Deposit or delineate

Across the range of courses I’m responsible fo, a range of pedagogical approaches are used, based on the subject, the resources available to the instructor/department, and the norms of the discipline in question. In education courses, as an example, testing is less common: learners are expected to link their studies meaningfully to their lived experience (as educators mostly, but sometimes as learners themselves). In health and science, testing takes on a larger role, since it’s the acquisition of specific nuggets of knowledge that are the goal–though eventually such knowledge’s applicability is also important.

As an educationalist I’m disinclined to use testing in courses I teach. However, were I to need brain surgery I would prefer my surgeon confidently know where my bits are–and how to cut into me without killing or maiming me. If he can articulate what the experience of being a surgeon means to him, good for him. After he’s finished with me, thanks.

There are people who claim that constructivist pedagogies (of the sort I described using in my education classes) are superior to what Paulo Freire (1980) called “the banking method” of education, where instructors deposit knowledge into learners’ brains and require learners to regurgitate it. I think Freire’s critique both justified and important, but I don’t think it should be universally applied. Somethings just need to be known: if you don’t believe so, why do you wear clothes, use furniture, or mechanized transport…all of which are technologies developed thanks largely to the banking method.

When teaching about educational technology there can be a tension between those who are keenly constructivist and learners who hope to acquire pragmatic skills–and expect someone to teach them. A tack I find consistently useful is the ever-popular sandwich. The recipe here would be:

  • a slice of intro/set up (often a case or problem)
  • a slab of competency-based “how to” activities
  • a slice of meaning-making

It’s not a fool-proof recipe, but it seems to leave few learners behind. It also diffuses some of the stress and angst non-technophiles experience learning new technologies.

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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