Thought of the Moment

Posted: October 31, 2008 in Education, Technology
Tags: , , , , ,

An idle questionary (Hm, is that even a word?) thought: In education, is it better to change the curriculum (or expectations of the school) to suit the students or better to get the students to change to suit the curriculum (or expectations of the school)?

Unsure of what I mean?  Read on but be aware I might be unsure as well.

The students of today are very, very different to the students of ten years ago, let alone fifty.  Yet fundamental parts of the curriculum in almost all schools can be dated back that far.  Is there anything wrong with that?  That’s a question you’ll have to answer yourselves.

Modern Students have unprecedented access to multimedia input, be it from television, DVDs, World Wide Web and so on.  The levels of information they get exposed to each and every day is truly remarkable and it has made them noticeably different to previous generations of learners.  I have noticed (yes, anadoctal evidence only, I know, but it’s what I’ve got) that attention spans are far shorter than we could have previously expected.  Students expect more flash and bang in their lessons just to keep them engaged.  They want easy answers and don’t seem to always understand the importance of doing the actual work and cracking the puzzle for themselves.  Is this the result of students being able to type any questions they have into Google and getting instant answers?  Or switching on Pay TV and watching pretty much anything they want at that moment without having to wait?

Can schools really compete with all the visual stimuli that computer games (and other programs) can provide for student aged learners?  If you are trying to teach a class, for the sake of an example, about Algebraic Equations … what should your expectations of the students be?  That they sit up and pay attention as you present strategies on the Whiteboard and then ask them to apply those strategies to problems?  Or should another approach be taken which involves trying to use as many flashy animations as possible on a data projector through a laptop?

Maybe the answer lies in a mixture of both.  We try not to change students and their behavioural characteristics entirely but instead seek to refine them while tweaking our own lessons and curriculum to a limited degree.

But that may present it’s own problems.  Some might say that in the modern day, there is something of an arms race occurring; who can create the most flashy and vibrant thing (movie, game, advertisement, whatever) that can best capture the attention of the modern youth. This often involves including controversial content, such as the much talked about Grand Theft Auto line of games where players get rewarded for commiting crimes of various degrees.  Does changing the curiculum, even to a limited degree, to suit the expectations of students feed into this apparent arms race?   Or should schools be a place where such stimuli are left outside and learners are expected to conform to the standards of their chosen school (no matter how old their curriculum might be)?

This entry is not meant to argue one way or another, just meant to get people who read it thinking and commenting.

  1. AV says:

    Maybe the answer lies in a mixture of both.

    It certainly does. Teachers who don’t attempt to accommodate the knowledge and interests of their students are asking for a plethora of behavioural problems, and that makes for a classroom in which very little learning gets done at all.

    At the same time, the purpose of a school is to educate, and educators need to set standards and expectations which their charges should meet if they are to be considered adequately educated. The trick is to ensure that the expectations are realistic, and that enough scaffolding is in place to help students advance.

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