Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson divides opinion. His stint as a castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs last week prompted a wave of responses from educators. You can hear the broadcast online here or download a podcast here.

As a contemporary thinker and communicator, Sir Ken has a comprehensive website here. His biography says that:

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. He is also one of the world’s leading speakers on these topics, with a profound impact on audiences everywhere.

You can get a flavour of his thinking in this RSA video.

RSA animate

Some commentators claim that he’s an ego-driven self publicist, popularising his arguments through charm and persuasion. Others see him as a brilliant creative visionary who can save education from a system that isn’t working for far too many people. Of course, neither of these extremes of opinion is mutually exclusive and both are simplistic. One is about assumed motivation – and it can only ever be assumed – and personality and the other is about promoting a single approach to teaching and learning.

I heard him talk to a comparatively small audience several years ago. There was no doubting his charisma but his arguments, to educators and policy makers, were also very compelling. The quote below is typical and especially relevant to adult and community learning, where we often work with people who didn’t flourish or find their skills and confidence before they left school.

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

How do we decide on the validity of his theses and respond to the counter claims of his critics?

I’m with John Dewey on this. We all filter evidence through the lens of our personal experience. I’ve read and listened to some of the pros and cons relating to Sir Ken’s approaches and tried to be objective but personal experience of learning and teaching tells me that he talks good sense. Are people suspicious because he does so with such panache? Being a good communicator isn’t the same as dumbing down.

What do you think about the RSA video and Sir Ken’s vision for creativity in education?

Knud Illeris and learning theorists… in their own words

Knud Illeris, the Danish educational theorist and professor of lifelong learning, has a reputation that earns him a place in the Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame. I found this link to a wonderful and completely free online publication on contemporary theories of learning, edited by the man himself, so this is more of a link than a blog.

Contemporary Theories of Learning – Learning Theorists… in their own words

Illeris’s most noted contributions as an educational thinker have been about how adults learn and continue to do so. He explains what he calls, ‘A comprehensive understanding of human learning’ in Chapter 1 of the book.

Knud Illeris

Knud Illeris

As well as Illeris, the ‘who’s who’ of modern theorists who have contributed articles about their own work includes Peter Jarvis, Robert Egan, Yrjo Engestrom, Benet Elkjaer, Jack Mezirow, Howard Gardner, Peter Alheit, John Heron, Mark Tennant, Jerome Bruner, Robert Usher, Thomas Ziehe, Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger, Danny Wildemeersch and Veerle Stroobants.

It’s good to find such a rich range of resources so freely available for those who are interested.

Any thoughts on their writing or links to other similar resources?

Digital literacy – essential or desirable?

There’s no question that adult educators need basic literacy and little doubt that information literacy – knowing how to research, find, assess, use and manage information – is a fundamental aspect of teaching and learning.

What about digital literacy? There are various aspects, sliding and evolving scales of digital literacy, so what is a reasonable minimum expectation for proficiency in 2013?

Should adult educators be expected to communicate by email and social media and research via the internet? Should we know how to find, evaluate and create information using digital technology and to use digital applications to enrich our teaching and professional development? In other words, what is essential and what is desirable?

A Twitter discussion last night using the hashtag #ukfechat has prompted this blog. The timing coincides with the forthcoming launch of a new WEA Tutor Portal for us to share and update key course administration tasks and information electronically.

During the Twitter discussion, Sarah Simons commented, “Think there’s group of people pretending digital age isn’t happening & other group perhaps overplaying essentiality?”

diglit mrs ss

We can all probably identify someone at each end of this spectrum, with most people being somewhere between the extremes, but we’re also aware of the increasing pace of public services becoming digital by default. People who are unable to use email and the internet are at risk of being excluded from activities and services. Carol Azumah Dennis’s tweet reinforced this.

Diglit dbd1

Many adult educators are creative and proficient users of technology but others might benefit from support in developing their skills, not just for their work but for life in general. Could Bob Harrison’s suggestion of digitally literate students acting as technology mentors for their tutors be worth exploring further?

ukfechat dbd2

It’s a model that chimes with the WEA’s approach to relationships between tutors and students and with our Digital Activists’ Inclusion Network (DAIN) in the East Midlands.

Thanks to Sarah Simons for facilitating the Twitter chat and sparking a productive exchange.

What do you think?

(Twitter users can follow last night’s conversations using the hashtag #ukfechat)

10 quick lessons from educational thinkers

Praxis, the combination of theory, reflection and practice is precious – as in ‘valuable’ – but it’s not something to be precious or pretentious about. Educational theory is of real use when we reflect on it and apply it in practice. The list below features 10 quick lessons drawn from some of the people featured so far in this blog’s ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’.

Number 10 is specifically about the WEA but has wider application in adult education.

