Does school ruin learning?

As the semester starts warming up the online students are starting to post their introductions using Popplet (essentially a simplified Prezi, but one which is being a little unreliable today), Prezi or other tools. One of the interesting threads that run through many of these posts has been the amazement at how young children, as young as 1 or 2, quickly become proficient at using information technology. My two young suns are currently getting into pocket edition of Minecraft on their iPads with no advice from me.

I then compare this with some of what I have heard from university academics and various pundits over the last few weeks. The common refrain of “where’s the professional development” (PD). If you dig a bit into the change management advice around organisations and new technology you will find the provision of training one of the critical success factors. But there is some blow back on that idea.

In this post Jonah Salsich captures an alternate perspective suggesting that teachers need to relearn how to learn. He suggests that teachers hold a particular paradigm for their learning

they feel that they need to be taught something in order to learn it. I’m not sure that they know there is now another way to learn, especially where learning about technology is concerned.

A paradigm created by the system of education

We come from a system of education where everything was fed to us. As a student (even through my master’s degree), if I was told I needed to learn something there was a clear process I had to go through to learn it; sign up (and pay) for the right course with the available expert, buy some textbooks, go to class, follow directions, and collect my credits to show that I had learned it.

At the moment, I am reading Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas. Here are some examples

Children being their lives as eager and competent learners. They have to learn to have trouble with learning in general and mathematics in particular.

One of the main lessons learned by most people in math class is a sense of having rigid limitations.

And this rather damning comment about the folk involved with education

..influences the selection of people who get involved in education. Very few with imagination, creativity, and drive to make great new inventions enter the field. Most of those who do are soon driven out in frustration. Conservatism in the world of education has become a self-perpetuating social phenomenon.

The problems of being right

Another related point Papert makes, which resonates with me strongly as an ex-/sometime- software devleoper

many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either “got it” or “got it wrong.” But when you learn to program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting “bugs”, the parts that keep the program from working…….The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition, we all might be less intimidated by our fears of “being wrong.”

I’ve watched my boys grapple with a new app on their iPad. The method of learning has more to do with the debugging approach than the right or wrong approach.

Perhaps its time for teachers (and education systems) to worry less about being wrong and think more about debugging. I wonder if this focus on being right (and not being seen as being wrong) is a contributing factor to “waiting for the PD”? Is it ruining learning?

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