Earlier, I’ve argued that the process of education is more important than the material we learn (and then forget). The full argument is ironic because I also argue that standards and teaching for deep mastery of material (knowledge) are embedded in the process. Not meaning to be contradictory, it’s critical to teach towards standards for which students are held accountable. But…..as part of the process educators must accept that most students forget (over time) the knowledge once taught. So what is education all about? Good education is about a process of acquiring knowledge – the process of practicing learning, practicing skills, interacting with a teacher, and making connections among ideas, all of which is critical to the next step in life whether the next step is just another year in school, or the next step is university. Education is not about remembering but it’s about the pursuit of standards that demand the student practice remembering. Education is not about knowledge, instead it’s about the process of acquiring knowledge.
A new book titled How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, reviewed widely in the NY Times, argues that cognitive skills are not the most important skills for success. Tough argues that “noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.”1 Tough’s ideas resonate with the idea of education as process as long the process involves holding expectations (standards) high so that persistence is achieved. Tough’s ideas may need to be incorporated into the dialogue on how to move education forward in a technological world, especially because critics of technology have accused technology of a shallowness.2 Yet……how do we connect Paul Tough’s ideas with the technological emphasis on “collaboration” or “academic games?” How do Paul Tough’s ideas square up with Dan Pink’s ideas that people are not motivated by reward when the task is complex?
In this post, I want to grapple with the intersection of following ideas: educational process in high schools, the importance of persistence in success (Paul Tough’s hypothesis), and Technology. Before I dive in, I want to confess that I don’t think all forms of web 2.0 technology have merit for science education at the high school level. For example, I’m skeptical about game technology, gesture-based technology (Horizon Report), and the emphasis on web-collaboration (see Horizon Trend 3). That said, web 2.0 technology is already shaping new ways of ways of teaching at all levels of education, and I embrace that. Oral (voice) work by students, the publishing of work to the web (youtube or blogs), the paperless classroom, the use of mobile devices for document access and teacher-student contact, have already moved teaching in new directions. For the critics of incorporating technology into the classroom consider this, “When students were succeeding in school with no technology, we were also living in a world with little technology, and preparing students for life in a world where technology wasn’t a part of their daily lives.”8 Sir Ken Robinson spoke about changing education paradigms and said, “…The problem is they (teachers) are trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past. And on the way they are alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school. When we went to school we were kept there with the story, which is if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree you’d have a job. Our kids don’t believe that and they are right not to…”8
The Horizon Report identifies some key trends that are already underway. The first five trends can be seen in classrooms using iPads and providing access to documents on the web, and expecting students to complete assignments electronically then move the document back to the teacher or to other students. This kind of use of technology is here to stay. Apps (and software) that streamline document management, paperless systems, inter-app access (sharing), and web-based rapid access to simple questions, will continue to proliferate. Education needs to engage with the development of this technology and is doing so. But will the future see all of Horizon’s projections come to light? Maybe……but it’s important to note that at higher levels of education, students must read. Students must read closely and often. Technology provides no short-cuts around reading. So with technology increasing, and playing a more important role in education, where does technology intersect with persistence and process? To answer this, I must start with standards because standards, after all, are the things we (culture) has said students need to know and be able to do.
Let me provide three standards (or benchmarks depending on one’s terminology) from a higher level biology course. With these standards, and others like them that fill 60 pages of the IBHL Biology Course, I want to ask readers to consider the intersection of persistence, process and technology. Keep in mind that in reading these standards, you’ll be fooled into thinking that I’m arguing that education at the high school level is about remembering information. This is not my intent; but I’ll clarify that below. Here are the three standards from the high school biology course I teach.
Standard 1 – Explain the reabsorption of glucose, water and salts in the proximal convoluted tubule including the roles of microvilli, osmosis and active transport.3
Standard 2 – Explain the differences ion the concentration of proteins, glucose and urea between blood plasma, glomerular filtrate and urine.3
Standard 3 – Explain the structural features of an epithelium cell of a villus as seen in electron micrographs including microvilli, mitochondria, pinocytotic vesicles and tight junctions.3
It’s important to note that….. All students in this higher level biology course are expected to know all of these standards; there is no picking-n-choosing among standards or students. Student who study these standards are expected to know them 18 months later for an exam external to the my institution, the institution where the standards are taught.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the recall of the information, as implied by these standards, is what higher education is all about. It’s not. Education in the high school is about persistence and process. Process? Process is the dynamic between student, standards and teacher. Process is the activity around reading deeply and arriving to class ready to ask questions that clarify difficult, if not abstract, concepts. Process is a classroom of students, some of whom push the boundaries of discussion beyond the standards for others to hear. Process is making connections among disparate units of study that happen to have common ideas. Process is about coming to appreciate ideas because you have worked hard to get to know them. Process is about knowing something well enough to love it. Process and persistence are important.
Higher education is not about factual recall but it starts with standards so abstruse, so rigorous that we miss the point in thinking that’s education is about how much students can remember. Higher education is about reading, persistence and a classroom dynamic I’m calling process. Technology can enable the process. Web 2.0 technology can put ideas before a student’s eyes faster, but it cannot increase the rate at which those ideas are internalized by a brain. In fact, depending on its use, web 2.0 technology could just as easily interrupt the quality of the process by weakening the depth to which students must go in pursuit of the standards.
For example, Nicholas Carr (How the Internet is making us stupid) suggests that “People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read words printed on pages. People who watch busy multimedia presentations remember less than those who take in information in a more sedate and focused manner. People who are continually distracted by emails, updates and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate. And people who juggle many tasks are often less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.” As we look to the future, we must examine the role of technology carefully. Will on-line education increase? Absolutely! On-line education can engage both persistence and process, though the process will appear differently than it would inside a land-based classroom. On-line coursework can be rigorous, providing students with an authentic challenge. But there is a need for development. According to Dr. Bacow, a past president of Tufts who is a member of the Harvard Corporation, “Online education is here to stay, and it’s only going to get better,” What’s still missing is an online platform that gives faculty the capacity to customize the content of their own highly interactive courses.”6
Steve Jobs once wrote, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” According to Dan Pink, it was Job’s interest and challenge and mastery that were more important not financial reward. According to Pink, it’s an interest in making a contribution that forms a part of the third drive. Pink would likely agree that with the complexity of high school curricula, process and persistence would be strong indicators of successful education. Will technology accompany process and persistence? Yes….but technology cannot sacrifice reading, writing and persistence in the process of learning discrete pieces of knowledge as identified in standards.
1) School of Hard Knocks, NY Times, by ANNIE MURPHY PAUL, Published: August 23, 201
2) How the Internet is making us stupid, Nicholas Carr, 27 Aug 2010 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/7967894/How-the-Internet-is-making-us-stupid.html
3) International Baccalaureate Website
4) Dan Pink – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mG-hhWL_ug&feature=youtu.be
5) Gurteen (Visited September 25, 2012)
6) Lewin, Tamar, Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses, Published: May 2, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/education/harvard-and-mit-team-up-to-offer-free-online-courses.html?_r=1
7) Horizon Report NMC (New Media Consortium)
8) 21st Century Teacher.com, Technology in Education – Why? By Jake Glasgow http://www.the21stcenturyteacher.com/member-articles/on-education/50-technology-in-education-why