  1. Socrates – Active learning through questioning and discovery leads to deeper understanding of a subject.
  2. Mary Wollstonecraft – Prejudice leads to ill-informed and unfair assumptions about people’s academic potential.
  3. John Dewey – Previous experiences of life and education shape individual students’ personal responses to learning activities.
  4. Benjamin Bloom – Learning can take place at many levels ranging from ‘rote’ learning to active creativity.
  5. Paolo Freire – Education shouldn’t be based on a ‘banking’ system that attempts to deposit knowledge in students’ minds.
  6. Robert Gagne – ‘Teachers have three primary functions: to be a designer, manager and evaluator of learning.’
  7. Jack Mezirow – Transformative education has the potential to set people free from their limitations.
  8. Carol Dweck – The language we use as educators can reinforce the development of ‘fixed mindsets’ or ‘growth mindsets’
  9. John Hattie – Teacher credibility is important in promoting ‘visible learning’ through feedback about students’ progress.
  10. R H Tawney – The purpose of the association [the WEA] is to provide for men and women who want to take their bearings on the world, opportunities of co-operative study, in congenial company, with a leader who knows enough of his (or her) business to be not only a leader but a fellow student.

This blog complements others that I follow, including Pete Caldwell’s at wp.me/p1ynaa-a1 and several others. I’ll list a few in the next blog.

What snippets would you have chosen from any of these or other thinkers to inform practice in adult education?

Praxis

“Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk.”

Anonymous

This quotation is a reminder that there can sometimes be a gap between theory and practice in adult and community learning. Of course there are theorists who are teachers – and teachers who are theorists – but theory is sometimes remote from practice, where there is a rich experience of tutors intuitively developing creative and successful strategies for teaching, learning and assessment, often working collaboratively. It’s interesting that Twitter and social media are providing means to open up exchanges of ideas and debate, prompting wider professional dialogue on these matters.

Theory and practice come together in the concept of ‘praxis’.

What is praxis in education?

A simple explanation is that praxis is a cycle of theory and purposeful action that incorporates reflection. It helps us to analyse our efforts so that we can develop and improve our thinking, doing and effectiveness as educators.

Praxis2

There are other interpretations and this doesn’t capture the additional elements of informed moral commitment and critical thinking that are commonly associated with praxis. Paulo Freire’s definition of praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed was, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”  Praxis is reflective, active, creative, contextual and has social purpose.

Centuries ago the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle categorised three disciplines of knowledge: the theoretical, the productive and the practical and some educators see praxis as one of four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice, based on these three disciplines:

Praxiscurric

  • The syllabus approach can be seen as transmitting a body of knowledge .
  • The product approach assumes an attempt for students to achieve specified outcomes.
  • Learning to learn is the main focus of a process driven approach.
  • Praxis can be seen as an extension of the process approach, where the curriculum is put together through planning, acting and evaluating as in the cycle described above.

Is this model too simplistic? Are the four approaches mutually exclusive?

These are very basic and introductory interpretations of praxis. Although they refer to education as being contextualised, they can imply that the relationship between tutors and students is not shaped or constrained by policy and, in many organisations, by management and governance decisions.

What issues does this raise?

Some organisations are taking imaginative and very distinctive approaches. For example, Louise Mycroft (@TeachNorthern on Twitter) and others have developed a ‘Community of Praxis’ based on Northern College’s teacher education programmes.

As ever, I’d appreciate comments, development of arguments, disagreements, other ideas or links. There is a great deal of expertise on this subject and many people who can add deeper (or different?) perspectives about praxis in education.

What do you think?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – What about Socrates?

The best education encourages students to ask questions rather than to accept someone else’s answers in a mechanical transfer of assumed ‘knowledge’. Questioning steers intellectual curiosity and active learning. It’s especially effective in adult education in engaging students as partners with their tutors and with other students in shared learning processes. It should be integral to the WEA’s practice as we aim to, ‘challenge and inspire individuals, communities and society’. Do you agree?

medmo-einstein-explain-questioning

Many questions lead to more questions. They develop threads of learning that continue to play out and lead to a more considered understanding of subjects. Learning through discovery is a much deeper process than the simple acquisition of information. The art of critical inquiry is a precious skill in all aspects of life as we try to make sense of the world around us, especially in an ‘information age’ where we are spoon-fed ‘facts’ via mass media. Questioning trains our minds to engage with and to analyse information, to check facts, to consider other viewpoints and to become more inventive and adaptable when we try to deal with new challenges.

Socrates and Socratic questioning
Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was born in Athens around 470 BC and sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning in 399 BC after a trial on charges of ‘corrupting the youth’ and ‘impiety’. His alleged crimes had been the posing of philosophical questions about Athenians’ commonly acknowledged gods.

Socrates

Socrates

He accepted his fate with dignity and was said to have been humble about his own perceived lack of knowledge.

True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.

Socrates

His students, most notably Plato, wrote about his life and work including the concept of Socratic questioning. The Socratic method still forms a sound basis for an inquiry-based approach to teaching, learning and assessment and Socrates’ ideas have influenced many subsequent educational theories, including Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. They support the notion of teachers as intellectuals who continue to learn and of students who are active, critical thinkers.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.

