Changing Education from My Angle

I went to see Michael Wesch, US Professor of the Year, speak on campus at UNCG on Monday.  You should Google the man.  He’s big on YouTube and Twitter.  I’ve been wrestling with his talk for the last two days and I had some things I wanted to share:

After seeing some of the ways he was looking at teaching students, I couldn’t help but think about how much better most of my education could have been.  I’ve learned a lot of facts, but didn’t produce a darn thing that was worth much value out of any of my courses.  As I’ve sat in some of these undergrad classes since then, listening to some very intelligent person drone on about things that are very basic to them, I’m constantly thinking about how asinine this whole way of educating is.  I could learn all of these facts and figures from a book.  Or I could just google them.  I haven’t seen much value in the work world to memorizing a mountain of data when you can easily locate said data on the interwebs.  I don’t need to memorize formulas, I just need to know how to use them.  And, yes, I can find that too on the internet.  All I really learned in my classes is how to take tests and that definitely succeeded because I’m a damn good test taker (side note: i read some knucklehead saying that we should take tests at work last week…fkld;afj;ldagflakd;gjdajf;ldsaf).    

I would much rather have produced something of value in my classes, using the best minds as mentors to guide me through that process (my professors and teachers).  If your education isn’t giving you something of value besides tests and papers, you should quit.  I think there are enough places out there that are providing something of value.  To me, something of value is a project that produces something that might be useful to the world outside the classroom walls.  I’d love to hear ideas in the comments.

Dr Wesch showed two models of learning: the current prevailing model being a expert delivering knowledge to his subjects, the aspirant model being a web of interconnected people with one being the expert and the others being the learners.  That looked familiar.  The aspirant model is exactly how I educate my activities board to do events.  I’m the expert, but they educate each other (there are different levels of knowledge within the group), they work collaboratively, and I often leave them to their own devices for periods of time.  But I’m always willing and ready to step in as the expert to provide guidance and direction based on years of expertise.  It’s a beautiful dance when it works correctly (and I only say when because theoretically there could be some time when it doesn’t work correctly, though I haven’t seen it).  I do wish I was educating them on something more substantive than events or intangible “life skills”.  They unfortunately don’t leave their experience with anything they could take with them into the world outside the university walls other than the intangible life skills.  University events are nothing without the university.

But….

If classes were taught like my activities board, where students are given big tasks and asked to work together (and sometimes separately) to produce something, if that something they produced was supposed to have value outside of the campus, and if they were given the backing of an expert like myself to serve as a guide and a mentor (dare i say collaborator?) in their big tasks; I think we would be amazed at the things that they (and we) would produce.

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