Monday, April 6, 2015

E-Learning--Bringing It Together--Habits of the Mind I--Creating Thoughtful Engagement

As has been mentioned in past posts, there are certain habits of the mind that need to be introduced and nurtured with respect to this generation of E-Learners. In doing this we are able to help E-Learners eliminate bad habits of the past that they have acquired from not only being part of the old industrial model of education but also from being connected to the web for all of their lives. These old habits are counter-productive to a vision that sees the developing role of educators and learners as agents of change within a rapidly changing world.

Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2008) introduced us to 16 habits of the mind which encapsulated the type of cognitive habits that the learners of the 21st century and beyond need in order to become agents of change who create new knowledge and skill sets favourable to innovation.

One such habit of the mind that needs to be introduced and nurtured is what I call "thoughtful engagement". Thoughtful engagement is demonstrated when a student produces evidence that shows he or she has not only read what is required in order to complete a learning task but has also included thoughtful reasoning supported by evidence based upon other sources of information that they voluntarily include to support their lines of reasoning.
This skill is one that we often attributed to "good academic students" but we no longer have the luxury of being able to depend on a minority of students. The simple truth is that all students are capable of developing this habit of the mind that is quickly becoming an essential of 21st century critical thinking.
The obvious question that needs to be asked is:

"If all of our students are capable of developing this habit of the mind, then why haven't they demonstrated this in the past?

The answer to this question centers on our purpose for education and the nature of engagement. We can identify a number of past barriers to students developing this habit of the mind:

  1. The purpose of education was to instill conformity to a particular mould that we expected all students to fit into. Only a minority were re-routed to become agents of change and usually only those who belonged to the upper class levels of an industrial oriented society. The minority who were to be agents of change were expected to only make changes that would continue to strengthen the industrial model. Learners were expected to simply remember and then regurgitate in an uncritical fashion all that was required to ensure conformity to the "one size fits all " mould. Protocols in assessment were set up to support this mindset.
  2. With the advance of technology and the Internet coupled with the industrial model being used, the "cut and paste" generation was born. With the availability of vast knowledge resources on the Internet and the lack of change in pedagogy to fit a new digital world, students when confronted with the same old subject based projects simply used cut and paste to complete assigned work. Also, the online world attitude picked up by learners was that the Internet was free and therefore recognizing anyone owning knowledge was a non-starter for learners. To compromise, learners in a new digital education world were true to the industrial model and their role by simply "cutting and pasting" information from the Internet in order to complete assignment requests. To give legitimacy to their work, they cited their sources according to prescribed protocols. However, the question that needs to be asked is at what cost?
"Where was "thoughtful engagement" with the learning experience for the learner?"

Given the stated purpose of education, "thoughtful engagement" was not really required. Yes, you did have to understand what you were reading but you were not really expected to create new knowledge or skill sets.

In the 21st century, we need learners who will be creators of new knowledge and skill sets if we are ever going to be able to tackle the problems that the present and future societies face and will face. Innovation will not occur without students having a habit of the mind called "thoughtful engagement". It must become so natural to them that it is like breathing. It is also a warning to instructional designers that pedagogy can not be a static construct but must be thoroughly adaptive and able to use what technology has to offer to meet the needs of thoughtfully engaged and dynamic digital learners.

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