Can “we” practice change in education?

The readings this week echo concerns of creativity and the lack of skills from current models of education. In some ways I agree, in others I am not as convinced. The Langer section on learning has merit in terms of methods of learning and teaching creatively, yet there is something to knowing the basics of a discipline that help a student in the long run. I agree that being able to interpret and apply knowledge is the most important outcome of education, but if certain traits are not developed early on it may be hard for a student to find a discipline worth pursuing or that they can pursue. For instance, if one wants to work in philosophy they probably need to know Aristotle, Nietzsche, Foucault, and so on. Memorization is a valuable tool that cannot be discounted in any discipline,  different tools are needed for different disciplines.

I agree with the need to diversify, and create new paths to the same knowledge, but I still believe having a set base for a discipline is not a bad thing in its formation. Changing up how we learn that set base is up in the air for me, I think it is better to know how to apply it rather than blindly picking the theorist it belongs to. For instance, I teach global econ and world politics, and I provide my students with the proper background information on how the economy has developed the way it has, and historically that narrative can change with new discoveries but it is a narrative. The terminology and economic policies implemented by the countries in question is where students can get creative, and I encourage it. How we look at economic growth and public policy can change day by day due to our current state of information. The question then becomes what do we do we economically, and how do we account for the political actors with the power to make such decisions?

Many times the answers are not simple, but rather convoluted and at time esoteric, thus having a background of historical facts and terminology helps the students apply their knowledge. I agree methods should be flexible and open for change with an emphasis on application. However, I also think that older methods of education are extremely effective for both memorization and application. Overall, I do not disagree with the points Langer,  and Thomas and Brown, but I am hesitant in embracing their arguments.

9 Replies to “Can “we” practice change in education?”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post and I appreciate your consideration of learning that base set. I would love to hear more about how you have developed that base set and how you teach it as well. It sounds like you are still incorporating context and similar aspects in that base set. I have seen this challenge of teaching students the base knowledge a lot in engineering. We often focus on teaching specific procedures and students often have a hard time understanding the concepts and applying those concepts in different settings. I think we can still help students develop that base set of knowledge while giving context and helping students understand why they are doing what they are doing instead of just teaching step 1, step 2, step 3… I would love to hear your thoughts on incorporating context, perspectives, etc. into teaching that base set that we want students to have and be able to apply.

  2. I agree that there needs to be a base knowledge on which to build. In my blog post, I talk about the trial-and-error-and-Google method, which I propose to be a really meaningful method to learning (especially in learning programming languages). But I should clarify that I did have a basic class in programming before I did all this research on my own. Someone (my professor) first helped me understand the basics of programming and how the computer interprets my scripts. I don’t think that I would have done as well on my own without my professor teaching me the basics.

    1. I agree with Kristin (and you, Patrick) that having a professor to first help understand the basics goes a really long way in forming that base of knowledge. If done well, I think some teachers are able to teach a base of knowledge and simultaneously allow for students to actively weigh in on what does or does not make that base.

      I like the trial-and-Google method (LMGTFY is always fun to send to someone who asks for easily accessible how-to’s and demo’s). But yea, sometimes it’s nice having an actual person who is able to pinpoint where your individualized weaknesses are rather than some sort of algorithm that tries to guess the same thing. (Then again, per our class discussion last week, if you’re in a 100+ person class, you probably won’t get that individualized pinpointing…)

  3. Good post and I am on board with your thoughts. I never understood the necessity to “replace” older methods of education. Why not just build on top of them or alter them? It is certainly plausible to think that contemporary pedagogy is more than capable of and should be willing to identify what does and does not work in today’s contexts, and make changes as needed. Instead of saying that these older methods of rote memorization and directed lecturing are insufficient in their totality (thereby giving up on them cold turkey), there should be plenty of room to deconstruct what their specific failures are and respond accordingly.

  4. Nice post Patrick. I do agree that in many disciplines , a base knowledge is necessary. This can and probably should be a somewhat standardized aspect to education so all students go into future studies with similar knowledge. I have found, in teaching International Studies courses, that the disparity in background knowledge leads to students feeling left behind. I like to incorporate varied methods to assist students in getting the background knowledge (YouTube has good stuff). It is the balance of standard education and new pedagogical practices that will lead us into the future and break away from the all together standard forms of today.

  5. Your post reminds me of a course I took about how to write about science effectively. There was a chapter about knowing schemas and meeting your reader where they are coming from and working with their background. I feel the same way about students, you have to know where your student is coming from and work from small building blocks first. You have to create the base of learning before you can start detouring into the minutia of a subject or the limitations of what is being taught. It’s important to create a stable base so that students can start asking those next questions.

  6. Good afternoon Patrick,

    I absolutely agree with you in that the basics must be covered and taught so the students have a solid foundation. Without that, I’m not really sure what the point of teaching would be! There is some wiggle room on how to communicate those basics and certainly adapting the material for the current audience would be most appropriate. I was a guest lecturer the other day on recruitment and part of my presentation was on “drug testing” and the students LOVED it! From my experience you would be (or not) surprised at how many of my perspective employees failed the test and then failed out of the system. That is a record that will never go away no matter when they apply again for a job in the same company. I spun stories of hard knock truths and that I would even give my candidates a fair warning. Needless to say, I can guarantee a majority of the students will always remember my lecture on the importance of drug tests and that didn’t come from a boring book!


    Cheers, Lehi

  7. I agree with you in terms of the need for a set base. Part of the disagreement with Langer may come from the fact that her points are not discipline-specific and may seem too broad. Nevertheless, I also agree with Langer. Langer says the notion that “The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature” is a myth that undermines true learning, reduces creativity, and so on. My interpretation of her point is that learning the basics is not essentially wrong or useless, but the problem is how we deal with them. The memorization and internalization of basics are problematic if we accept them as the set of governing rules or unchangeable facts. If we treat the basics this way, we reduce the space for creativity and doubt. However, learning about and working with the basics are not essentially damaging.

  8. Patrick—first, I love your header photo. Second, I agree that some fundamentals need to be covered in class for students to at least have some scaffolding to build from. It seems like you have found a way of centering some of these fundemanteals, and then letting the more creative inquiry revolve around them. Maybe that’s a good balance to focus on the quality of what we teach.

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