Kjell Askeland Report


PART 4. SOME FACTORS BEHIND THE SUCCESS



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PART 4.

SOME FACTORS BEHIND THE SUCCESS

SIMPLIFICATION; A FACTOR BEHIND SUCCESS.

If you want to ‘sell’ something, including yourself, you should be aware of the importance of the first impression upon the potential buyer. This applies to educational innovations too. You have to show the front side, the prima facies of the picture, leaving the other side of the picture to a later opportunity.


If
(Advice to the people who are in charge of pedagogical development.)

If you want to improve the quality of learning in your institution, do not tell the teachers that they are bad, even if they are.

Do not tell the teachers that they must improve their teaching.

Inspire them to discover that pedagogics is a way of life for everybody. Give them faith in pedagogics and their use of it.

Start your teaching of ‘new pedagogics’ with simple approaches. Do as in mathematics where one starts not with differential equations, but with addition and subtraction. These simple approaches are not only permitted. They are necessary.

If academic experts in pedagogics, saying that you are not scientific, should attack you, challenge them to compete with you. They may lecture on complicated theories in a correct, impeccable way. You, on the other hand decide to inspire, with the help of anecdotes, lyrics and a language that can be understood.

Ask for an evaluation, not of the academic standard of the different ways to teach the ‘new pedagogics’, rather of the participants level of inspiration. Are they so inspired that they want to know more, and try out what they have learned? Let ‘doing’ be an important part of their learning process.

Proceed, from the simple approaches to the more complicated tools of pedagogical science.

Keep in mind that good pedagogics is not a set of rules that has to be learned by heart and later practised.

Demonstrate, by examples from the pedagogical everyday life in your institution, that every day is different, made up of new and sometimes unexpected situations.

Help the teachers to acquire the necessary self-confidence to analyse these situations, cooperating with their students and making decisions from a menu of different options in order to improve learning.

Do not forget that the students have to learn how to learn, and that they too have to learn the ‘new pedagogics’. Remember that all personnel, including computer experts, librarians, secretaries, technicians and ‘bureaucrats’ et cetera have to learn the new ways to learn. Every person in ‘your’ institution should be and consider her/himself to be an important participant in the educational development program.
If you do this, the teachers in your institution will never come and say that there is nothing more for them to learn, because they know everything.
Why is it so?

Because pedagogics is a way of life. It is an excitement and an enthusiasm based on knowledge that separates between the good teachers from the not so good.


Who is this ’you’ that I am talking about?

The answer is simple. YOU!



Introduction to the strategy of simplification

In order to raise interest and support for an educational experiment, and to perform it, we must have faith and enthusiasm. Therefore, we must show the prima facies, the bright front side of the picture. We must wait before we show the more complicated other side of the picture where all the grey theories and challenges are.

No academic pedagogical theories, presented in grey words will create faith or enthusiasm.

On the other hand, the wisdom and knowledge within the science of pedagogics must be utilised in order to plan, launch and sail the ship of innovation through the narrow straits.

This is the primary law for educational innovations. It can be expressed as the law of simplification. Analysing the EUROFACULTY Project, it is necessary to ask if the planners and performers obeyed this law or not. If they did, it must be considered to be a factor behind the success of the project.

I shall try to seek an answer to the question.

The ’prima facies’-strategy.
Few leaders with visions dare to tell the truth, that in order to reach ’the promised land’ there will be a lot of difficulties to be overcome, and that the solutions to these problems will be more difficult than described in the visionary plans.

This applies to educational experiments too. Planners of educational innovations or big scale projects expect the people who are invited to take part to be satisfied with the front side of the picture, the prima facies.

It belongs to the prima facies-strategy that it is permitted to make simplifications, not stressing or describing in detail the complexities of educational change.
If you want to ’sell’ computers to a school, just tell them the price of the apparatus. Do not mention the time it takes to fix all the operational problems that will occur with their use. Do not say anything about the manuals for hardware and software. Do not indicate that people who know but cannot tell often write them. Above all, do not mention that it sometimes is the case that the pupils or student have many more pages of manuals to read than there are pages in their subject textbooks.

