Are Education Changes Headed in the Right Direction???

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The changes mentioned in this blog post title are innovative changes – the critical theme oh the IMMOOC 2 activity with which I’ve engaged with George Couros and many others over the past few weeks. To address the question found in the title, there are several other questions that must be addressed:

  • What is our definition of innovative?
  • What changes are we Considering?
  • Why do I believe these changes will result in innovative education?
  • How can we assess if we’re headed in the right direction?

Let’s examine each of these briefly.

What is our definition of innovative? In his book, “Innovator’s Mindset“, George Couros offers this definition of ‘innovative’: Something is innovative if its outcome(s) or result(s) are both new and better. Therefore changes to education will be innovative only if the student education is both different from previous practice and results in better learning.

What changes are we Considering? I cannot overstate how many great ideas and resulting changes have been introduced by MOOC participants; even a representative list is impossible. For this post, therefore, I will offer my personal list: (1) facilitating learning, not teaching; (2) keeping the approach student-controlled; (3) facilitating the development of four basic skills: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups; (4) eliminating textbooks; (5) eliminating exams (in favor of project outcomes) ; and (6) eliminating grades in favor of course grades assigned by teachers with input from each student and their peers. It is my thesis that this list is collectively quite different from standard pedagogy. It will be appropriately Considered innovative if the student learning improves.

Why do I believe these changes will result in innovative education? Taken together, the six changes listed in the previous paragraph have the potential to put each student in control of her/his education, to develop and convert to habits skills so important to lifelong learning that is critical to success regardless of the definition of that success, to rely on the essentially limitless information gathered from social media, to utilize organization and critical thinking skills (included in my vision of the other four skills listed by the way) to assess the gathered information for usefulness and understanding, and to address meaningful assignments. As a result, this approach will provide a learning environment providing students with Dan Pink’s three elements (autonomy, mastery, and purpose). Facilitating these efforts in such an environment, I strongly believe, will result in an innovative education for all learners involved.

How can we assess if we’re headed in the right direction? Immediately, it should be apparent that there will be no testing (except for any mandated by government); there will be facilitating, not teaching with minimal if any lecturing; there will be no focus on information chosen as ‘correct’ and included in textbooks; there will be student choices of problems addressed (associated with teacher defining questions aligned with appropriate standards); and there will be no ‘right’ answers, there will be failures to learn from, and there will be development of useful answers. Facilitated properly, these changes cannot help improve education / learning with increased motivated student engagement: biased very probably – but certainly headed in the right direction. But true assessment is also easily incorporated. Suggested tools can and should include: feedback from students including use of focus groups; ‘external’ feedback on presentations / demonstrations of outcomes; use of outcomes to improve people’s lives; and the improved and ‘not-dictated’ upgrading of student procedures. To me, the last one listed has the most potential …

The featured image above as well as the image below from George Couros represent times past when the chosen sources made up of chosen content represent the approach to education not so long ago (sadly, too often in use today…). The suggested changes (and those of many other experienced educators) are critical and INNOVATIVE in my thinking at least.

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Really??? Am I Alone???

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So I find a link to this article in a Facebook post. As I am reading, I find the following passage:

“Let’s consider a classroom of a traditional teacher:

Students come into the classroom and begin to work on a worksheet. The teacher then delivers the content for that class. It might be a lecture, video, or reading from a text. Then the students do an activity with that newly learned content. Then the teacher offers more work to practice the content usually in the form of homework. Generally this is a standard day in a classroom of a traditional teacher.”

I don’t know about you but I find this description of a ‘traditional teacher’ so very troubling – first because it’s probably more often true than I would hope and, second, it is so counter to facilitating Effective Learning.

To me, with this being the ‘problem’ that the author believes artificial intelligence and virtual reality addresses better, how can this article (sadly I encountered a  second article just last week…) get published / posted? It (actually both) improve efforts that i at least should NOT be made in the first place!

Hence the title of this short blog post: Really??? Am I alone???

Ah, Yes – Less Is More – Always

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The featured picture is yet another gem from George Couros through his phenomenal Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). Five great suggestions for sure; I’ll be discussing my favorite: “3. Less is more.”

