Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kaizen Was Here (Part 2 of 4)

Continuing to think about "The Medium is the Message"

(Wiki, modified)

A recent experience confirmed in my mind what the Communications Department has been saying for a long time:
"The Medium is the Message"
The way that information is presented has a strong effect on how we view it, feel about it, remember it, and use it.

So here is my question:

What message are we sending our students?

Who's important in this room?

"Save your drawings for art"!????? Heaven forbid a student expresses creativity outside of art class! Nick, thanks for the beautiful image: "I'm a robot." I'm reminded of Ted Nelson:

"Material is dumped on the students and their responses calibrated; their interaction and involvements with the material is not encouraged nor taken into consideration, but their dutifulness of response is carefully monitored."
No More Teachers' Dirty Looks
Theodor Nelson, 1974


How well does this represent what you've learned about <insert any subject here>? What level of engagement was required to prepare for this type of exam?

These all-too-familiar images are a result of choosing the "easy solutions" to a problem that has plagued education throughout human history: "How do we scale this? How do we teach 50 people to be <insert a field here> with one teacher?"  Rigid classrooms built around the "Sage on the Stage", multiple-choice exams, and Scantrons are VERY convenient for the teacher/administration, not so great for the learner.

Welcome to the degree factory.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

The idea behind industrialism is that we can streamline a process to produce a large quantity of the same product. As students hoping to find a place in the world after graduation we spend our time in the factory attempting anything we can to come out different than everyone else. The very idea behind our efforts is to break out of the manufacturing model. That's the basic question asked in most job interviews: "What makes you uniquely suited for this position?" We want to have a good answer.

(Let me be careful here, this is an example. The true goal of education is much more than job placement)

What I've learned From Social Media:

Good or bad, we are enthralled with social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, and Pinterest have permeated our lives. My theory to explain this is simple:


The overarching message of Social Media is that people care about me and what I have to say. I am NOT a number without identity, lost in the masses. I'm a member of a community that is concerned with what's happening in my life. My thoughts are important to someone.

For the last century our educational system has been built around a factory model. Input people and some (unfortunately limited) resources and out come "educated" graduates. For the most part we've been OK with this, having never experienced anything else.

Social media is awakening a higher value in uniqueness and individuality. We won't be tolerating the faceless and almost anonymous educational experience much longer. I hope the institutions of learning can prepare for it.

The Rigid System

I've already expounded on the idea of customizing education, and letting students take the role of designer. Education needs to move from a "factory" towards a "custom shop" mentality.

Improving education requires flexibility. Our current system is rigid. We give rigid lectures with little to no interaction on the part of the students. We assign rigid textbooks that are arranged according to the authors' view of the "best way" to learn a subject. And we march through the book in a linear fashion, moving down the assembly line. We give rigid homework assignments that have one right answer forcing students to figure out what someone else has done, rather than creating something new.

These rigid "material delivery systems" do not permit much exploration, learning at different paces, or different interests.

The message is clear:
Do it our way.

On the one hand, we need systemic change in our approach to learning. On the other, some fairly small changes can have a large impact. I'm reminded of the idea behind dimples on a golf ball. The dimples make small changes to the airflow around the ball, leading to HUGE improvements in drag. Sometimes changing the ball is the answer. Other times we can make intelligent small changes that give dramatic results.

The Medium is the Message

The examples above certainly streamline the process of teaching, allowing us to offer the same education to a large number of students. The problem is that these edifices also communicate a subtle, but deafening, message. The result: lack of creativity, exploration, and individual thinking on the part of the learners. We tell students that the ideals are important and then crank them through a system that penalizes or discourages these 21st Century Aptitudes.

Presented in the following posts are some thoughts I've had recently about small changes we can make that could have a far-reaching impact on our students. They are just some examples of the important idea:

We have the technology to redesign our educational media, completely shifting the way learners think/feel about learning. And it's not even that hard to do.

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