Thursday, 14 June 2007

About Teaching and Learning

by James Kariuki

James posted a list of interesting questions (not in any particular order, he said):

Is the teaching and learning field broken? Does it need fixing? What need to be fixed? Who should fix it?

Are educational institutions fighting for freedom through education or freedom for education?

What is the importance of teaching and learning? What is the importance of scholarship of teaching? What is the importance of the culture of teaching? What is the importance of learning materials?

What should students know in order to ask questions about the future? How would students be encouraged to define and create their world views? How do students learn? How do we teach? What is defined by the culture and heritage? How are we encouraging students to drive innovation in Higher Education? How are we realigning the teaching and learning in the wake of technological innovations?

Is good teaching a skill that can be taught? how?

How do we shape our schools and teachers for teaching and learning?

What are we using to evaluate the success of teaching and learning? Can we justify the use of the evaluation tool?

If marks are what motivates students to learn, then why don't we link evaluations to mark?

Why do academics fail to use or adopt elearning? For those who do, why do they use it?

What is the role and responsibility of government in improving the quantity and quality of educational output?

What a list!

While I am passionate about most of the questions posted, I just like to say a word or two on one at this time. (May be more later.) What is the importance of learning materials?

To me this is a particularly interesting and difficult question in this era of fast changing information age. Information has become ubiquitous and students can easily be more knowledgeable in a particular field than the teacher. The information gate-keeper role of teacher has long gone!

Is there still a role for teacher in someone's learning? Is there still a role of "learning material" in learning?

Obviously, the answers are "yes" to both. Let me just focus on the second one here.

I have always held that education is about "orientating" a person into a community of practice. Community of practice includes professional groups, being a functioning citizens and a contributing member of social groups etc.

Historically, academic subject was introduction to (or steps towards ) professional groups. Take Physics as an example. There are a set of vocabularies, concepts, methodologies etc which are being used by Physicists. The primary aim of "Physics" was to enable Physics students to be able to communicate and practice in this "community". As we progressively realize, not all students aspire to become a Physicists. We started to look at what are the other values a Physics curriculum can offer to people who do not have a primary interest to become a Physics and look at the value of such training. Understanding the nature, realizing the importance of evidence-based investigation (or scientific methodologies), etc. become the learning objectives of such courses.

Information, as I insisted in many of my previous postings, are manifestation of a subset someone's world view. Physics textbook, in particular, is a writer's attempt to systematically introduce Physicists' working guidelines, concepts, vocabularies etc. (The auther may also pay attention to relate such work with daily life examples).

I understand current education system is still very much a "people sorter", implemented as various examinations, qualification tests. Curriculum was forced down from University lecturers who do not want to teach "basic" stuff. [Sorry forgotten who said that before.] Textbook writer has no choice but to meet the "market demand".

Unfortunately, in the case of Physics for instance, Physics textbook is too far away from the actual practice of a current working Physicist. It can not excite students. It rarely covers the current issues. It is likely to be out-dated before it is published.

To make "learning material" an important part of the learning process, it needs to change. Do NOT compete with the information on current issues in the chosen community of practice. Focus on a gradual introduction to the community, generate the excitement of the field, discuss current issues up front and enable communication with the practitioners.

Am I hoping too much?

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