Seth Godin poses a question in his TEDx talk that I have been mulling over all semester: what is school for? I think we can all agree that a school isn’t just a building to hold students for the day; although, as Parker Palmer points out in “A New Professional,” “the fact that we have schools does not mean we have education.”
I am inclined to agree with many of the points Godin makes about how education may (should?) change moving forward and with the availability of technology:
- Making lectures and course materials available online would give students control over their schedules, and the freedom to manage their time as they please. In concert with an expert in the subject matter– available either in person as Godin suggests, or online in real time– to direct questions toward, this seems like a promising model.
- There may have been a time when memorizing information was necessary, but in a world where we have constant access to resources, this is an outdated idea. It is likely that students will, over time, memorize the important facts that come up repeatedly in their work but requiring memorization and regurgitation is unnecessary and ineffective.
- Godin mentions “precise, focused education.” Products we purchase are customizable, we have precision medicine (kind of), so why not education too? I have some trouble imagining what exactly this would look like. I think of my undergraduate experience; I completed a degree with an interdisciplinary major, which gave me the ability to select courses that aligned with my interests. On the other hand, it failed to create a cohesive progression in my studies that students in established departments had.
November 26, 2018 @ 4:32 pm
I agree with you and Seth Godin. But I really want to check the truth about the online course. I don’t like online lectures because I cannot concentrate and it is definitely different from on-site lectures. We pay expensive tuition to communicate with professors and colleagues in the classroom. Do you think people will treat people who graduate from VT and those who graduate from cyber universities equally?
November 26, 2018 @ 5:03 pm
I agree that the environment of in-person lectures is different from online lectures (I prefer in-person too). But online courses have the ability to reach a much wider population. So I guess part of the question is (for the system as a whole): is the goal to educate the masses or to educate only those who are able to physically come sit in a classroom (for example) at 10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday?
To answer your question: no, I don’t think people will treat those two the same– at least not any time in the near future– because of the idea of the “famous college” that Godin mentions. I do think that institutions like VT will increasingly offer courses that are 100% online. VT currently offers some online courses (I’ll be teaching one this summer actually), and I think in the future there will be many more.
November 28, 2018 @ 4:28 pm
I think that part of the reason online lectures are more difficult to concentrate on is that you can’t communicate with your lecturer. They (1) assume that lectures are how to teach and (2) disconnect the person from teaching and learning. These are both things we’ve examined and are often seen as negative.
November 26, 2018 @ 6:04 pm
“The fact that we have schools does not mean we have education.”
Such statements from Godin are empowering, as they speak to what felt most pointless and life-sucking to me during my years of education. Class-time should be reserved for more engagement, less memorization. If students are going to be lectured at, we may as well let them slowly wither of passive boredom from the place most conducive for whatever learning they’ll be able to do from such lectures.
Your note on memorization is important, too. We can look up pretty much anything we supposedly need to memorize, and we probably won’t store much of our test-scrambling memorization into our long-term memory, anyway. What’s the point in the wasted hours? What could we have students doing differently with those hours that would prove more constructive?
November 26, 2018 @ 6:54 pm
The one point that Godin makes and you emphasize is that practicing wrote memorization is a waste of time, and I agree that it’s something that we can stray away from to an extent. No need to memorize the periodic table. However, I struggle to accept the argument that since we can just look stuff up that we don’t need to work on committing anything to memory. If everything technology could do replaced a need for humans to learn, why does anyone learn any math? A computer can do anything from addition to advanced integration better than people can.
However, at its core, I think it comes down to the fact that remembering is necessary to achieve more cognitive complexities. Bloom’s taxonomy comes to mind: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/
If we don’t remember information, how can we understand it, apply it, analyze it, synthesize it, and so on?
November 26, 2018 @ 9:47 pm
Godin makes very important points indeed. However, much as it is important to connect the dots, it is only those dots that have been collected that may be connected. The traditional approaches of schooling might still be instrumental in how one collects the dots for connecting later
November 27, 2018 @ 5:11 am
Online learning seems to provide all the benefits and conveniences. However, we still need to aware the human nature. Online learning could provide the most benefits for these self-motive students but could be a disaster for ordinary students. It just like people have a gym membership but never go to the gym. Last year, we spent some money on the online course subscription. During subscription, everyone can take any online courses. At the end of the year, we see the usage report. Only one-third of people took the course (didn’t check if they actually finish the course or not), the rest of people didn’t even register a single course.
November 27, 2018 @ 3:36 pm
I agree with Yinlin about the fact that online learning simply isn’t going to work for all students or even most students at some point in their life. I grow wary when we praise it as this all being solution when, creating engaging content seems to still have the same problems online or in person. When I ponder the “why do we go to school?” question I am often dumbfounded. I think we go to better prepare ourselves to be productive citizens with meaningful purpose and I think that is what education tries to do. The issue is when society doesn’t align with what may be purposeful or productive (as we might be seeing right now). I think instructors really need to work on why and what important aspects of courses are being taught so as to help mitigate lectures that go on forever and talk about nothing.
November 27, 2018 @ 5:03 pm
Thank you! I agree with you but there is one thing that I want to emphasize: A New Professional maybe very expensive. It would be great if the education is customizable, but it also means that we need more instructors and devices. To develop varied study approaches for different students, the instructors have to spend more time with the students individually. Of course, I hope every school can take the way you mentioned, but we must pay attention to the equity since the education should be a public good.