John Dewey

There’s more detail on ‘The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching and Learning’ on the Critical Thinking Community’s website at: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-role-of-socratic-questioning-in-thinking-teaching-learning/52 and more on Socratic Dialogue at: http://www.socraticdialogue.be/socrates.html.

I can also recommend the Critical Thinking Community’s ‘Begin here” pages at: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-where-to-begin/796

What do you think about integrating Socratic questioning in teaching, learning, assessment and in everyday life? What are the pros and cons?

Any other good resources, examples, ideas or comments to share?

Teaching, Learning and Assessment the WEA Way

This link takes you to a ‘storified’ collation of tweets and comments from a WEA event that focused on embedding the WEA’s vision into teaching, learning and assessment through our 4 educational themes of Employability, Health and Wellbeing, Community Engagement and Culture.

http://bit.ly/16BFshl

The event wasn’t all discussion although that was an important element.

The day included a lot of practical work on developing sample learning outcomes and assessing our courses’ potential impact. This built on recent WEA impact surveys aligned with continuing research by Community Learning Trusts and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The tweets didn’t capture the full scope of the event but they give a flavour of some of the issues that were considered.

The WEA’s vision is: “A better world, equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society.”

Massive, open, online and incompleted courses?

The University news feature on page 28 of the current Private Eye (No. 1341, 31 May – 13 June 2013) focuses on MOOCs – “massive open online courses”. Several prominent universities are offering these courses free of charge to anyone, anywhere with internet access. Many people are only likely to stumble upon these courses if they’re directed to them, but the options seem very attractive in light of rising fees in higher education and a decline in participation by mature students.

The article includes statistics that are surprising in this context and very disappointing if taken at face value.

  • Only 10% of people who start short courses with Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/) ever finish them. (Source: New York Times)
  • There was an average completion rate of just 6.8% for students on 29 MOOCs run by prestigious universities in various countries (Source: Katy Jordan, PhD student at the Open University)
  • A mere 2.2% of people who enrolled on a 5-week artificial intelligence planning course run by Edinburgh University in January received a statement of accomplishment for finishing and only 4% finished an e-learning and digital cultures course.

It would be interesting to delve further into reasons for the reported non-completion. What was the demographic make-up of students and what were their incentives for joining courses? What role did information, advice and guidance play in assessing how suitable courses were for each student? Were the learning processes meaningful and motivating? What pedagogical principles were applied? Do we commit as deeply to courses that are relatively anonymous and free of charge?

In comparison, the WEA’s Self-Assessment Report for the last academic year shows average success rates for all our adult education courses (accredited and non-accredited) as 93%.

Figures show that tailored support plays an important role.

  • 96% of WEA students receiving Additional Learning Support stayed to the end of their courses.
  • 95% of WEA students receiving Discretionary Learner Support stayed to the end of their courses.

As well as completing courses, WEA statistics for 2011-12 from our student survey show that:

  • 25% of students progressed onto another taught course
  • 66% of these progressed onto a course with the WEA while 33% progressed on to a course with another provider.
  • 33% of our students who went on to do further learning progressed onto a course with a qualification.

The WEA student body is from a very diverse range of groups and circumstances:

  • one third were aged over 65
  • 24% were from minority ethnic groups
  • 27% had a physical disability
  • 13% had a learning difficulty or disability
  • 40% were in receipt of income related benefit
  • 37% lived in a ward with a disadvantaged postcode
  • 41% did not have previous qualifications above Level 2.

Most WEA courses are part-time and involve face-to-face teaching, learning and assessment with active group participation but we’re keen to make access to learning more flexible by increasing the range and availability of our online resources. Clearly we will have to learn some lessons from MOOCs and their effectiveness if their outcomes and impact aren’t yet meeting the high expectations and promise.

The Open University has a very successful tradition of distance learning and blended learning so it will be interesting to see the development of Futurelearn MOOCs http://futurelearn.com/about/, which could offer progression for some WEA students.

Just suppose…

Jan Murray’s feature on Frank Coffield in the IfL’s InTuition journal caught my eye recently. (See http://bit.ly/ZxtgNz). Its title, ‘Just suppose this man ran education’, was a nod to the title of his influential 2008 research paper ‘Just Suppose Teaching and Learning became the first priority’.

Frank Coffield’s 2002 contribution to the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference became a landmark speech after he pointed out that, ‘there is nothing about teaching and learning in this whole conference, it’s all about finance and businesses and estates…’. He spoke on the subject of ‘Education before Business’ at the WEA Yorkshire and Humber Region’s Annual General Meeting in Leeds in 2009 and his passion for teaching and learning was all the more infectious because of his modesty and gentle humour as a speaker.

It’s a good time for reflection as a long weekend break approaches, so, in the spirit of Coffield…

– Just suppose we had a national culture of lifelong learning involving all generations.
– Just suppose education was accessible for everyone.
– Just suppose every adult could read, write and be able to communicate through digital media.
– Just suppose we encouraged people to be creative, curious, critical thinkers who kept on learning how to learn.
– Just suppose our education systems in the UK were as effective as Finland’s.

What do you suppose?