Our education is a broken system. At least it is in the United States – I know nothing about education systems elsewhere. I grew up with a father deeply ingrained in and passionately working to disrupt the education system. I experienced it through a multitude of perspectives (in K-12 I attended public schools, private schools and boarding schools, and in college/graduate school I attended public schools, private schools and state schools). Very few times did I feel intellectually challenged. And never (that I can remember) did I feel inspired by any part of our education system. That’s why our education system is broken – it doesn’t inspire the students. It needs entrepreneurship to regain that inspirational quality – I’ll come back to that.
Fuck The Blame Game
I’m not interested in blaming anyone for why it’s broken. The finger pointing accomplishes nothing. I’m not interested in figuring out how it got this bad (that would just end up finger pointing at a bunch of dead folks who can’t defend themselves). I’m interested in being part of fixing it.
How can we fix it? Ask 100 people and you’ll get 100 answers (again, most of that turns into blaming others). Not interested. Here’s my thought (this thinking is reflected in how I run my classrooms, how I interact and talk to other educators, how I engage with organizations like USASBE and NACCE).
Education Is a Process
Let’s simply look at the education process. There are educators and students involved in an experience where learning should happen and should be assessed. I know it’s significantly more complicated than that, but that basically covers it. Four main components:
So how do we fix what’s broken? We take an entrepreneurial approach to each component. Education need entrepreneurship. Educators need to be entrepreneurial if we’re ever going to dig this system out of the garbage dump it’s buried in. We need to think differently, to challenge ourselves to experiment, to fail, to engage our customers (as much as some hate that, this is what our students in higher ed are). We can’t keep regurgitating the same old material in the same old way. Try new technologies. Try changing something (flipping the classroom, hybrid courses, whatever it is, no matter how small, just try something new). Be an edupreneur!
We can’t forget that our students are individuals, and that they are capable of great things. We need to give them a chance. We can do that by giving them ownership of their learning process. Let them find their own content. Let them decide how they will digest content. Let them decide how they can evidence their learning process. They really are capable of this (I see it every semester in my course!) Help them enjoy education. Help them understand the value of education. To do so, they need to experience education on their terms. Allow them to do that by making the educational experienced customized to each student and owned by the students.
Learning traditionally happens through the sage-on-the-stage model where the teacher talks at the students from the front of the room and disseminates information. I never understood this model. I typically have 30 students in my classes. That means 30 individuals, with 30 different agendas, 30 different learning styles, 30 different schedules, 30 different personalities, and the list goes on. It is so egotistical of me to think that my opinion of what to learn, how to learn it, when to learn it is what is best for each of these individuals. I don’t know a damn thing about them! So I let my students own their learning process. I set up the goals and objectives of the course, I give them the structure of the education experience, and then they get to decide what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, when they want to learn it. And ultimately, they assess that learning.
Seems to me that learning is typically assessed in one of two ways.
1. Standardized testing. Don’t even get me started on how destructive those are.
2. Educators take the easy way out and create assignments that are simple to grade.
Obviously, there are folks who don’t do either of these, and I strongly applaud those folks. As I connect with more educators, I learn of more folks who don’t, so maybe I’m wrong in my perception. I break this cycle of poor assessment strategies by giving students ownership over their own assessment. They write up learning contracts at the beginning of the semester that illustrate what they are going to accomplish and what each grade looks like. At the end of the semester they grade themselves based on that learning contract.
Don’t Be Lazy
Education needs to be fixed. It’s not an easy fix. It’s not a quick fix. But it is fixable. Students want it fixed. (Most) educators want it fixed. (Most) administrators want it fixed. Best way is to start experimenting with fixes. Like I do. Change how we view our role as an educator (not as a content deliverer but as a guide/mentor). Change how students engage in their learning experience (flip your classroom, flip your experience, ask them what they want to learn and how they want to learn it). Change how the learning is assessed (not by us but by the students). It’s not hard to give up control. In fact, it’s extremely easy, and empowering! Give it a try. Seriously.