The Education Pendulum Has Gone Wild (Part 1)Jane Terpstra | Emerita Director of Distance Education and Professional Development, University of Wisconsin-Madison
In more than 40 years of work in the higher education sector, I’ve witnessed pendulum swings impacting educators, learners and instructional delivery. Looking back over the years from the 1970s to the early 2010s, it’s amazing how much — and how little — has changed in lifelong learning.
In the first article of this two-part series, the spotlight will be on what has changed in higher education over the past four decades. The second part of the series will focus on what has not.
The role of progressive educators has changed over the years, starting with a shift from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side;’ a blend of online, mediated class content coupled with more instructor guidance and feedback on in-class individual and group assignments. Truly progressive instructors have adopted the role of ‘expert consultant,’ organizing online content and/or links to content and simply being available as a consultant to address questions that cannot be resolved by other learners; an example of this is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) instructor.
The focus of learner expectations has changed from reception and practice to engagement and interaction. In the past, learners attended classes and took notes, later recording lectures when the technology allowed for it. Assigned questions or problems, often from textbooks, provided learners with content interaction. Papers required learners to read beyond the text and summarize their learning. Exams typically required identification of correct responses to questions. Now, in the blended or flipped classroom, learners come together to engage in small groups with assigned situations such as case scenarios to resolve, issues to debate or complex problems to solve. In the online classroom, learners engage with content on their own, reflect on their learning and then interact by contributing to activities such as online discussions, group projects and collaborative writing. Research may be formalized into papers or simply shared with peers through their interactions. Exams may be formalized into randomly-generated test items from test banks. Or, learning may be assessed through a combination of self-evaluation, peer evaluation and instructor evaluation. In competency-based assessment, learning may be assessed by professional reviews of each learner’s e-portfolio — a collection of created products, from classes and/or life and work experiences, as evidence of learning.
Instructional delivery has also changed, perhaps most dramatically of the three. Past delivery focused on the textbook, with a few instances of film, filmstrip or video embellishment, and even fewer occasions of group interaction, hands-on activities or discussion. We’ve progressed past early technology to an explosion of delivery options that are digital, readily available and, now, mobile. With technology, a broad spectrum of instantly-available media could be added to classroom instruction or placed in an online management system. Online education is now available to learners of any age, and these learners have access to a wealth of content available anytime and anywhere.
Please check back in July for the conclusion of this series.
Author Perspective: Administrator
Terpstra rightly points out that one significant change is the trend to “flip” classrooms so that students use class time to share and practice what they’ve learned and out-of-class time to go through the materials. Research consistently shows that, when students have the opportunity to apply the concepts they’ve learned, they report higher levels of satisfaction with their education and are better able to recall the lessons later on. Some programs — such as ones with studio time — have been working on flipped schedules with success for years; it’s great to see the other programs catch up.
I believe we will continue to see many changes with instructional delivery. Terpstra hints at, but doesn’t go into detail about, mobile technology as the next ‘new higher education technology.’ This is an area that institutions will have to quickly develop as more adult students, who may have limited time and need to do their learning while on the go, enroll in higher education.
Although it may be out there, I haven’t personally observed compelling mobile course delivery as yet. I have seen some effective learning activities using mobile devices, and I expect these apps to continue to grow. Thanks for pointing out the potential of mobile learning!
I think Terpstra overstates the “engagement and interaction” aspect of higher education. Although we’re moving in that direction, I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, as she makes it seem. A positive development is that many course designers are now creating the mechanisms that enable this type of collaborative learning (e.g. discussion boards for online courses). However, we have yet to develop that culture among instructors and students. My question is: what does it take to create an expectation of participation in this generation of learners so that classrooms become vibrant, interactive spaces?
You pose a good question about how to create that ‘expectation of participation’ of learners to generate more active and interactive learning. My suggestions are to (1) implement activities that provide compelling challenges and facets of real-world work to draw the students into participation and (2) assign students roles in these activities such as taking different sides in a debate/discussion, working in sub-groups on different aspects of a problem to bring work back to the full group, or playing a particular role in a simulated activity. Assigning roles provides each student with a starting point for engagement, thus avoiding that awkward how-do-we-get-started time that often discourages interaction.