In Roskilde, one of the most famous educational innovations during the 70s’, the ’face value strategy’ was used, not as a conscious ‘deception’, but because the planners felt that it was difficult enough to argue against resistance even if only the front side of the picture was described.

An example: Only a very few auditoriums were planned, because there was a tendency to be against lectures, or at least too many lectures. In Germany, students held demonstrations against lectures. (Schafft die Vorlesungen ab! Alle!) The launching of the Roskilde experiment was difficult enough. There was no room here for subtle reservations, saying that some lectures are good, and some bad. Later, I shall go into some details about lectures and lecturing. The reason why I mention it here is because it illustrates that ‘simplification’ may be a part in every educational innovation.

*

Education and educational experiments are far from being parts of an exact science. It should be completely clear that the principles for carrying out experiments in physics are seldom applicable in educational experiments. In physics, it is complete nonsense to talk about the objects of experiments as if there is a need to make them ’cooperative’ or to promote their ’enthusiasm’. In education, it is so that if not a majority of the participants believe in the experiment, it is very unlikely that it will become a success.6 Therefore, the simplifications may be considered to be a condition sine qua non for many educational experiments.


On the other hand, sooner or later, one has to present the other side of the picture.

The problem seems to be that after an innovation has been made and is airborne, planners ’forget’ to show the other side of the picture, leaving the participants in a state of ’ideology’ where they confuse the simple idyllic picture described in the planning documents where the prima facies is described as reality


An important factor behind the success.
One important factor behind the success of the EUROFACULTY Project seems to be the use of the ‘prima facies’ strategy.
This is the reason why pedagogics is the most important perspective in this report. It is my intention to present parts of the complexities behind the prima facies objectives of the EUROFACULTY Project.

These complexities do not represent obstacles to a better education, but options in the pedagogical everyday life in education. Modern teaching and learning is not (or should not) be consisting of cookery books made up of rules for teachers and students to follow.


An example:

The message of project organised learning in a simple way.

A project is the same as group work. All projects should be made in groups. That is a rule to be obeyed! You do not need to think.


The interesting other side of the picture:

The more elaborated way says that the teacher and the students have a menu, made up of two alternatives:


Group projects

Individual projects

It is that simple, but you have to make a decision. In order to make that decision you have to know the advantages and disadvantages of each option before you make a choice. Then you must know that there are no rules to help you, because what is right in one project may be wrong in the next. What is right for a student in one project may be wrong in the next project. Therefore you have to think and analyse each situation. It is more demanding, but it is life.

Looking at the other side of the picture may represent a transition from pedagogical rules to pedagogical menus. Of course it is more complicated to build up a good meal by selecting from a menu than to get everything served, as a result of someone else’s decision. On the other hand, you get a better meal if you have the qualification to compose it yourself. That is the valid law in restaurants, in education and in life.

If you start an educational innovation you should start with an invitation through a message in the direction of what Makarenko called a ‘pedagogical poem’, not too complicated, but inspiring. Then, in its own good, little by little, the more complicated issues can be attacked. The innovator cannot avoid solving this task, simply because no innovation in the long run can build upon simple models, simple solutions and simple rules. Both the teacher and the student have to gain pedagogical knowledge in order to make their own decisions in all the ‘situations’ that make up the everyday pedagogical life in education.

The reason for focusing on pedagogics.

Since the objectives of the EUROFACULTY Project was not to improve organisation, but to improve learning, one should consider the organisational changes not as objective, but as means to achieve the pedagogical objectives.

Therefore, while the reports on the project were mainly concerned with organisation and economy, the main focus of this report is upon pedagogical considerations. This implies that I do what should not have been done at an earlier stage; look at the other side of the picture..
Curriculum reform.

