitator to assist. Gifted students could do extension exercises if they felt like it, when they felt like it. The lessons could be easily interactive with questions at the end of each 5-10minute period. Imagine doing that in a real class, for every student. The facilitators could then receive incredibly detailed, accurate assessments for every child for every class.

They can choose what they learn, and how fast, and best of all, get access to the best teachers in the world for any given subject. Now, you could argue that interaction with classroom teachers is important, but my memories are teachers explaining something as best as they were able, then getting the class to do a lot of exercises. Teaching just doesnt scale. You cant give individual attention to a class of 30 students, each with different needs.

best of all, this is all achievable, right now. You could even grab the cool seats from an airplane, kids would love those! Im not so sure about the meals though…

education in the 21st century…

10 thoughts on “education in the 21st century…

  1. Totally. In fact, for somebody like me who learns better from books than from talks, you don’t even need new technology: just pick a really good text book (good ones exist on all major undergrad topics) and clearly define which bits we cover in the course, and when the tests are and what each test covers. All the teacher then needs to do is to mark me tests and/or assignments. That’s it.

    But noooo. Each lecturer wants to teach their own course, with their own selection of topics and approach and course notes.

    The only reason I haven’t argued more for this in the past is that some people (I’m told) actually learn stuff from lectures. Ok, well then record the full set of lectures one year and stick it all on the internet, in addition to the stuff above. Oh, and have a once a week question answer session, or something for students that get stuck and need some one on one help. The department’s grad students should be able to take care of that. Basically, I don’t see the point in lecturers actually doing much teaching etc. until post grad at which point there aren’t many students anyway. Before that the system can be pretty automated for most material.

  2. i was more talking about secondary schools I think, but its relevant for university as well. The replication in teaching just appears so inefficient. The new lessons would have to be done well, with say 5 different teachers teaching the same thing, and the ability for the student to flip between one and another for different explanations of the same concept. But once it was done…?

    And the ability for facilitators to get reporting per lesson would be a massive boost. Imagine being able to see at the end of a lesson who did what, and how well. They could then for the next lesson assign specific segments to each student (or a computer program could do it automatically….)

  3. Kerry says:

    The problem with schools is that the students must first learn to read and write before you can push down the self-directed route. A number of schools are pushing the teacher as facilitator idea – Makoura in Greytown is one, I believe – and many are changing the class lengths – ie 1 1/2 or 2-hour ‘lessons’ where the ‘facilitator’ has a better chance of interacting with each student. A large part of this facilitator role (and of the traditional teacher role, though we forget it) is motivating the student to put some effort in. This is where the self-directed learning idea clashes with the govt (and, indirectly, society) mandated curriculum – ie it is expected that students will learn certain set things in common (regardless of whether it interests them). This curriculum may seem a no-brainer until you discover how it has changed over time. When I was at school we learnt matrix operations and set theory in maths (which in itself was part of the new maths which was substantially different from what our parents would have learnt). This is no longer part of the curriculum – if you ask a year 13 student (7th former) what commutative means or how to multiply 2×2 matrices they will give you a blank look. In contrast, they will be able to do transformative geometry: reflections, rotations, etc. Looking back further, you will find that statistics is quite a recent addition to the curriculum. If you talk to people who attended high school in other countries you will notice substantial differences in the breadth and depth of material covered – ie in Germany statistics isn’t covered until senior years, in Japan their is no coverage of measurement.

    Also, you assume that each teacher is teaching the same thing – which in itself assumes that each student is treated the same. Those days are largely past as the variance in the student body is substantially greater these days – to some degree because students can’t officially leave at 15 and many who would have are now staying to the end.

    That’s my 2cents worth 😉

  4. I dont think Im assuming that each teacher is teaching the same thing, but logic tells us that a teachers ability to customise a class for 30 different students in an hour (or even 2 hour) period is pretty limited.

    My point really is simple: It is inefficient for teachers across the country/world who all teach a given subject to be teaching that subject separately. Why don’t we create a standard set of online/electronic resources with the ‘best’ teachers teaching the subject?

    Then, students can work their way through these resources over a given time period, say a fortnight, with the faciliatator checking every class through some sexy reporting functions, how each student is doing, and potentially tailoring the online resources appropriately, or an algorithm doing the same thing. eg: every ten minutes, the program asks some questions, and the teacher gets to see where they succeeded or went wrong, and the program automatically adjusts questions for the next session.

    Curriculum adjustment is a matter a adding or subtracting the resources. To me, this seems like a completely logical progression of teaching, given that teachers are not created equal, why should some students (ie, higher decile) have better teachers available than others?

  5. I guess Im envisioning a super-dooper self assessing, reporting electronic online textbook with video and web-2.0 type forums on each given topic in a subject.

  6. Kerry says:

    It also emphasises immediate recall, which could encourage a cramming approach by students who just want to get it out of the way as quick as possible and aren’t interested in learning – is this a good thing?

    Textbooks are a print-media version of this solution – supposedly the ‘best’ teachers write textbooks for all the other teachers to use in their classrooms. Surely there must be a different approach that doesn’t just replicate the printmedia solution in a richer form of media? I think the web 2.0 part could be interesting: ie wikipedia style collaborative essays and you-tube mash-ups. The assessment here could cover a number of skills: ie creating content, editing, fact verification, moderation, visual media skills, etc. Some schools are moving this way, but parental pressure is still for traditional summative assessments and the three Rs.

    You suggest that high-decile schools have better teachers. I suspect that it is more a case of ‘better’ parents. You can shift a teacher from a high-decile school to a low-decile school and their impact on the learning of the students in the low-decile school will not be significantly different on average from that of the existing teachers there, and vice versa. The lower standard teachers also exist at the high-decile schools, just as very good teachers exist at the low-decile schools. In some cases, what makes a ‘good’ teacher at a high-decile school will not make a ‘good’ teacher at a low-decile school, and vice versa.

    When I speak of ‘better’ parents, I am thinking along the vein of Bourdieu’s research on how the education sector works to persist the status quo (I can lend you a copy of his work on this, if you want). This partly illustrates also why new industries, such as IT, tend to be dominated by people who were not educated at the traditional ‘top’ schools.

  7. You might be right re: better parents. All I know is there is definite differences between teachers, good teachers are relatively few (as with every other occupation) and they stand out a mile.

    Im not really suggesting replicating textbooks in richer media, I guess you misunderstood the ‘super-dooper’ part of the description! But in the first instance, the teaching of a subject should be captured from the ‘best’ teachers, and made accessible through imaginative electronic means, along with quizzes, instant feedback and further specialisation based on results, FAQs, etc. This should be the baseline resource, instead of variable-quality teaching from textbooks in a manner that does not scale to a class of 30+.

    From there, students should be able to rate the resources, comment on them (moderated), ask questions of each other and teachers.

    That seems to me to be a significant step forward from where we are. And yep, would like to grab that book!

  8. Kerry says:

    You might be interested in this from Tom Peters’ site – one of his picks for top entrepreneurs:

    Dennis Littky, founder Big Picture, project-based learning model for secondary schools, widespread diffusion courtesy Gates foundation

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