I’m sure it happens to you. There you are at work, when you ask yourself, how would Plato handle it? What would Peter the Great do in this situation with your missing lunch, that was there just an hour ago waving at you in the fridge?
Perhaps in the next few weeks you will visit one of the hundreds of thousands of web sites that are filled with educational theory. Theory that sounds great on paper virtual or otherwise, but never really worked out so well in the classroom.
It was boring. It sounded like it was spoken on Venus. The real world applications were not there, unless you were prepping to be Socrates at your part-time job.
There continues to be great buzz about this idea of taking higher ed, pushing theory out the tower window and focus only on skills.
My question is why start there? Why wait, until we are at this level?
Blast from the Past
I was once a high school teacher at an inner city school. The challenge I faced was that when the bell rang, the kids flew out of my classroom. During the class, some students were interested in the topic, others were not. They were learning as I had learned, and their parents before them and before them and so on.. had learned.
Something had to change.
Then I read a book from some guy who taught at an inner city high school in Baltimore and found that when he allowed his students to be in “teams” and select their own “nickname” and compete at the end of the week (from lessons they learned), they seemed to enjoy his subject matter.
I followed his approach and added my own spin by bringing in real-world scenarios to my daily classes. Every scenario included all the variables (components) they would need, built upon the information they had learned earlier in the week. Teams were created, students placed in those teams and nick names created. Standings too.
And then something happened. Just as that teacher had seen, I saw it too. Kids stayed in the class, when the bell rang. They were more engaged. They learned new skills, built upon real world (in this case Journalism was the subject matter – both print and broadcast), and everybody was involved.
Looking back at it, components of gamification were in play, but the scenario based learning (as I called it) was the essential glue that made it work.
I followed the same mantra when I went and taught at a university. The information changed. The scenarios changed. The complexitity changed. The results? Higher engagement, new skills, improved upon skills and application driven learning – training if you will at the university level.
And that is what this is all about, what we should be focusing on our schools today, with the power of e-learning and immersive learning, the empowermeant of skills based training, rather than theory with a mix of “activities” or “group think” – which is really a bunch of people in a group, talking amongst themselves, writting down some ideas, that are good, average and yes poor, and then others respond and whalla, class bell has rung.
Training is In, Teaching is out
Before I get slammed with educators demanding me to be sent to the far reaches of the world from a cannon, let me explain that I am not saying we should get rid of teachers, nor the very important and highly underpaid field of teaching, rather we should change the way teachers are taught – which is heavy into the theory. How often are you using Gagne? Who today is still saying Kirkpatrick all the way!!
I went an alternative route to be able to teach, but still had to pass the same professional and subject exams that students studying education in college did, in order to become a teacher in their respective state.
Education is one of the few fields that I have seen where theory is so ingrained in the subject matter that you can see why teachers burn out, have mixed results in the classroom, among other items. Is your principal really a nitwit? Maybe. Have you had to add multiple job roles you never thought you would need, in order to be a teacher today? Absolutely, and where was that in your university class?
What teachers were not being taught it what they need in today’s classroom. Those new skills needed to adopt, adapt, understand, enhance, develop, apply, utilize, synthesize and experience.
What they get instead is the same approach that Judy Ol’School headmaster was provided in 1803, on the prairies of Nebraska. The same, boring theory. With a toss-in of being a student teacher for a period of time, and then off to your classroom you go.
Professional Development Days
If you have never been a teacher, these words will mean little to you, but anyone who has been a teacher whether it is K-6, middle school or high school, will know what those two words – Professional Development – mean.
Besides free dougnuts (coaches rule!), and coffee, it means listening to someone or some folks talk for a long period of time on whatever is the new hot subject or some personality fun test – I’m green (thinker). What it never is? Learning new skills that can be applied into actual teaching. Skills. Not theory. Not someone’s favorite take after they read in Readers Digest this is what we all should be doing.
Nor an opportunity to hear from the Prinicpal how rough they have it, and how you should be happy to help the school became a top rated one, by doing things they never mentioned during those college classes.
Train to Teach
That is what I am saying here. Turn those PD days into actual training sessions on how to use everything from the computer itself (you think this isn’t an issue?), to the LMS, to the course tools by applying it into the real world – the classroom.
That is step one.
Step two is having the teachers take an interactive course on some subject matter they will face in the classroom or could face. AR/VR and even MR (not ready for prime time) can bring a real life experience (depending on the skill set), much more “alive” then say them watching a video, or reading an e-book.
