Right Side Up or Upside Down?

This week, the reading in the ‘Media to get you thinking’ section of our eci831 course was titled, “The Objective of Education is Learning, Not Teaching” which provides commentary on information in a book titled “Turning Learning Right Side Up” by Dr. L. Ackoff and Mr. D. Greenberg.  Ackoff and Greenberg criticize the structure of our current education system suggesting its primary focus in on teaching rather than learning.  They suggest our world is constantly evolving yet our education system fails to transform.  Ackoff and Greenberg question the purpose of education in the 21st century and challenge the reader to think about whether or not education today should resemble the educational structure of centuries past. 

Ackoff and Greenberg state “…it is apparent to those who have taught that teaching is a better way to learn than being taught. Teaching enables the teacher to discover what one thinks about the subject being taught. Schools are upside down: Students should be teaching and faculty learning.”  The authors acknowledge there are various ways of learning but focus on this concept of allowing students to teach and to examine content of their choosing as being key to learning.  I think there is merit to the statement as, in relation to my own children (and their friends), I witness them teaching each other every day and can see the power of teaching in their own learning.  For instance, in relation to video games (something which I have no skill level at and could not teach even if I tried), they are always communicating with one another, explaining how they are completing a particular task, demonstrating the skill, etc.  In other words, they are teaching one another how to use the tools and their thinking skills in order to advance the game and meet their goals.  The boys and their friends are all at different age levels, yet learning is occurring between them as they teach.  As a result, I can see the power of teaching as a key to learning.  That being said, as an adult (parent and educator), I believe I still have a role in all of this.  Although I cannot participate in helping them with the skill of advancing the game, I can help them think critically about the types of games purchased, how to conduct themselves properly while engaging with multi-player games, how to be safe and aware when playing online games, etc.  

Ackoff and Greenberg challenge educators to think about the benefits of learning in ways other than the ‘traditional classroom’.  Again, I believe there is merit in their thoughts.  For instance, I see kids (my own and students) acquire skills and engage in learning both inside and outside of the classroom.  Whether students are involved in a work placement through a Career and Work Exploration class, are volunteering for the school yearbook committee, or are working in the community’s rink kitchen as a volunteer, they are learning by doing.  They are learning about something of interest to the, are learning how to connect with others, are learning how to act and think for themselves, etc.  The authors suggests students should be able to self-direct their learning and have input into what is learned.  In my own teaching, I agree with the concept of inquiry learning and allowing students to investigate concepts based on their interests in order to acquire deeper understanding. 

Although I agree with much of what the authors are suggesting, I continue to believe there is a place for ‘traditional’ forms of education in terms of some of the curriculum basics and factual knowledge from which students can then be supported with ways to deepen their understanding.  In my mind, there is still a need for a teacher who can help structure learning in beginning stages then act as a facilitator and guide as the student progresses with his/her studies.    

In my opinion, education is about helping students become thoughtful, imaginative, creative, and engaged citizens which will mean a shift from traditional forms of education.  However, I do not think it means abandoning all traditional practices  in order to turn learning “Right Side Up” as the title of the author’s book suggests.   To me, it is essential to consider some key questions such as: 
*  What do we believe to be the true purpose of education?
*  What is currently working in our classrooms, what is not?
*  How do we support multiple learning styles, multiple intelligences, etc.
*  What role does the student have in his/her education?
*  How to we prepare students for a lifetime of learning both formally and informally?

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~ by lewisv on November 13, 2010.

One Response to “Right Side Up or Upside Down?”

  1. I always wonder what the purpose of education is when I read things like this. For me I think that students can’t entirely self direct themselves. Otherwise they will have a very narrow view of the world around them.

    Using your example the students that you see talking about Video Games in the classroom have only a small snippet of what Video Games are out there. This would be similar to them saying that they had mastered English Literature by reading Twilight.

    It feels like the students need more structure than self directed. For technology in general we teachers are expected to be digital mentors until it comes to the education portion of things when the students are supposed to just take over? There seems like there is a contradiciton in there.

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