There isn’t a Magic Wand

I have came across this article by Dr. Maryellen Weimer. Dr Weimer starts the article how someone approached her and complained about ineffectiveness of some methods she was suggesting, ultimately blaming her for failure. In her response, Dr Weimer states several points:

1. No strategy, policy, activity or assignment “works” the same way for every student.

2. No strategy, policy, activity or assignment “works” for every teacher.

3. No strategy, policy, activity, or assignment “works” in every course.

4. Make predictions but don’t be surprised by the outcome.

5. No new approach is the best it can be the first time you try it.

6. The success of any strategy, policy, activity, or assignment ought to be measured by how well it promotes learning.

In my short educator’s career so far, I have seen similar approach to the person that was complaining to Dr Weimer. Somehow, some educators expect that there is a list of “to do” and “not do” things, and they just need to implement them. Just use the magic wand, say the magic words, and everything will be all right. Well, teaching is not problem solving. However, problem solving is part of teaching. But there is much more to it.

So, dear educators – especially engineering educators – you do not work with concrete or steel here. There is no “for problem A, solution is B” approach here. There is no magic wand. Remember that you are working with humans. And that all those humans, no matter how similar they might be in many aspects, are all different. All of them. All those that have ever lived, that live right now, or will ever live. No one from those people is the same. Consequently, something that might work with one individual might not work with the other.

Conclusively, I agree with all the points Dr Weimer made. I would add that the reason why we make mistakes is our skewed perception of education as a process. My guess is that we are still constrained by the classical, moving assembly line, notion of education – the one where you just need to add the exact piece at the exact time to an identical object. Education of the future, as I see it, should be completely customized. From customization at in-class assessment level, to customization of individual educational trajectories. And all for the sake of promoting learning and development.

However, until that far future, we can start by thinking twice about the methods we use, especially in relation to students’ previous knowledge and behavior. And for that, we need to get to know our students. So, educators, dedicate some effort to understand preconceptions and behavior of your students. Try to find those similarities that you can easily recognize and incorporate into curriculum, but also try to find those aspects of diversity that makes us all individual human beings.

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