A fully interactive course with real-life scenarios can match and surpass some VR content, because as with anything it is how it is built in the first place that is the key. If you doubt me, grab a VR headset with webVR and go surf the web. Or watch a movie thru VR and compare it to you being five feet in front of the movie screen.
A series of courses could be created based on real-life situations that happen during the school year, bringing about a new level of “real time” to the training environment. Any teacher in any grade can relate to a student who is using attention seeking behavior (adult learners do it too).
What you do with it though it another matter. I’ve seen trainers at workplaces get caught off guard with no way to resolve this behavior, just as often as I’ve seen it with teachers (including college professors too).
An online learning course with a table of contents, and scenarios at each chapter level, can be built in such a way, that if someone was to go linear it would take them 10 minutes, but as with the power of online learning, the real success is selecting the areas of interest you want to learn, and going back over and over actually attain and sythensize.
If you think this type of training can only be applied to K-12, you are so far wrong. Training and universities are made for one another. Why some folks still believe that if Mark has a doctorate from fancy U and teaches at Super Fancy U, he is a great educator. Mark could be a great researcher and a lousy educator. He could be at a univeristy whose primary focus is a research institutition, not a teaching institution (research is still relevent, but not the primay directive – post-tenure).
MOOCs seem to be in love with the fancy university professor or facutly member. The assumption is that because it is Dr. Fancypants, expert of widgets, they will do an outstanding job expousing information via a MOOC setting.
I saw that same episode – on a video from Professor CD guy. Still theory drivel just wrapped into an online classroom experience, which is really synchronous based learning at its worst.
Have you ever wondered why corporate follows asychronous based learning and academia prefers synchronous based? Take a MOOC and see for yourself.
Academia is too heavy on the theory for its own good. Everything has evolved in the world, we no longer are taught COBOL (and I thank G-D every day for that), nor do we use pencil sharpners or pencils for that matter (how is that industry still around?).
I once sat in a department meeting with my fellow professors, lecturers, instructors and had to listen to how a couple of folks from the communication department were not getting along, because of one of them was using a jack knife to clean his fingernails, and thus he was “threatening” the other two. As if this couldn’t get any stranger, they used to all be buddies.
Another session I sat in, was not department wide, rather university wide and was discussing financials and students. In other words, how to attract more students, so we can acquire more dollars and thus do more of this or that, without having to cut this or that. I can’t recall how I was selected to be a part of this “group,” but I can say it was a small unit of folks who wanted to change the dyanmic of what was facing us head-on.
Even then I knew that e-learning was the answer.
But where I didn’t see at that time, which I can see clearly now, was that that would fix only half the problem. Change the application process (get rid of it), allow anyone to be accepted, pay a set fee per year for X credits (upon completion), offer 100% online Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate, bring in those scenarios thus knocking away the Synchronous based approach, add a few of this and a few of that. And when needed create a consortium of colleges similar but in various parts of the country or the world to offer again the courses, etc. needed for students to graduate with the student’s name being on that university degree by the stated univeristy or joint universities.
By my own number calculations back then, the revenue potential was and still to this day enormous. Far more than most, frankly a lot of people realize.
What though, and I stated it earlier, is what I didn’t realize, was the other half.
The professors, lecturers, full or half-time faculty who were teaching the courses. Sure I knew some shouldn’t be in a classroom to begin with, and so being online would only be worse, but the thing I didn’t see it was theory.
Just as with teachers, professors (inc. lecturers, instructors, etc.), need to learn the skills to apply in today’s world (even in that world back in the late 90s). They need to be trained. Think of it as a reboot. With software we constantly have updates. Yet, when we are educating the future, we still rely on floppy disks.
Teaching is one of the most important professions in the world. I surmise that you, like me has a teacher that you respected. Someone who made a difference in your life, that you wish you could tell them.
Perhaps you also have a professor as well.
But there are many folks who have no one. Not because they had a series of awful humans presenting in a classroom (although I bet my algebra teacher ran that team), but because those educators did not have the skills needed.
Instead of being in the ivory tower, let’s start at the ground level.
And recognize what we all know.
To Jackson Moynahan, Journalism Lecturer and Dr. Charles Fleming (grad advisor and oustanding journalism, mass comm., and stats professor) – Thank you.