Elephant. Meet room.

A conversation with @steve_collis this morning brought up something that for me is a huge, pervasive issue in edu but something most of us aren’t talking about. We talk a lot about changing the way educators do education, changing the way institutions work, how broken things are from a delivery point of view. I do it all the time. What we almost never talk about is the fact that education (and particularly higher education, which is a non-compulsory fee-based sector) is a consumer industry and our consumers’ (students, but also parents – aka ‘the voting public’) concept of education is a very, very big elephant.

It’s the thing with desks. It’s the thing with teacher cf student. It’s the thing with readings and homework and tests and forums and exams. Steve’s point this morning was around this video, which shows (among other things), an “innovative vision” of future education – kids sitting at desks watching a teacher. The only thing that was different was they all had sexy bits of touchscreen glass with stuff whizzing around on it. It’s pretty standard fare as far as stuff like this goes.

It’s the thing where any non-traditional models get poor reviews, low attendance or low engagement. It’s the thing where you ask students about higher education and they talk about printing readings and downloading podcasts and quizzes. It’s the thing where you read parents commenting on news sites about the value of high scores and discipline and doing what you’re told and homework. It’s the thing where every singe instance of education in media and entertainment involves desks, papers, exams and above all, study. It’s the thing where schools and universities promote themselves via grades and scores and achievements. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s a culture and it’s a problem and we’re not talking about it.

So. Choices. We can continue to work in a demand-driven model. We can innovate ruthlessly and damn the customers (anyone remember the backlash when Apple stopped putting firewire in stuff?). We can ignore it all because thinking about education as a commercial industry is soulless and horrible. Or we can start talking about it and thinking about how we might go about a culture shift from the consumers’ perspective. What we have in our favour is the fact that we know that education could be better, and we have some pretty hardcore and convincing examples of when it is better (MassivelyMinecraft, SCIL/Anarchy in Learning, BIE etc). What we need is a way to sell it. Convincingly and pervasively.

So. Let’s talk. How do we start changing minds? Not of teachers, but of students. Of parents. Of the Herald-commenting public. Of the media. How do we sell them a better picture?

5 Replies to “Elephant. Meet room.”

  1. Absolutely. Really, when we say any change to the structure of education involves a “cultural” change, this applies as much to students as it does staff. After all, by the time they reach higher education they will have spent over a decade in a very specific model of learning and teaching. Good or bad, this is frequently what they relate to, and any divergence from that starts to get uncomfortable; much like better the devil you know.

    I think from the institution and teachers standpoint, the worry is from adverse impacts on student feedback. I have a feeling the fear is that truly innovative learning and teaching will venture too far into the “uncomfortable” territory from the students standpoint, which will result in poor reviews from them. So again, better the devil you know – let’s innovate inside the same box.

    It seems to me that, if higher education is ever going to be truly innovative, the innovation needs to start well before them. So students arriving at uni (or elsewhere) will already be familiar with working and learning differently.

  2. The stereotyped classroom in the Corning video has been a pretty regular feature of these kinds of videos – I remember a far scarier version though, from the BBC, that showed students sitting in darkness watching their own screens, and only interacting with the teacher at the end of the lesson as they left the room. So it could be worse…

    The elephant in the room is focused around the assessment system – because despite all we know and have changed over the years, there’s still that point in time where a student’s achievement over the years is neatly summarised into a single numeric score. (It’s a bit like summarising a business through its annual profit, and ignoring customer satisfaction, business growth etc).

    As somebody who’s interviewed lots of graduates seeking employment, it can be disheartening to realise that the degree gets them into the interview, but it’s the skills, knowledge and behaviours that get them the job – and the employer has to assess these subjectively in 45 minutes – because the traditional assessment system doesn’t.

    I would say that students from Steve Collis’s school are going to have a head start when it comes to demonstrating their ability in the job interview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *