Melissa Koenig

Rethinking School

Lately I have been doing a lot of walking and have used that time to catch up on a number of podcasts, including a recent episode of the TED Radio Hour titled Rethinking School. A couple of things in this episode really caught my attention and made me think about what we are doing here at DePaul—and how perhaps we can rethink our own practices.

One of the talks that really struck a chord with me was the conversation with Andreas Schleicher. Schleicher talked about the need for educators to move away from assessing what a student knows, and instead move toward assessing how well students can perform with the knowledge they have.

Schleicher is the Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. In his role as Director he developed a new way of assessing student knowledge called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). This test is given every 3 years to 15-year-old students around the world, and is less interested in measuring what these students know, and more interested in measuring how they apply that knowledge.

Over time, one of the more interesting findings has been that high performing education systems around the world are no longer defined by wealth. Perhaps this change is due in part by a willingness (or creativity) on the part of these poorer nations that makes them more willing/able to innovate. I would argue that our traditional system of education feels stuck at times. We do things simply because that is the way they have always been done.

In our institutions of higher education we often find that programs are driven not by what is holistically good, but instead by what such development can do for us locally. Instead we should, I would argue, be looking at crossing the college silos to develop innovative, creative, collaborative and immersive experiences for our students. The new knowledge economy needs students who are not simply educated, but students who are able to apply their knowledge in new situations—even situations that we have not yet imagined.

The pedagogical framework of the flipped classroom provides us an opportunity to use technology to perhaps achieve some of these goals. In the flipped model, students view lectures at home at their own pace. This provides students the opportunity to master the foundational materials at a speed that best suits them. The classroom activities are then rich, collaborative, immersive activities that build on the knowledge the student has mastered outside of class. These experiences provide students with the ability to apply what they have learned to new situations.

I would argue, however, that we need to go beyond doing this simply at the class level, but instead really look at the entirety of the program. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, is also the founder of the Khan Lab School, a mixed-age project-based school. What is remarkable about this school is the way that it has completely deconstructed the hierarchy of a traditional K-12 setting. On any given day students as young as 5 and as old as 14 can be seen working together in collaborative groups to apply their knowledge to solve real world problems.

What might this look like at the college level? Can we see a day where similar types of groups could work? Where students across disciplines and skill levels will collaborate to solve practical problems? Can we see a time when students who are majoring in math are working with environmental scientists, artists, musicians and computer scientists to solve a problem? Would such an approach to a college degree produce students who are better able to work in multi-disciplinary teams? Would they be more likely to accept input from those outside their disciplines?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but working in an institution of higher learning, I think it is important for us to really look at these innovative trends in K-12 education around the world. The interdisciplinary, globally diverse nature of our world requires that we prepare students not just to pass tests and write assessments, but to also be able to collaborate and think creatively. We are doing a disservice to our students if we don’t look to prepare them to be successful in an ever changing and increasingly more nimble workforce.

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