Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The other end of the log

Mark Putnam, the President of Central College, writes in Inside Higher Ed about the difference between the transactional and relational views of education:

James A. Garfield was president of the United States for a brief time in 1881. Though his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, historians note his many contributions to our nation. During his years as an undergraduate at Williams College, Garfield was the beneficiary of both the teaching and leadership of Mark Hopkins, who served as president of the college for 36 years during an even longer career as a member of the faculty. Garfield’s admiration for Hopkins is remembered through his still famous quote: 
The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other. 
For educators, the image is poetic. It stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric we hear today. Many voices are calling for an educational approach designed for efficiency – less time to degree completion, fully online programs of study and customer convenience. It’s a very transactional model resting on the individual accumulation of credits, courses and credentials. By checking boxes to fulfill requirements we assume we can efficiently declare an individual educated. It’s all nice and neat. 
An education at “the other end of the log,” however, is not transactional – it’s relational. The opportunity for faculty to spend time with students is not at all efficient, but our experience tells us it’s incredibly effective.

What we remember most about our school and college experiences are not the facts we memorized, but the inspiring people we met, and the transformative and confidence-building experiences we had. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Project-based learning

Just a short post, to note this nice article on project based learning for K-12.

Suzie Boss writes:

For a closer look at what this looks like, consider just a few examples of the learning experiences that happen more frequently in PBL classrooms:
  • Students compare information from different sources before completing an assignment
  • Students draw their own conclusions based on analysis of numbers, facts, or relevant information
  • Students try to solve complex problems or answer questions that have no single correct solution
  • Students give feedback to peers or assess other students' work
  • Students convey their ideas using media other than a written paper (such as posters, blogs, or videos)
  • Students answer questions in front of an audience
  • Students generate their own ideas about how to confront a problem
These indicators paint a picture of students who are able to think on their feet, contribute to a team effort, and work creatively when they confront new challenges.

Having just concluded my own project-based course this semester (albeit for masters students in engineering), I can strongly attest to the powerful learning that can take place in such an environment.