Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A New Pedagogy: Best Practices in An Online Environment?

You have heard the old saying that we shouldn't re-create the wheel if at all possible. It is this mindset that  has caused some teachers to try to transfer "best practices" from the brick and mortar school to an online environment. The rationale is that they always worked well in our brick and mortar school so why shouldn't they work in the online environment?
However, this type of mindset is very restrictive when it comes to what could be accomplished making use of the technologies that make the Internet the vibrant and sometimes dangerous place it can be. It makes the false assumption that there is no substantial difference between the regular classroom environment and the online environment.
What is needed is a very real attempt to examine how we can transform our pedagogy to create a enriched educational experience for students that recognizes that the connected environment that they have grown up with has very real potential for education.

Sir Kenneth Robinson offered a quote that describes one of the barriers that stands in our way. This quote was not originally credited belonging to him but it is one he used that is useful here. He said that when it comes to education and its transformation, there are three types of educators:

First, there are the immovable. They are the individuals who have become quite comfortable with the adage that they live by which is:" we have always done it this way, why do we need to change now?" These are the individuals who are quick to dismiss any new approach as unworkable and they are quick to list a litany of failed educational initiatives which both government and local education administration has burdened them with. To be just in our assessment of this mindset, there is a degree of truth to what they say. The problem is that their point of view is not one that tries to discern those initiatives that which are in fact flawed from those that have merit. They are also the types that quite frankly bore our students to death because they are blind and deaf to what students are trying to tell them about their pedagogy.

Secondly, there are those who move. They are the educators that are willing to try new initiatives and add to their pedagogy repertoire but do not really have the time to go deeper to take a new initiative and innovate. They will still cling to the "best practices" whether they are valid or not because of expediency and fear of rocking the boat in their environment. They sincerely care for the learning of their students and devote endless hours to making sure that they deliver an effective education to their students. The problem for them is tied to how professional development dealing with new initiatives is delivered to them. Too many of them walk away from PD sessions feeling that what they have been introduced to them is simply adding more work to their load which they are already having trouble staying ahead of. The fault for this lies with those who deliver PD to staffs. They need to effectively demonstrate how what they are presenting will enable a educator to work smarter rather than longer.

Thirdly, there are the educators who are movers. They are normally the first adapters of new initiatives. They tend to be willing to take risks and experiment with their course material with the goal of creating a better learning experience for their students. One thing they tend to abhor is bureaucracy and are not very good at filling out forms in triplicate or doing endless reports on things tangentially related to what they want to accomplish with their students.

So,  when pedagogy is practiced from these mindsets, you can see why it is difficult to consider what pedagogy should look like in an online education system.

When you consider different practices that are used in the brick and mortar school, the question that needs to be asked is do these practices constitute or encourage transformational teaching? Does the fact that you use a Smartboard to teach using a Socratic method instruction alone make you a level 3 type of educator indicated above? Is our teaching one that encourages students to have a mindset towards the future that says that they can be innovators that can transform society, that their contributions to that transformation starts during their education stage in life and will be valued now instead of when they get out of school and establish themselves in some position of employment?

Next a comparison between practices used in the present brick and mortar school systems and potential practices that are radically different for the online environment...

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