I am an educational technologist at a large state research university. It is due to this fact that for most of my career, I’ve been struggling with the large lecture teaching environment. Previously, it was all about student engagement and sense of ownership. We used student response systems and other active learning (exp. think, pair, share)… we had the students work through problems and draw out equations and molecular designs – displaying students examples at the front of the room to demonstrate common misunderstandings and to rearticulate correct outcomes in a student’s voice.
Then a few things happened. Mobile devices put the world of knowledge in the student’s pockets and many prestigious institutions started giving away their best lectures. This opened up the world of “just in time” learning and open educational resources. Now, the struggle has really turned to the last battle. The sage on the stage simply can’t hold up as a model; even in the case of amazing charismatic speakers.
For me, it is pretty clear to me that the most brilliant teaching practices to arise during this educational upheaval have been the ones where the instructors stand to the side and allow the students to be touched by the wonder of really learning and engaging with their own curiosities. Sometimes this is called team based or project based learning. Sometimes it is done is a course and sometimes it is done in the field. It can be competency based learning, internships or a community of learners that meet in a makerspace/hackerspace/innovation centers.
The opportunity to try and foster this type of learning at Stony Brook University is very exciting and I hope that this in fact will be a path that I get to pursue. I can’t wait to see the relationships that will arise between our faculty, students and community members when this catalyst starts heating up.
The other point that I think makes this especially relevant to higher education is to have this happen at a moment in a student’s life when they still are traditional students. Before they have other obligations and while they are learning how to socialize, prioritize and that the world doesn’t look just like they do. It’s such an explosion of growth and there is so much energy and motivation right then. Let’s surround them with wonder and inspiration. Let’s help them find their passion and then send them off to do great things in the world!
Let’s do this.
100 years ago and prior, people knew how to do things. Sears, Roebucks and Co. sold kits to build your own homes. They delivered the plans and the materials to your lot, and you built it. People could eat off the land. Even those working in a factory might only bring a bowl and fork for lunch, and eat greens that they would pick off the surrounding property at lunch time.
Up until recently (and really most people still fall into this category), we modern society humans haven’t known how to do much. We would probably starve to death with edible plants growing in our own back yards. If, left in the woods, successfully building a shelter might depend on whether you had watched a season of Survivor or some other “left in the woods naked” reality TV show. (And really, how do you think that would really work out?)
Why has this happened? Why this dumbing down of the people? One reason may have to do with how much money it takes to get by. Another reason may have to do with the manufacturing requirements of an overpopulated society. Consumerism certainly doesn’t help. But something seems to be changing.
Now that all the knowledge of the world is so easily accessible, and answers are all around us – people can, and need to, learn how to do, make, tinker and innovate again. There are so many things to rediscover (not everything is innovation), mechanics, urban/vertical agriculture, textiles, 3d printing, woodworking, electrical engineering, — AND higher education is the perfect time to do it. Before you have a mortgage, while you still have time to explore, find your passion and discover the peers that make you tick! Some of these ideas could be the beginning to something wonderful, and some of those people might be the team that you go forward with to tackle challenges that face the world today. (Anyone interested in space elevators? Anyone have a great idea to remove all that space junk?)
Students don’t need to sit down and listen anymore for hours on end. They need to hold tools. We need a bit more pre/primary school, the scissors, work benches, glue, and mess. If given the chance, we will amaze ourselves with what we can accomplish. There is a renaissance coming. Let’s make higher education be a part of it.