I’ve been involved in a local initiative as of late. We are trying to develop a long-term strategic plan for our school system. I am part of two subcommittees, each of which are comprised of administrators, teaches, parents and community members. It is a noble cause, in part designed to open communication between the different constituents as well as develop a long-term vision for our local schools. It has stimulated several interesting and, at times, heated discussions. Many people are passionate about education here, and the diversity of voices and thoughts is appropriately expanding and pushing the conversation.
Recently, one of our subcommittee met with several members of our community. We asked them to discuss the preparedness of our high school graduates as well as what skills they would need moving forward. There were admission officers, local business owners and corporate workers. The panel was diverse, eager to share their knowledge and by and large well prepared.
There was a lot of discussion about globalization, the need for our students to learn about cultures and even here in New Hampshire, the need to understand the importance of diversity. It was refreshing to hear a local hospital executive talk about how students need to collaborate with people from all over the world, even if they never leave New Hampshire because of their connections with doctors, suppliers, and medical institutions all around the world. Because of that, students need to understand a variety of cultures, opinions, and backgrounds.
At one point the conversation turned to college and the skills our students need to do well there. There was some talk of students being able to work independently, to manage their time, and to live on their own. And then one admissions officer said that students need to be able to take notes at lectures. Really? Notes? Aren’t we passed that? Weren’t we moving toward digital lectures? Wasn’t iTunesU going to reinvent learning? (Shouldn’t it?) Can’t students – no any person anywhere in the world – get MIT lectures all free online? Why would a student take a single note in a lecture (or even attend) when she can listen to an MIT professor on her own time, at her own pace, in her own place? This is not to slight our colleges and universities, but we’re talking about MIT! There may not be ten more prestigious universities in the world and they are offering the knowledge and expertise of their professors for free! And this college admissions officer is telling us our students have to learn to take notes. Seriously?
Recently, Chris Lehmann wrote a post called, Inversions. In it, Chris writes the following,
Then, class, rather than being a time when all kids sat and received the instruction, could be the time when they reinforce skills by doing problem sets, worked on real-world application projects, collaborated with teachers to reinforce concepts, etc… in some ways, it’s an inversion of what we traditionally think of as a math class. Right now, in traditional classrooms, class is where the teacher demonstrates concepts (often with some time for individual reinforcement and work), but the bulk of application / practice / etc… is done at home where there isn’t much chance for help.
If we use technology to invert that idea, so that kids could watch the teacher’s demonstration of the skills and concepts at home (and with the ability to rewind when necessary,) we could allow kids the opportunity to apply and practice their knowledge in the space where they can get help, collaborate, etc… doesn’t that make more sense?
Yes, Chris, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. The power of educative technology should be harnessed so that we can empower our teachers to do what they do best, challenge, inspire, comfort, and assess. Let’s take the “technician” out the teacher. By using various technologies to deliver information (lectures, videos, slideshows, etc) we can leverage the expertise of our teachers by allowing them to use their face to face time to engage students in inquiry-based, problem-solving experiences. If educational leaders allow their teachers to simply lecture, when the infrastructure is there to allow them to do so much more, they are not doing their job.
But, back to our college admissions officer. If that is really what colleges want from our students, shouldn’t we be preparing them for more? I am not naive enough to think that college is not necessary. The reality of today’s world is such that a college degree is almost necessary if one is to pursue a “professional career” – and that it not to suggest that a trade (ie: carpentry, pluming, electician) is not a profession – but for students to move into the corporate track, the reality is that they need a college education. But, to suggest that a necessary skill for a college education, in today’s world, is to be able to take notes during lecture is too myopic and too simplistic. If that is the way that colleges think, it’s time for k-12 to push the conversation and to force colleges and universities to think more globally and realize that our students deserve more.