Posted by: crudbasher | September 18, 2012

The Evolution Of Education

“Nature Abhors and Vacuum.” -Aristotle

The Education system (both public K-12 and college) tends to be a very insulated endeavor. It is probably the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine we have. :)

Most teachers are pretty sure things will keep going on like they have forever. In an interview with Frank McHugh, (H/T Gizmodo) a long time teacher (~50 years) and teacher’s union president talks about his time in the school system and then concludes with this gem:

“I don’t believe students are any different from the way they were when I started teaching, but I believe they learn differently because of their access to new technology. Still, there is no replacing the teacher in the classroom!”

Ok that’s his opinion, but I must disagree. Students are very different in how they learn, their upbringing, their life goals, maturity and what they consider important. What is similar is the teachers. They are taught to be modular components in the system and the specification for the teacher component hasn’t really changed much over the years. Still, despite what many education reformers think, the system does not exist in a vacuum.

This post was inspired by a post Daniel S. Christian made earlier today. He wrote about a website service called wetakeyourclass.com. Apparently this site does exactly what it says. You can hire them to take online classes for you. Cool eh?

Things like this point out the flaw in the education system which is that students and teachers have different ideas as to what it means to be “educated”. Teachers think it means to have learned things. Students think it means to have a piece of paper saying they spent a certain amount of time learning things. Preferably with a good grade on the piece of paper so they can get a good job. This outlook is perfectly understandable because the school system is time based not competency based.

Wetakeyourclass.com is a reaction to the student’s needs. There are thousands of services online that exist to help us in our day to day lives. Why not this one for students? The Internet has a lot of the same characteristics of an organism in that it adapts and evolves based on stimulus. In this case the stimulus was the dichotomy of purpose for school.

So, evolutionary speaking, what happens next? Well the next reaction should rightfully belong to education. How will they change to this new reality? The more important question actually is will they react? Punishment isn’t enough in this case because it doesn’t change the conditions of the situation, it just tries to moderate undesirable results. How do you change the conditions?

My Solution

I believe the solution is to get the teachers and students on the same page. Teachers seem to have the viewpoint that is most useful so how can we change the opinion of students? You have to to change the outcome of the game for students. Do away with grades and degrees. Instead, setup networks of credentialing and reputation. To get a job you need a credential for specific skills plus references from others who will back your claim. If you setup these conditions, the schools will provide the credentials and a little bit of reference but other services will arise to provide networks of references. (ie: Linked-In) They will come up with ways to assess skills and knowledge. In other words, you setup a set of conditions that will force the system to evolve. You use the creative innovation on the Internet to solve the problem.

Mr. Christian asked a few questions that I want to answer.

Q: Should the owners of this site go to jail? Or is this just capitalism gone awry?

If they are breaking laws then yes they should go to jail. This is capitalism working perfectly.

Q: Does this business make a profit?  If so, why and what does that say?

Don’t know but probably. It doesn’t cost much to run something like this especially when you can connect to cheap overseas labor.

Q: Is this type of thing happening for just a handful of people out there? How would we know?  Can the turnitin.com’s of the world detect/stop this?

I think it happens a bit but probably much less than 1%. What I want to know is what difference will this make? In other words, morally we say this is a bad thing but what effect will it have? I think it will call into question the efficacy of education itself.

Q: If their services are in demand, should that inform or influence any differences in the strategies or pedagogies we utilize within higher education?  Do we need to re-evaluate what’s really being achieved and not achieved? That is, if employers didn’t look to a college degree, would students come to learn anyway or would they be gone by morning?

Great questions and I think I addressed this above. I remember reading somebody bashing MOOCs because 100,000 people sign up but only 10,000 finish the class. I look at that as awesome because it means 10,000 people stuck with it because they wanted to learn that material, not get a certificate. Education should be so accessible and cheap that anyone can tryout anything. How else can you know if it’s for you?

Q: What, if anything, does it say about students’ ethics?  Matters of the heart?

I have observed with consternation that more and more people in society will do things if they think they can get away with it. Somehow the idea is that if you can get away with it, it is not wrong and the ends justify the means. We live in a society where many people think nothing is right or wrong, everything is shades of nuance. That is very different from the world 50 years ago when Mr.McHugh began teaching. Students who cheat without remorse are the result. They just look at it as solving a problem.

They have evolved.

Charles Darwin (cc) Wikimedia Commons

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Responses

  1. Interesting approach. You seem to have given a lot of thought to human nature in regards to learning.

  2. Thanks very much Andrew for taking the time to put this post together and for your solid thoughts here. I especially appreciated the following items:

    * How will they change to this new reality? The more important question actually is will they react? Punishment isn’t enough in this case because it doesn’t change the conditions of the situation, it just tries to moderate undesirable results. How do you change the conditions?

    * Do away with grades and degrees. Instead, setup networks of credentialing and reputation.

    * This is capitalism working perfectly.

    Thanks again Andrew!


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