Saturday, September 02, 2006

Education: product or process?

I was struck by the final sentence of a recent post on George Siemens' blog:
"We have designed education to promote certainty (i.e. a state of knowing)...we now need to design education to be adaptable (i.e. a process of knowing)."
I read it almost immediately after a tutorial at Jordanhill where we explored the need to engage pupils in meaningful learning. The students at the tutorial were keen to hang onto rote leaning arguing that there is some stuff that you just have to know. I didn't dismiss this, but it seems to me that rote learning is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

I think that George's final sentence sums this up. Education should not only be about what you know - how many "facts" you can recall and write on a test paper. If that's how we view education, we could end up turning schooling into a version of The Weakest Link. (And in case you are confused, I think that would be a bad thing!)

originally uploaded by YeeJen
I remember, many years ago, a professor at Jordanhill saying, "Knowledge is like fish - it goes off!" A couple of my colleagues got quite upset by this, but I think he had a point - especially in the fast moving world of technology. For example, I used to know the control codes you sent to an Epson dot-matrix printer to make the text print in bold, or italics, or double sized. I knew them because you had to type them into your word processed document. But this is knowledge that has gone off! I don't need to do it any more and I've forgotten how. In the same way I know how to use <b>, <i> and <h1> in html documents - knowledge that hasn't gone off yet, but is certainly on the turn.

What is more important, I think, is that I know when it is appropriate to use these text effects and I am confident that if I had to find out how to do it again, I'd know what to do. It's like the definition of intelligence I came back from SETT with last year:
Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do.

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Chris said...

The best thing any pupil ever said to me after her Higher English was that I had taught her"how" rather than "what" so that she could tackle new literature for herself. I wanted to shout - but contented myself with a wee smile.

Duncan__ said...

In Computing, we're given a list of the things that pupils should know how to do, so we have to make sure that they do know how to do them.
Of course, we do this because the pupils will be examined on those same things at the end of the session.
But they won't all be spending the rest of their lives (groan) developing Visual Basic 6.0 programs, so there must be another reason ... a higher reason.
I haven't really stepped off the probationer-teacher rollercoaster to reflect yet. But I would guess that, in this instance, it's probably developing logical thinking.
Any other ideas?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like your saying that your knowledge of control codes is less valuable now as it is not applicable. In which case the facts about historic dates - battle of Hastings occurred in 1066 - because it cannot be applied to contemporary situations is less valuable or relevant.

There are many facts relating to computer technology that are limited in their applicability - what does RAM stand for? - for example. It doesn't mean they have gone off.

Even in language teaching we would prefer people to have both an knowledge of what a word means and the ability to look it up if they don't.

Perhaps a visit to Blooms Taxonomy or just the detailed content in the Standard Grade Computing Arrangements would be in order.

To Duncan you use VB6 to teaching programming according to the arrangements SG/Int1/Int2/Higher/etc. This requires both specific knowledge of the IDE and knowledge of programming concepts.


David said...

Hello Kenneth

Applicability has something to do with it, but is not the whole story. Also, applicability is in itself a slippery concept - is 1066 still "applicable" today I would say yes. As the saying goes, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. So the facts about the battle could well still have relevance to modern situations - it could even be argued that we are still feeling the effects of 1066 in our day-to-day lives. Similarly with RAM. It could be argued that knowing what it stands for (and why that particular misnomer was applied in the first place) could help you understand what it does and how it works - which is both applicible and useful.

Why do we need to konw anything? Is the knowledge in itself valuable or does it only become valuable when you apply it? To take your example from language teaching - is there a value in a pupil knowing a word if they are never going to use it? If all you are interested in is applicability I think you could argue it both ways; if they don't ever use it, it's useless: if they don't know it exists, how could they ever use it? (Like newspeak - if they don't have the words, how can they form the thoughts?)

I don't think that was my main point though. It seems to me that while the specific knowledge of which codes work with an Epson dot matrix printer has gone off, the process of embedding codes in my word processed document meant that I understood the concept of writing html documents. So what, in the long run was better(for want of another word)? Good old Blooms may well be a helpful way to think about it.

I'm still developing my thinking on this... Thanks for your contribution Kenneth.

Ulrich said...

If we go back with the help of wikipedia to the roots of the word education, will will find that:

"The word education is derived from the Latin educare (with a short u) meaning "to raise", "to bring up", "to train", "to rear", via "educatio/nis", bringing up, raising. In recent times an alternative assertion is that it derives from a different verb: educere (with a long u), meaning "to lead out" or "to lead forth". There is an English word from this verb, "eduction": drawing out. This is considered by some to be a false etymology, used to bolster the theory that a function of education is to develop innate abilities and expand horizons."

Whatever root might be right it always refers to a process of bringing up, raising, training, leading forth etc. It does not define a state to be reached or a product.