The term ’curriculum’ is used in the EUROFACULTY Project as if it represents a specific, simple and well-defined concept in both educational science and practice. Curriculum change is indicated as one of the main objectives. This change is understood as an adoption of the system dividing the studies between the bachelor and masters degrees. This in itself represents a challenge for an evaluation of the EUROFACULTY Project, since the reasons for this change are not made explicit. As an example: it is not made explicitly clear whether this change reflects the labour market concerning law and economy in Russia or an international labour market. I have tried to find out if investigations have been made to find out if the Russian labour market concerning these two subjects reflects any need for an independent bachelor’s degree or if this should be seen as a curricular part of a master’s education. Since there are no available information on this point, one must take it for granted that this connection has been established in order to meet a need in the Russian society.

In the context of the EUROFAN Project, the problem was slightly different. Here it seems wise to describe how the concepts of ‘curriculum’ and ‘curriculum change’ represent a much deeper challenge than the rather ‘simple’ question of dividing a study program in two parts. This deeper understanding has direct and important consequences for the educational development at IKSUR.

In the planning and design of the EUROFACULTY Project it has been decided to accept and adapt to the ‘European standards’. This of course means that there is acceptance of a standard curriculum model. Here, we face a difficult relationship between educational planning and design. This relationship can be understood as the conflict between ‘diversity’ and ‘standardisation’.

Diversity versus standardisation of the curriculum.

In the educational planning within a country, a region or the world, we may strive to obtain diversity or standardisation.

During the development of European cooperation and unity (free labour market and internationalisation of higher education) there would have been increasing administrative difficulties if diversity had increased. Therefore, it became an issue for the political administration of education to establish standardisation. These efforts met with several difficulties, because it was nearly impossible to come to agreements on the quality of education in different countries.


  • How is it possible to compare one hour lecturing in chemistry in Germany with one hour in France?

  • Well, one hour is one hour, the clock is the same.

  • But there are reason to believe that one hour in Germany is more valuable than one hour in France.

  • How can you arrive at such an assumption?

  • Well, we know that in Germany we spend more resources upon the pedagogical development of our teachers in chemistry than you do in France?

  • Can you measure this difference in the results?

  • No, but if you invest in quality there are reasons to believe that this will result in better teaching, therefore we propose that one lecture hour in France be set as equal to 45 minutes in Germany.

(A more or less authentic description of a discussion in Brussels, many years ago; in order to illustrate the problem.)

In the EUROFACULTY Project it seems that the Russian decision to accept ’Bologna’ was taken after some discussion. As can be read from the papers, this acceptance was based upon the division and schedule of division between the bachelor degree and the master’s degree. There seems to have been no discussion as to whether this model reflected the labour market in Russia.

Looking at the process, through written material and a few interviews, it seems as if the planners of the EUROFACULTY Project did not seek to introduce any discussion about the adoption of ’Bologna’. This may have had three reasons:



  • because ’Bologna’ was already decided upon by the central Russian authorities,

  • because ’diversity’ was not considered to be an option,

  • because ’Bologna’ was considered to be a guarantee for improved quality of education.

The challenge facing the future development of IKSUR is, as for all other universities, to seek and develop its own profile, its own curriculum, without threatening the international acceptance of its examination credits.

In order to obtain both this ‘profile’ and improve teaching and learning, it seems necessary to know this tool ‘curriculum’ and what functions it may play. As described, there is more than one curriculum that plays a role.
This ‘profile’ may be seen in different perspectives, like ’socialisation’ or development of a ’habitus’, ’style of thought’ or the conquest of a specific ’discourse’. Let me illustrate this with an example:

Niels Bohr developed his model of the atom in Copenhagen by combining different and known properties of atoms, bringing them into one model. This model was soon known at other universities. In 1922 Bohr was invited to Göttingen, where the famous Sommerfeld worked. In Bohr's lecture it was observed by one of those present, Werner Heisenberg, that Bohr's thinking was remarkably different from the style of reasoning that ruled in Göttingen. One could hear that Bohr had reached his results, not through calculations and mathematical proof, but followed another path. His words did not fit into the thinking of the ’mathematical’ physics of Göttingen.