In my 29+ years as engineering faculty, I always included group / team projects that were student-centered and student-identified – addressing a driving question from me. Leading up to the introduction of the project, the students and I would Consider working in groups via development of a group contract. We also reviewed the using problem solving effectively to address the project – with emphasis on ‘effectively.’

It never ceased to amaze me as I followed the various groups’ efforts that there were always two typical approaches to their efforts (in spite of my not-so-subtle suggestions to some that they change): (a) the groups whose key focus was developing a great starting direction for their efforts; and (b) the groups whose key focus was developing a great complete design for their project.

The results or outcomes were nearly always the same: The groups looking for the direction began their development efforts quicker, thereby encountering critical requirements faster, addressing them sooner, and arriving at a useful and timely outcome. On presentation day, they had much to say – what the critical items were, how their outcome addressed the driving question, and what could be done to probably make the outcome even better. If there was a prototype to be demonstrated, it worked!!!

The groups working on a complete design were brought to essentially a crawling pace because someone in the group (often correctly by the way) identified an issue that prevented a great design. Occasionally, they identified their flawed approach in time to yield at least a somewhat useful outcome; once in a while, they actually had a design that enabled them to develop a useful and timely outcome. But most groups ended up ‘throwing something together’ at the last possible minute, sadly at times not even on the path to a useful outcome. Their presentation was not well organized, questions posed to them were unanswerable, and any prototype, if expected, was unworkable.

I’m sure you’ve identified the connection to the blog post title by now. Doing less planning and upfront organizing, getting started as quickly as the direction / first steps is identified is better – more!!! This is an important part of problem solving that we educators must facilitate in term of habit development for our students (and ourselves by the way if not habitual already). My thesis: Addressing every situation faced – including learning – as a problem to be solved yields a better outcome quickly. With more effective efforts, there are more opportunities for innovation!!!

An Addition to ‘School vs. Learning’

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Yes, it’s the same featured photo used for my blog post of a few days ago… It’s been an important one to me since first discovering it. Very presumptuous of me I know, but I have a suggestion for an added comparison for the list in the photo.

Today at the Y, I was about to begin my regular exercise-bike ride. My routine is to exercise while listening to podcasts on my iPhone. I subscribe to a number of series and just, sort of randomly, start whichever is the first one in line. Today’s was titled “The Future of Happiness” from Amy Blankson, part of the Unmistakable Creative series. Her fundamental thesis is that “Happiness Leads to Success, rather than Success Leads to Happiness.” [The title of the podcast in fact is the name of a book she has written.] The portion of the podcast most directly linked to innovation and learning begins at about the eleventh or twelveth minute. My thoughts: Ms. Blankson provides great suggestions about the importance of happiness to success. That happiness is in large part shaped by our perception of the world. Circling back, our perception of the world associated with opportunities to help others (through innovation) leads to happiness – while leads to success.

So here’s the suggested comparison: School is connected with stress. Learning evolves from happiness.

Educators and Learning

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I’ve just completed my first reading of the latest post to the blog of R.H. Steele. His blog, “Risk to Learn,” is one of my favorites; this post, as I do for each of them, will be Considered very carefully. He reflects on the many needs / challenges of students today and asks two questions: ‘Where do academics fall in today’s education?’ and ‘Whose responsibility is it to tackle these needs / challenges?’ I agree with his thinking: It’s the responsibility of teachers to facilitate more than academics, to deal with all the needs / challenges of students.

Steele makes the statement: “When I was growing up schools had one job: Educate through the teaching of content.” For sure, back then (you know, ‘when dirt was clear – not dirty yet…’), there was much stronger parental influence reducing some unfortunate demands on teachers. But I’ll take issue with this comment in the following sense: I’m quite certain there were many educators that did more than teach content; many facilitated the learning (not the memorizing) of core knowledge and the development of the skills of lifelong learning.

Learning has progressed from the time of no books to today when books document yesterday’s research at best. My thesis: If the research and the learning tools that exist today were available at the time of Aristotle or any of the scholars of later times, the great educators back then would align with the great educators of today. And the demands for dealing with the needs / challenges of students would be the same… “I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

LEARNING -RANDOM / NON-LINEAR

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My belief: Learning (and any situation faced) will yield a better result more quickly IF approached as a ‘problem to be solved.’ That procedure used will be random and non-linear to achieve the optimum learning.

