The problem with ‘old-fashioned’ knowledge telling approaches in education

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...

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As I see it, the most common pedagogical approach utilised to introduce (teacher education) students to new (or not so new) knowledge and skills is through well-structured problems with known, correct answers, often derived following pre-defined processes that are clearly outlined in contemporary textbooks and lecture handouts and well-rehearsed in tutorial sessions. Often no systematic check is performed to ascertain what students’ prior knowledge is and students are repeatedly exposed to similar kinds of teacher-centric pedagogy as they slowly move through the levels of the education system. My problem with teacher-centric pedagogical approaches is two-fold:
First, the particular (old-fashioned) learning design is socialising students into passive consumers and, unsurprisingly, as well-socialised students, they will perceive the learning material and this pedagogical approach to be palatable and the material easily digestible. In other words, the ‘teaching’ matches the learners’ knowledge and expectations of how teaching should happen (easy, stress-free and unambiguous). This ‘low-level’ knowledge is easily testable and cramming before an exam is not only practiced but also more often than not rewarded with a mark that is usually higher than if the student would not have spent last frantic hours memorising basic information, doing at the end of a unit of study what they should have done at the beginning. My problem with consumer students is that they are, not of the fault of their own, made to become dependent on the ‘knowledge-dispensing’ teacher. Second, the more knowledge is perceived as a commodity, a product, to be transferred from one person to another, the more value is put on consumption and students’ ‘consumer power’. This is a scary thought indeed. Old-fashioned ‘knowledge telling’ by teachers does not require of students to think independently, exert effort, deal with ambiguity, opposing views and complex problems. This fostering of ‘dependent learning’ through ‘knowledge telling’ is too widespread (see the OECD background report to the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession) at all levels of education and is thus kept in perpetual motion. The likelihood that this will change in the current economic climate and ‘businessification of higher education’ in Australia is slim indeed (see my forthcoming chapter in the LIHE ’11 anthology).

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