One could believe that a standard science (what Kuhn calls a ’normal science’) such as physics, which is characterised by reason and logic, cannot be influenced by a specific ‘culture’, varying from place to place.

Curriculum ’theory’.

The EUROFACULTY Project is in some connections seen as a ’curriculum-reform’. The meaning of the word curriculum may be expressed using a variety of expressions like ’the intended curriculum, ’syllabus’ or ’content of teaching’. In German, the expressions like ’Kanon’ or ’Lehrplan’ are used. In this context, the meaning of curriculum should be thought of as ‘plan for content’, answering the question on 'what should be taught? This question must be answered in two ways: firstly, there is the question of objectives, the result or outcome of a teaching/learning process. What qualifications do we want our students to have when they finish their education? Secondly, we must decide how this education must be organised. The classical way of doing this, is to decide what courses should be included in an educational program.


A short excourse on ’curriculum’.

First of all, it must be said that the concept of ‘curriculum’ has undergone changes in its 100 years of history.


If you were to make a plan for an educational programme in confectionery, you would probably decide to include a course in marzipan. If you want, you may organise this as a special part of the plan. If the study plan includes a demand that the students should know something about the quality of different almonds, depending upon their origin, then you include this as a topic for teaching.

As long as you do this, you are operating in the area of curriculum planning.

If you find that it is impossible for the students to get a real understanding for quality differences in almonds by just telling them through a lecture in an auditorium, you may come up with the idea that they should taste different almonds and make marzipan with the different sorts. Then you have left the area of curriculum planning and entered into ’pedagogics’, saying something about how different ingredients should be taught and learned in order to achieve the objectives of the education,

In some subjects, but not in all, one is completely free to decide when the different parts of content should be taught. In philosophy, it does not matter if the curriculum starts with existentialism or phenomenology, or whether the students read ethics before logic. There are, of course always different opinions in such matters, but here the different opponents are in a much weaker position than those in mathematics. If a curriculum planner in mathematics decides to teach differential equations before derivation and integration, he or she would not live very long. Chemistry is something between. If you make a curriculum in inorganic chemistry, it is very difficult to say that the teaching about gold must be made before the teaching about iron.
As already indicated, curriculum planning and pedagogics are two different things, but they are so intertwined that there is no sharp border of definition between these two concepts.
A curriculum represents a result of many processes, consisting of both traditions and interests, and sometimes of scientific rationality. If the leaders of a nation think that the identity of the nation needs it, they may decide to make a common curriculum for the whole nation, calling it a ’national curriculum’, If the leaders of many nations want to, they may decide to standardize their curricula, and work towards this objective. That is where ’Bologna’ comes in. The EUROFACULTY Project is a part of this process.

If the leaders of Europe want, they may decide to adopt ’US standards’, meaning that they accept US curricula as their standards. The final result may be that we find ourselves living in a world ruled by the same, global curricula.

Intended, or open curriculum.

The ’simplest’ understanding of what we mean when we talk about ’curriculum’ is ’the intended curriculum’. For higher education the curricula are mostly expressed as a plan for a single subject, but in order to satisfy specific interests, different subjects may be combined, making a study (Studium) for individuals or groups of individuals, like nurses and teachers.

An individual, who wants to become a nurse, can read the curriculum plan, as it is intended. Here the important thing is that the curriculum indicates what shall be taught. Sometimes there are also didactical indications given of how the different parts of the education shall be taught, for example through participation in laboratory works, writing a thesis or other activities.

