Caution – Shallow waters all around us
Roger Shank’s blog post yesterday struck a note with me when I read it this morning. As I was reading the BBC’s article about Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, I thought about what Roger was saying, and how the thinking questions and real issues seem to have been displaced by the vacuous.
In HE, we teach students how to answer questions with the right answer. John, at Learner WebLog was comparing the c and x versions of MOOCs, and why the xMOOCs attract so many more people. In his analysis, John states one of the factors as being that xMOOCs are easier, and writes
xMOOCs are much easier compared to cMOOCs. This is grounded on that in xMOOCs, the instructors would have done most, if not all of the ground work necessary for teaching and learning for the learners. What the learners are normally expected to do would be to consume the knowledge transmitted or broadcasted to them, and to confirm their understanding of the concepts through repeated quizzes or assignments. This requires certain perseverance from the learners, though it is possible to achieve a high or perfect score in test, assignments and examinations through drills, repeated practice, as is common in a rote learning scenario. The use of standard answers in the case of multiple choices, true/false, or short case scenarios, could all be checked with automated grading or assessment software. For peer assessment, these are done in a closed manner, with the merits of “protecting” the learners from being “criticised” in public, but the demerits of being critiqued by only a few participants (5 other peers) in the whole evaluation. Nevertheless, this seems to be well accepted as a way to assessment in the xMOOCs, as that might be the only feasible and reliable way to assess students in an institutional environment, without overly involving the professors in the assessment.
People want the right answers. We want to be correct, and don’t want the effort of having to figure out something that isn’t black and white. As my students finished up my module, where I use a connectivist and constructivist approach to learning, one of the reoccurring themes in their reflection about the beginning of the module was along the lines of what is Jesse looking for, or is this going to get me a good grade, or how can I learn anything without an expert telling me what I need to learn. Having the freedom to explore a topic, with no right or wrong answers was terrifying. They couldn’t understand that I wanted to see their thinking, their evaluation, their critical approaches. However, by the end of the semester, they loved it.
As I (an many of you) talk about the faults of the educational system, the zombification of learning, the factory foundations, the memorisation/regurgitation model, am I out of touch? Donald Clark tells us that the social contract between HE and society is broken, and uses as evidence the graduate unemployment and underemployment rates, the riots in London a couple of years ago, the occupy movement, the disillusionment that industry leaders have in graduates today. The list could go on, and on, but is anyone listening? There are good people who talk and think about the shallowness of todays educational system, with its fixation on content. There are good people who are doing what they can, within their sphere of influence, to change things. But, is there any measurable impact? MOOCs have become the darling of education today, and yet, the xMOOC model seems to be the only game taken seriously. The most powerful educational institutions in the world have abdicated their responsibility for learning and have opted for MCQs.
This leaves us with more academic articles being published about snowboarding than about real threats to human existence. It leaves us with the endless pursuit of the right answer and the good grade. It leaves us with 70% of graduates in the UK this year about to be awarded a top degree (2i or 1st). It leaves us in the shallows with everyone leaning over the edge of the boat examining their reflection in the water to see how well their complexion is holding up.