My personal problem solving procedure has the acronym, OSCAR. THE ‘S’ is for Speed Bumps, the random brainstorming of topics that might have importance to the situation at hand. The point is to not miss topics, should this step not be taken. Imagine looking to learn deeply about any topic, leaving out input because of the rush to learn.

The bigger problem results from the list of steps typical for the procedure. Suppose our ‘problem to be solved’ is learning how to write a blog post. The procedure might be something like: choose a subject, develop a title, write an introduction, discuss major points, and finish with an important takeaway – a list. Do you think anyone could draft a valuable post ‘addressing step one, addressing step two, … ???’ Of course not; as you periodically self-assess efforts, new ideas will arise, parts will be thought out of order if not inappropriate – you will ‘loop’ back to previous steps (NON-LINEARLY). That’s why we call them ‘drafts’ / why we edit our efforts!

We must help our students learn that this is routine in learning. I would add that it’s important to honestly accept that it is a problem to be solved, invoking a sometimes random, always non-linear procedure.

REFLECTION & THE INNOVATOR’S MINDSET

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It’s Week Two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) currently underway. The featured image above illustrates George Couros’ list of the eight characteristics of an innovator teacher’s approach to learning. I have referred to this image quite frequently since first encountering it. While each one is as important as the others, I’ve selected “Time for Reflection” for this blog post.

In the most recent Considerations post, I discussed the four skills that, to me, are the highest purpose for formal education. They are: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Among many of my strongly held beliefs are these: (1) Every situation anyone faces will yield a better outcome more quickly if addressing that situation is treated as a problem to be solved. And (2) the two features of effective problem solving are ’embracing ambiguity’ and ‘regular self-assessment.’  I have used the phrase, embracing ambiguity, since first hearing it in a presentation long ago (source long forgotten unfortunately). It is I believe one of the keys to innovation and that link could be (maybe will be) the subject of another blog post! Because ambiguity raises the level of risk, it increases the importance of self-assessment.

Regular self-assessment is really the first of three associated frequent steps in effective problem solving: self-assessment to gather evidence, reflection to Consider that evidence in terms of addressing the situation at hand, and refinement to the work procedure to better address the situation. My observations as well as anecdotal feedback from many educators suggest that students do not like to reflect, giving it lip service at most, all too often.

What is reflection? Let me provide my word description of it. For any situation being addressed, at any time, is defined in terms of its status – the features of its being. These would be identified through self-assessment. Also, for any situation being addressed, there are ultimate features of the outcome(s) satisfying our goals for our efforts. Finally, there is the latest set of features for the currently used procedure presumed to get from the present status to the final outcome. Three sets of features. The very important role of reflection is to consider all three sets of features in terms of whether the currently used procedure is still working – or does that procedure require refinement. As note, this self-assessment and the associated reflection and possible refinement must happen frequently during the overall addressing of the situation.

But there’s one last reflection that is equally important: the reflection on the two sets of features of the outcome – the set of desired outcome features and the set of actual outcome features. In the ideal world, these two sets would be identical and the reflection would consist of making sure all desired features were included as actual features. IF the regular assessment / reflection / refinement were done well, in the ideal world, this would be straightforward. But there is no ideal world! Time might not be sufficient, a needed resource might not be available, a ‘documented’ capability might not really exist, … The final outcome will hopefully be useful but even that might not be the case. So the reflection this time has two purposes: deciding how useful (or maybe not useful) is the final outcome; and what recommendations are appropriate for consideration if the effort were continued or repeated?

Reflection, as described in this post, has not been identified for any situation. It must be an important characteristic of all innovative efforts for or between / among the important communities associated with education: teachers and students of course; but also administrators, families, general citizens, policy people, and elected officials. For example, it’s important as teachers develop their pedagogy for facilitating student Effective Learning. And it’s important as administrators work with teachers and policy people to develop a plan to identify and address the standards for education. And so many more.

Notice I have assumed any interactions among the communities listed are fully functioning… It may very well be that some problems to be solved are improving the functioning of communities and across communities!

i hope my thinking on innovation are of value to you.