That is really what it comes down to doesn’t it? Or at least that is a big part of it. The formal learning environment is what most of us is used to. We were educated in this manner and we were trained to educate in this manner. There is not doubt that it may not be impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be difficult. As an educator, I have been asked countless times why we need all these changes in education. Many people have and still do say to me, “it worked fine for me when I was in school, so why are we changing it?” For the most part, by “it”, they mean reading, writing and arithmetic taught to well behaved students, sitting in rows and being respectful. That is the way I understand it anyway.
I hear from my own father, often, how he is frightened by the way the world is heading and he fears, in some ways, for our future being led by these young people who often appear uninterested, unmotivated, disrespectful, distracted and all in all heading in a wrong direction.
Oh, I am sure that some of this is true. Education does seem to swing on a pendulum and we do often throw out perfectly good ideas and strategies to make way for the new flavour. This is bigger then education though isn’t it? It goes out beyond our classrooms and our schools to a much bigger audience. The formal education that we are all used to does not need to be thrown out, but it needs to move over to make room for the new dog on the block-informal learning. I mentioned before that my parents could not have possibly prepared me for the world that I live in today. They had no idea what changes would come about, just as we, as educators supposedly preparing our students for the future, really have no idea what changes will come about in their lives. We can guess and make predictions, but we really do not know. One thing that we know for sure right now though, is that there are uncountable opportunities available for learning and sharing and that if we do not allow our students the opportunity to learn from each other and others, we will for sure be doing them a disservice.
I sat in a inservice session yesterday on preparing ourselves for the new curriculum documents in Saskatchewan that are turning up on so many of our desks at break neck speed. They are based on constructivism. Letting students ask their own questions about learning and letting them play a much bigger role in how they will meet the learning outcomes. One of the things that occurred to me was that it requires teachers to take a back role. To step back and let the students learn and in doing so we give up control.
For me it really aligned with the idea of informal learning. To allow students to participate in informal learning within our formal learning environments also requires that teachers give up some control. That they let students take the lead and they become a facilitator of learning rather than information feeders.
In my job as an educator I feel not only obligated to allow my students to communicate and learn informally, but I also feel compelled to give them those opportunities. I don’t think that I can feel that I am doing my job without allowing them to learn beyond me and despite of me.
In my job as an administrator, I think I must educate my teachers, as well, on the advantages of letting go and then I must support them in that endeavour. Many of us feel like we are flying by the seats of our pants in a strange and unfamiliar environment. It is important that we reach out and help those that are reluctant, just as members of this class have reassured me at the beginning of my journey into this strange new social network. Yes it may require great change in thinking and a lot of educating of parents and community members, but hopefully we will be surprised at the benefits.