Speaking of Education

Last weekend at the EduCon conference, I found myself in several wonderful conversations about language. The words that are used, and often misused, when discussing education, schools, students, and learning. And especially in the debate over education reform.

Words like the ones in the picture above (click to enlarge) that Meredith asked us to reflect on and decide if there was a consensus of meaning. It wasn’t an easy task. Most of these terms, like “accountability” and “STEM” (or any of the variations), are often reinterpreted by different groups depending on the goals being advocated.

Many of the same words reappeared the next day during a session in which Diana challenged us to brainstorm our own collection of “silver bullets, panaceas and elixirs”. Part of the collection from our table can be seen above. Some overlap, but much of the same vocabulary.

One thing I think both groups agreed on is that most of the words were not inherently bad (in Diana’s session we had a small pile of words that the table felt should be rejected). Almost all the ideas represented on both the Post-It notes and the word wall began their life in the education discussion with good intentions. The problem is always in the implementation.

For me a good example of that misapplication is the concept of the “flipped” classroom, which came up in both groups. The idea was to shift some of the basic fact gathering responsibility to students so that more classtime could be spent in adding context to those fact. Too many teachers, however, simply recorded the same lectures they always gave for kids to watch for homework, and then have them do the same assignments they used to give for homework during class. Flipped, but not to the benefit of the students.

Then, part of both conversations, was my particular pet annoyance phrase: “personalized” learning. I won’t waste space here repeating myself (you can read my past rants on the topic if you like) but this is one concept that sounds good until you see how it gets applied, especially in edtech products which are more about programming than personalizing.

Anyway, these great discussions were just part of the three days. You can watch the panels from Friday (jump to 17 minutes) and Sunday (jump to 1 hour 10 minutes), where the topic for both was another frequently used ed reform term: “empowerment”. And if you would like to be part of discussions like this, plan to join us for EduCon next year, January 27-29.

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