Sarah Elizabeth Shawver
November 28, 2018 @ 1:24 am
I do agree with the point that information should be available online. Often professors avoid putting slides on Canvas to encourage students to attend lectures. However, this ends up punishing students who miss lectures for perfectly valid reasons. Putting resources and information online gives students autonomy over their education. However, I don’t think that means every course needs to be online only. Labs are a really important component in STEM education. It gives students a different way of learning, because it’s hands on experience.that is difficult to get online.
November 28, 2018 @ 3:19 am
Watching seth Godin’s ted talk, I was kinda torn by his views. On one side he makes good points when it comes memorization, obedience, and giving the baseball example, on the other side he takes it to such an extreme that it is very hard to agree with him. First of all, in my own extremely biased opinion, online class are a very bad way to learn (especially engineering). Maybe if students were brought up on online class that might make a difference, but from what i have encountered online classes are far inferior to actual classes. Second, when people talk about memorization they treat people as robots who have no clue or any understanding of what they memorize. Although that might be the case sometimes, the majority of the time it is not. For every equation you memorize in engineering classes, there is a couple of pages of derivation that the professor spends hours on to make students understand before they memorize. What actually happens with most students is that they opt out of the explanation because it takes so much time and effort to understand (requires critical thinking) and instead just memorize the equation.
November 28, 2018 @ 2:45 pm
Thank you for your insights. I too wrote down Seth Godin’s list of how how education should change moving forward. I think it is an excellent example of how we need to remember what’s truly important to embody in our teaching practices and what we need to throw out with the old garbage.
November 28, 2018 @ 4:36 pm
I really appreciated that you brought up the question “what is school for?” As someone who spent a few years in and around the K-12 schooling environment, I have to say that a lot of times school really is, “just a building to hold students for the day.” If you don’t believe me then just listen to any debate any time a school system considers the possibility of changing its hours. The fact is that for certain parts of the public (including some actors that should have good reasons to aspire to more) school is first and foremost a babysitting service for keeping kids out of trouble while their parents are at work. This isn’t to say that K-12 can’t or shouldn’t be more than an elaborate baby sitting service, but at some level public school teachers have to deal with both the perception and reality that this is a part of what they do. Unfortunately, I think that higher education is not always immune to a similar “why?” issue. How many students come to college or even complete a degree simply because, “its what you do after high school?” I admire Godin’s ideas about transforming education, but I’m not sure that innovative approaches have a lot of hope of success unless we, as a whole society, begin to rethink the “why?” question and develop clearer ideas about the value of education.
November 28, 2018 @ 6:17 pm
I liked the standpoint of how traditional education setting is being changed in different dimensions. With the ubiquity of all the available resources and data, the idea of memorizing many subjects or topic is quite unnecessary (unless for very basic ideas). I’m really grateful that how such enormous online information has helped in many situations to retrieve all the needed infomation to redo a task or refresh the knowledge on a particular subject we obtained before.
November 28, 2018 @ 6:54 pm
I totally agree with your second point. I spent an incredible amount of time memorizing and regurgitating information and equations during my undergraduate studies and it was a huge waste of time. Whenever I need to apply that information I just look it up, so I needed to have it somewhere in my notes but I didn’t need to spend time and energy memorizing it. To make things worse, most students would end up studying for tests last minute and then lose all of the material that they studied for the test immediately after. If application of the material was valued more highly than memorization and regurgitation I think students would strongly benefit.
Savannah Paige Murray
November 28, 2018 @ 8:52 pm
Thank you for this post! I am particularly interested in Godin’s suggestion of making course materials available online. Many students I have met at VT are in 18-20 credit hours, aka very, very busy! I am interested in the ways in which we can use technology to help our students have more control over their own chaotic schedules. I do think, however, this technique may be more easy to implement in some disciplines that others. I teach writing and worry it may be more difficult to deliver content and provide feedback in this setting than in a traditional classroom.
Kristen Felice Noble
November 28, 2018 @ 10:20 pm
Thanks for your post. Your comment about your undergraduate experience being of your own design rather than a cohesive program is very interesting. I’d like to learn more about how you felt about your experience during your undergraduate education and afterward reflecting on your experience. I hope we discuss this tonight in class.
November 28, 2018 @ 10:32 pm
Hi Medha- Like you, I found myself in engaged and in agreeance with many of Godin’s points. The first point that you called out has so much potential to change educational access and quality: if students can access SMEs from across the world, that could seriously improve the quality of current lectures. It could also bring down the cost of education by making it possible for a consortium to pay for a speaker and recording the lecture once and updating it yearly.
As an aside: The Economist just had an article about technology in the international grade-school classrooms as a way to mitigate challenges with teacher performance, which may be of interest (https://www.economist.com/international/2018/11/17/in-poor-countries-technology-can-make-big-improvements-to-education).
On the second point that you raised, I must disagree (partially). I worked in civil works engineering and heard from one of the older project managers that the current engineers would literally not be able to design a civil works infrastructure project on paper if they ever needed to. Maybe this will never happen due to technology, but my one concern with doing away with all memorization is the creation of a “garbage in, garbage out” phenomenon whereby students can only create using technology and can’t create without it. One still needs to be able to check their work, so to speak.
August 14, 2020 @ 7:13 am
Wonderful report, definitely interesting to read your thinking on this subject.