This week’s readings have again caused me to wonder what the current goal of education is and what the future goal should be. We can quote that we are preparing students for the future, yet we have no idea what that future will look like or what skills will be valued. Even our own jobs as teachers threaten to change dramatically in response to technology. Is there even a need for teachers anymore? Or schools for that fact? This has lead me to question what the role of school is in society.
Schools perform a variety of functions including training students to follow the spoken and unspoken norms of society. Much of this “training” is based on the behaviourist learning theory as summarized in the article by Saul McLeod. Essentially much of the ways schools are structured and function is based on the behaviourist perspective. From the beginning, we model proper behavior, provide positive rewards when students comply with expectations and negative feedback when they do not comply. Students who do not sit in their desks are provided with negative feedback. Students who put up their hands to answer questions are provided with positive feedback. Schools create this social environment where students are exposed to a variety of peers and instructors with whom they can chose to model their own behavior after.
Schools also perform functions based on the cognitive perspective. We directly or indirectly teach students content with the primary goal being that they will transfer this content from short term memory into long term memory. Once in long term memory, the information will be available for students to retrieve as needed. This is occurs when we ask students to learn spelling words, times tables, memorize information for a test, and recall facts at later times. Our curriculums are based on the idea that information learned in the previous year is stored in the long term memory of students and can be recalled and built upon in the next year.
Schools additionally perform functions based on the constructivist learning theory. Constructivism is essentially the idea that students come to your class with a wide range of experiences and knowledge. The goal of education is to access the current knowledge the individual student has and to provide opportunities to build upon that knowledge. Information is stored by students making connections in their minds between pre-existing knowledge and new knowledge. We incorporate constructivist perspectives when we assess student’s prior knowledge and try to provide experiences and connections that are relevant to the learner. We also support this by including inquiry, problem-based learning and providing independent learning opportunities.
The article by George Siemens provided an alternative perspective – connectivism. This is the idea that perhaps learning is not (or does not have to be) within the constructs of one persons’ mind, but could occur within a person’s social network. Learning could be the result of diverse perspectives coming together to create a solution. I thought this article raised many interesting points about whether it really is knowledge that is important or simply the rapid evaluation of knowledge that is the current skill.
So what do these perspectives mean for 21st Century education? Today’s learners are different. Students come into my science classroom with a wide range of random knowledge and experience made possible by the learning they have already accessed using technology. In an ideal classroom, I would be able to adapt individual lessons for each student based on their knowledge base, need and interest. This is how I informally educate my four year old. The only difference is that this becomes a daunting task when you try to teach 30 students. This is what makes today’s education so difficult. We have good intentions, but we are still trying to educate mass amounts of students in the most efficient time. The system is still set up to focus on quantity rather than quality.
Does this mean the answer lies in deschooling or unschooling? Or creating rhizomatic learning experiences? Perhaps Personal Learning Environments or tapping into student learning success in participatory culture?
I do not think the answer is to replace our current education system as society still requires many of the functions it serves, but I do think there exists much opportunity for creating these online experiences for our students where they are sharing, evaluating, participating, and publishing information. The video on the grade 7’s PLE is a model that could be incorporated at many grade levels. There still exists a need for schools to teach students the skills they will need to be successful in these online communities. They cannot share, evaluate, participate, or publish until they possess basic literacy skills. Teachers can also bring real-life experiences into the classroom and expose students to information they never anticipated they would have any interest in.
Perhaps it is not time to move towards unschooling, but we do need to adapt our education system to the unknown future needs of society. We need to start creating curriculums that are flexible and based on the understanding that knowledge is rapidly changing. We also need to trust that teachers will create meaningful learning experiences for student if given the freedom to do so.
These are some of my perspective on the direction of education. What are yours?