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Posted by on Aug 20, 2009

Teaching as all-encompassing activity: (a)synchronous and omnipresent

“The next generation is responsible for its own soul; a man of genius is responsible to his peers, not to a studio full of uneducated and undisciplined coxcombs.”
T.S. Eliot

Coxcomb-a conceited dandy who is overly impressed by his own accomplishments (Princeton)

“Teachers shouldn’t be coxcombs nor should politicians try to squeeze the coxcombiness (I made it up a la Sussidio and Phil Collins) from schools with standardized tests that measure societal conceit. Also, don’t be a dandy as that is so 1920s.”
Michael Sean Gallagher

I have been doing some thinking of late on how technology has changed the face of education. Some will bemoan these changes, arguing that basic literacies and disciplined grounding in scholarship will be lost for the sake of technological acumen. Those of the opposite persuasion will argue that this very same technology allows us to push farther and faster than ever before, offering many more opportunities for genuine learning moments. The truth, as always, probably rests somewhere in between these schools of thought. This post will focus on the transformative effects of this technology on actual learning activities, those activities designed by teachers to elicit learning.

1. Education is omnipresent
This point illustrates itself. To think that the only education of any merit occurs in classrooms is ludicrous and has been dismissed almost exclusively. Granted, the opposite end of the spectrum will argue that very little actual education takes place in classrooms and that is equally unfounded. The only real question is what type of learning actually should take place in thee physical or digital environs.

Regardless, we live 99% of our lives outside of classrooms so to regulate that 99% to a compartment for living and not learning seems absurd. Learning is not turned off or on when one steps in and out of a classroom. Digital learning environments have illustrated the power of asynchronous learning, that learning done at the pace of the learner as opposed to a teacher guided activity. Most learning occurs in this asynchronous realm. But what type of learning? The self-directed kind obviously. Asynchronous is all about ingestion, analysis, synthesis and reflection. It is a perfect space for absorbing and personalizing learning; it is where the learning takes on the spiritual element. It becomes omnipresent, applied in all our daily facets, and with the reflection necessary in proscribed activities such as essay or blogs, it provides a significant augmentation of classroom activities.

In short, teachers should recognize that the majority of learning takes place outside of classrooms. Plan accordingly.

2. Assessment of learning is a fickle beast.
Yes, standardized testing and national metrics are necessary, but not necessarily for the sake of the learner. These are more benchmarks for the learning institutions. Basic literacies are indeed necessary; the ability to navigate society in any meaningful way is dependent on this preliminary type of education. It is skills based training at its finest and a basic building block of any sort of progress. This all applies to the synchronous learning activities.

But what of the asynchronous activities? What of the reflection, the synthesis, the discovery, the personalization of knowledge? How does a society, institution or individual assess the impact of education on the learner in question, especially when the learning is conducted at the pace and depth of the learner? It can have some standard elements, for sure. It can measure competence, an intelligence quotient. But IQ tests are not measures of anything other than IQ. Do you remember the last IQ class you had in secondary school? Of course not. You remember learning French, Calculas, Biology. You were never taught intelligence per se. But that is what we measure because that is the only measurable aspect of the classroom learning experience. Retention is valued over reflection. Retention, however, will not contribute in any measurable way to the betterment of society. Only reflective individuals will.

Assess the learning, make assessment as predictable as possible, and stay on task with assessment. All too often it veers into a measuring of some corollary activity wholey unrelated to the task at hand.

3. Learning takes place even with resistance/stubbornness/ego

The outward unwillingness to learn is not a disqualification from the learning process. The student in question is resisting for other reasons, most notably ego. By resisting do they identify themselves and that is an education in itself. Open defiance is disruptive to the learning process, but a general skepticism is critical to the reflective process. If I don’t question it, I can never make it fully my own. All religions ascribe to this line of questioning; doubt can be a perfectly valid intellectual response to a new idea. Recalcitrance is just an aberration of skepticism.

Also, learning is inherently an alteration of understanding and all too often our sense of self is buttressed by our view of the world (and especially our place in it.) Does Darwin refute religion? Most certainly not. Are two explanations for the same phenomena possible? Absolutely. Does an understanding of the barbarity/benevolence of my ancestors/country detract or augment my sense of worth? Well it shouldn’t, but it does. If the foundation of self is cast on such temporal stone, then it is bound to shift. Be sensitive to the student’s sense of self and the factors that play into that, but don’t let the pursuit of truth be hindered by that sense.

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