It’s easy to name the problems; it’s much harder to fix them

This week’s content has my brain spinning. I have heard much of it before: grades are bad, motivation is key, rewards and punishment are unhelpful. Every time I hear these things, I don’t disagree. There is plenty of proof; however, I am stuck with the same question: how do we fix it?

Our society lives by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Here’s the problem, though: we disagree about what is broken.

I am no expert, and I have not been teaching that long, but in my experience, I feel confident in saying this: education is broken. We need to fix it.

Grades are a motivator, yes, but they can also motivate laziness. A student can be motivated to get the lowest grade possible to pass. That, inherently, means the student is not motivated to learn; they are motivated to get by. Education should make students learn, not get grades.

I completely grasp the idea of eliminating grades. As someone who loves qualitative data, I see the merit in written summaries, conferences, and conversations. There are more meaningful (and useful) than a letter or a number. I also see how very time-consuming those things are for a teacher. Moreover, I see students compare grades and scores, essentially ranking themselves compared to others but never caring about what was learning and how they are growing. Practicality and education are always at odds.

I always argue that the greatest motivator of human behavior is fear. We fear the bad grade, losing money, disappointing people, and many other things. It’s interesting to think about how education–the fundamental thing we provide to everyone–basically exacerbates and solidifies these fears in people from a young age. Go to the potty? You get an M&M. Don’t? Disappointment. It starts so young, but the sad reality is that it never ends. Life is a cycle of the same game with different scenarios.

I feel like I am just continuing to agree and note the problems, but I am not providing any more solutions. Truly, I think the easiest solution is to try to implement new tactics. It requires research, trial and error, and effort–things that most people dislike. If enough of it is done, though, the new norm will start. We must be dynamic.

Finally, I have some thoughts about MOOCs. My dissertation work is about increasing access to education so that students, regardless of SES or geographic location, can have access to a good education–one that is not determined by things out of their control. For this, I believe MOOCs are great; they are working toward that goal. However, the depth of content and course design leaves much to be desired. I think the idea is awesome, but much needs to be done to improve the quality.

 

Teachers Make a Difference

This week’s content has me fired up! I am such an advocate of education, so I am a sucker for any inspirational talk that reminds me of my purpose. I am also a lover of any literature that challenges the norm in education. After all, education is about growth, right?

Ken Robinson is a funny guy with a good purpose: highlighting the issues in education. He immediately had my attention when he properly defined irony: No Child Left Behind. As a former high school English teacher, that legislation and the push for standardized testing left me frustrated on a regular basis. Ken points out the honest truth: standardized testing is a push for conformity—not diversity—and that alone is ruining the purpose of education. Testing should not be the dominant force; it should be an option some take to prove knowledge—not one that is mandated across the U.S. (T., 2013).

The problem with the standardized testing, among many, is that it pushed for rote memorization, which ties into one of Langer’s seven myths about education (2016). This is not real learning! Moreover, in non-memorization based subjects, like English, it was nearly impossible to prepare students for the tests because they were full of content that was watered down, poor applications of useful skills. Essentially, the way to be a successful teacher is to teach to the test—not to the content. This defeats the entire purpose. However, if you were a history teacher (please don’t get mad, Dr. Nelson!), then your job was easy: teach the facts. You’ll be fine.

All of these thoughts got me thinking about my least favorite quote of all time: “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach.” It basically implies that teachers are less than; they might know the facts, but they cannot apply them well enough to be successful in the real world. Ken Robinson highlights what teachers do that goes far beyond the content: they mentor, they provoke, they engage (T., 2013). Education happens in the classrooms, the hallways, the lunchrooms, and more—not in committee meetings. Teachers deserve all of the respect in the world, so I live by a different version of that quote: “Those who can teach, and those who can’t do.”

If you’re looking for another video to get you fired up about education (and that quote), spend three minutes watching this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4. It’s a little edgy, but it reiterates the truth: teachers make a difference.

References

Langer, E. J. (2016). The power of mindful learning. Hachette UK.

(2013, May 10). How to escape education’s death valley | Sir Ken Robinson. Retrieved September 6, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc&feature=youtu.be

 

Storytelling and Technology: The Keys to Effective Education

There were two ideas that stood out to me this week: lecture and technology.

My favorite point about lecture is that it is good for telling stories. This plays into an innocence we have. Storytelling, hopefully, reminds us of being read to as a child or hearing a great story from a family member or friend. We have an innate curiosity about the plot of other people’s lives. In fact, storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication, and if done right, it is unbelievably captivating.

Most recently, the rise of TED talks and podcasts have re-illuminated this platform. Everyone loves a good story, and these platforms allow great stories to be shared worldwide.  How are they shared, though? Technology. Technology allows for information to be rapidly spread, which contributes to learning. In a traditional classroom, though, not all subject matter lends itself to storytelling and not all professors have a story to tell. This is where technology and storytelling can be blended to reach students. With a little Googling, I would venture to say that every teacher could find something relevant to their course, allowing storytelling to be a part of his or her curriculum.

Here is the truth: technology is here to stay. Full bans and full embraces of it are ineffective. Like most things in life, the key is moderation. Technology has wonderful uses in the classroom, but it is also can be highly distracting. Regardless, my favorite point deals with the effectiveness as a teacher. An engaging teacher will captivate students to the point that they put down the technology. This should always be the goal of a teacher: be more exciting than someone’s phone or computer. The other thing that is critical to remember, though, is that we are all human. We have thoughts in our heads that extend beyond the classroom, and a student can be just as distracted by thoughts as they are by technology, so it’s not always the device that is the problem; it is the most convenient thing to blame, though.

My final point plays into my research and general paradigm about education. Technology is one of the greatest equalizers we have; ignoring it would be stupid. In a perfect world, every student would have access to the same level of education regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location. As it currently stands, this is far from the truth. Where a student lives and how much money they have basically controls their educational path. Technology can help to change this. If every kid could have a device, the internet, and educational platforms at their disposal, they could potentially learn more than their school could provide. Yes, of course motivation is a key factor here, but having the access to education via technology is a start.

Networked Learning

WIthin education, there are so many trends that are constantly being thrown around and changing, though the basic premise of education has not really changed: teachers are there to help students learn. How they do that, though, has basically always been up for debate, but very little has truly changed over time. We have operated in a one-size-fits-all mindset for so long–sure that lecture, notes, and reading are the best ways to learn; however, as teachers, we have this dichotomy that paralyzes us: do we do the new, adventurous thing that is being encouraged, or do we stick with what we know? Most of us chose the latter because it is easier and more comfortable. When it comes to technology and the internet, though, I think education has become slightly more adventurous; that does not mean that technology is being used to its best potential. It is hard to deny the impact technology has had on society; content can be discovered in seconds, lives can be shared across the globe, and communication of all kinds is easier than ever. When it comes to education, technology is a networking gold mine; there is no doubt about it. What holds people back? Fear. Fear that it isn’t what they used to do. Fear that it won’t work. Fear that students will dislike it. Fear that privacy will die. To be fair, these fears have validity. We have all had technology crash and burn. We have all seen a good lesson go to trash when the technological component fails. We have all heard negative comments about technology and how the old way was easier. So, how do we fix this? Acceptance and practice. I think it is fair to say that technology is not exactly going to go away. Educational trends are so common that most people ignore them, knowing that they will die as quickly as they are created. Technology is different, though. If we accept that it is here to stay and commit to learning how to best use it in the classroom, that will make a huge difference. No one was an expert at the smartphone when it was first released, but with practice, we all can do many more things with our fingertips. We all love the new gadget that makes something better and easier. Now, imagine if we had the same curiosity and excitement for technology in education!