Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Classroom Community - times be changin'

First thing's first. It's called "A Vision of Students Today." Have fun with it! I'll see you in 4 minutes and 44 seconds. Here's the video.

Did you have fun? Let's move on...

Education (elementary, secondary, post-secondary) is terribly hierarchical. Authoritarian, even. The teacher is the expert. The student is the learner. At universities across Canada, professors orate their ideas and "findings" to hundreds - maybe thousands - of students who cram into an annonymous lecture hall and try to absorb the distant material. These classrooms are pretty one-dimensional and, more importantly, a lot of 'em are grossly out of date.

Clearly, there are exceptions. Because, clearly, the world is changing. More likely, it's changed...exponentially. There's just too much information out there for any one idea to be tackled by anything less than a team - that's why The Gumboot is getting so much critical acclaim; it's the collaboration, baby!

Sorry, teachers, but when it comes to our classrooms, we're not always the experts. Especially when it comes to technology and how we use a medium like the internet to access information. Navigating its system of pipes and tubes, students can use the web to find a litany of supportive, contrasting, useless, and hilarious sources on any given topic. The more we educators pretend to know it all, the more our students will Facebook and Twitter their way into unproductive apathy. So, we need to include them in the lesson.

Here's my modest proposal. Let's change things in the classroom. In collaboration as students and teachers, let's make a transition from hierarchy to community. Many post-secondary educators out there know a lot about a little, which is great and amazing and important for students to learn. And many students know a little about a lot. And the classroom community can be the vehicle for, among other things, these ideas from everywhere to come together under knowledgeable guidance. Who knows, with the right discussion, a classroom might even turn into a venue for positive social change.

Interested in making your classroom a community? Here are some strategies to try out:

Edutainment: the concept of edutainment combines performance with learning; basically, make the classroom a fun place to be. Use YouTube. Play games. Talk about pirates. And, most importantly, when you link learning outcomes to enjoyable activities, the result(s) are those wonderful 'ah-ha!' and epiphany moments that make teaching such a rewarding experience.

Use technology: sorry, Luddites, but at least part of your curriculum needs to be online (I mean, let's put it in context...grade ones probably aren't going to be blogging...I mean, this isn't Ender's Game, right?). Whether we like it or not, Web 2.0 has allowed a whole generation of learners to personalize their consumer experience. Education is a product our students consume, so why wouldn't they expect one of their most expensive purchases (or their parents purchases) to have the option of being tailored to their needs. Whether it's downloadable lecture notes, an online forum for discussion or a wiki, having technology supplement a comprehensive academic experience will provide a personalized touch that so many students want...and, arguably, need.

Be inclusive:
ask them questions. And don't stop there. When your next lesson comes up, show your class that you've taken their feedback and used it to make your material and their experience even better. Empowering young people to take on creative leadership roles can be risky, sure. But when students are set up for success by their teacher and then their plan comes together - wow - it's a beautiful thing. The stuff of inspiration, really.

Let them collaborate: no great thing in the history of humanity was every done by just one person. So, from team-based projects to sharing notes (yes, even on Facebook), let students work together to solve problems. Better yet, encourage them to do so.

Make it relevant:
From "machine to community" and "hierarchy to network" - according to Goran Carstedt, this is where the real-world of the workplace is heading. The material (ie. the sociology of peasant uprisings in Early Modern France) might not be directly related to life, but the transferable skills sure will. So why not make education as relevant (with content, form and style) as possible? More than ever, employers are accepting that, when it comes to concepts like social media and interdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration the boss, not the analyst/intern/consultant/researcher, will be the student. It was two twentysomethings who brainstormed Best Buy's internal wiki, not the CEO or VP of HR. Having a meaningful, inclusive conversation in the classroom as well as a lecture is a great place to start.

Because if we keep up with our expert orations and do not empower students to engage our ideas with theirs, well, we just might, as Sir Ken Robinson says, kill creativity for good. So, whether you teach kids or adults to dance, do math or save the world using business, try something new in your classroom. You might fail. And that's okay.

And, hey, if writing this was a huge mistake, well, that's okay. Because I'm not afraid to make mistakes. Learning from them makes us all better.



Godfrey von Nostitz-Tait said...

I'm in wholehearted agreement. And for those of you who haven't seen Ken Robinson's ideas on education in action: check this out

Well played, Mr. Horn.

John Horn said...

Just in case anyone was wondering whether or not the Gumboot is cutting edge and topical, check this out:

She even uses the "series of pipes and tubes" joke. Brilliant!