The problem is, however, that it cannot be taken for granted that the students learn what they are taught. Examinations may give some indications of this, but nothing more. In some cases, the teachers are surprised when they interview their own students and find that they have not learnt what the teachers have taught.

Against the background of considerations like this, one should be careful using the words ’curriculum’ or ’curriculum reform’. Does one mean the intended or the real curriculum?

Hidden curriculum.

For many years, it was taken for granted that a study program, stated as a sequence of courses and their content not only described an intended plan, but also described what the students really learned.

Educational research and thinking does not accept that an educational plan should be taken at face value, simply because there are so many filters, barriers, and lenses distorting, bending and twisting the message intended by the planners and decision-makers of a curriculum. It seems that what the planners describe is different from what actually happens. There seems to be a real curriculum, behind the one described in the plan. Sometimes this hidden curriculum can be easily observed if one cares to look for it, but as a student you are influenced by it regardless of whether you observe it or not. A teacher may say that he or she supports equality as stated in the planned curriculum, but what the students learn is not what the teacher says. What they learn and what influences them is what the teacher does. Minor or crude actions signalling a different treatment in respect to gender, social or ethnic background, religion etc exercises an impact upon what the students really learn.

University architecture as a hidden curriculum.

The structure of the school is good bearer of a hidden curriculum. If there are 10 000 students at a university built with 5000 auditorium places, 4000 places for reading in the library. 500 places in group rooms and 500 places in seminar-rooms, this hidden curriculum says that the students are more or less forced to spend half their time listening to lectures, 40% of it reading, 5% of it in groups and 5% of it in seminars. The students are of course influenced by this division of their study time not only concerning their learning results, but also in their preparation for normal working life. One should rather say ’lack of preparation’, since there are no working places in the real world that bear any resemblance to this special academic world. They are victims of a very special ’hidden curriculum’, - the hidden curriculum of university architecture.

Concerning IKSUR and the EUROFACULTY Project, it has been proposed to erect a central building as a ’message’ This is an example on how aesthetics is used as part of a hidden curriculum. For further details, see later in this report.

The result of the open and hidden curriculum is that they shape the habitus of the students. This ’habitus’ is the result of the total impact of the education upon the students. It must be understood as the complex of language, culture, personality, codes and discourse that describes the ’educated’ person. This ’habitus’ includes even the body signals that are acquired. It has been observed that medical students learn to ’walk like doctors’.

The student’s curriculum.

In the discussions on the concept of habitus, following Bourdieu, it has been necessary to stress that the impact upon the students should not be interpreted in a mechanical way, seeing them as passive receivers of external influences, They are active. They select, and sometimes react against the impact.

While teachers sometimes believe that the students learn what they teach, and that the examination tests what (or how much) they have learned, the reality seems to be very different. Instead of passively submitting to the open curriculum, they develop one of their own. Sometimes this is a result of the simple fact that the open curriculum, together with all other expectations and duties laid upon the students are impossible for them to meet. This creation of their own curriculum is called ’student strategy’. It aims at survival in the course of study, at passing the examinations and at reducing effort in their everyday life as a student.

This student strategy starts even before they enter the institution. Teachers seem to believe that students select their education because they are interested in specific subjects. In fact, the expectations of a good career may be more important. Have you ever heard of a student who studied odontology because he or she was especially interested in teeth?

Another example of the importance of seeing the difference between what the teachers think the students learn and what they actually learn, is known as the study of ’students misconceptions’. These studies aim at describing the difference between ’giving the expected answer’ and ’understanding’. The point is that students may learn to give the answers the teachers expect, but when questioned concerning these answers, they are not able to show any reasonable understanding of the processes behind them.

As an example of this, take the situation in science of engineering curricula. Here, the students are often more trained in solving calculation-problems than to understanding physical or chemical processes. It may be mentioned here that teachers, in my experience, quite often refuse to acknowledge this. This may explain why there are so few examples where teachers actually ask their students to comment and explain the results of their calculations.





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