Information Age Education
   Issue Number 196
October, 2016   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Striving to Improve Education

David Moursund
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon

“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” (Jean Piaget; Swiss philosopher, natural scientist, and educator, well known for his 4-stage theory of cognitive development; 1896-1980.)

“Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.” (From Teaching As a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, 1969.)

Introduction

This is the second of a sequence of five IAE Newsletters on the topic of improving education. The first of these newsletters presented Robert Branson’s Upper Limit Theory of education (Branson, 1987). In brief summary, Robert Branson argued that the K-12 educational system in the United States had just about reached its upper limit of productivity (of producing well-educated students). He postulated that our educational system would be improved only if we developed and implemented new research-based paradigms that break us out of our current paradigms (models, methods). “Business as usual”, with minor incremental changes, will not produce the improvements that are desired and needed.

Improving Our Schools

I often am annoyed when I hear someone say our school-based educational system is not as good as it should be, and then proceed to tell me one or more changes they believe should be made in order to improve it. I am reminded of the quote:

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” (Henry Louis “H.L.” Mencken; American journalist, essayist, editor; 1880–1956.)

There are certainly a very large number of areas in which changes could be made. These changes might be made in goals, curriculum content, pedagogy, assessment, teacher education, teacher working conditions, teacher pay, school building facilities, class size, number of counselors/advisors available to students, school breakfast and lunch programs, reducing poverty, head-start programs, after-school programs, textbooks and other instructional materials, computer facilities available to students, length of school day, starting time of school days, number of school days in a year, and so on and so on. In term of improving education, all of these are interrelated and changes affect different stakeholders (students, teachers, school administrators, parents, tax payers, etc.) in different ways.

That is, education is a very complex, multivariable endeavor. Moreover, students and the world they live in are changing. For example, in the economically advanced nations of the world, children grow up with Smartphones, Web and Internet access, and computer games. These outside-of-school experiences certainly have a significant educational impact on our students.

This newsletter cannot explore each of the huge number of possible change areas. Many have been tried and not one has proven to be a “magic pill.” Indeed, that is not surprising, since education is such a complex system. For example, you know that the education of a child begins even before birth. A child has learned a great deal before he or she begins to attend school. How will your proposed change accommodate the huge differences in young students entering a K-12 school system?

For practice, let us focus on just one possible area of school change—the goals of education. Off the top of your head, pick one goal of education that you believe could/should be changed, and that the change would lead to an improvement in our educational system.

With that goal in mind, explore the following types of questions:
  1. Can you, with confidence, name the current generally accepted goals of education in your country? If you are going to propose a change, a good starting point might be to know the current goals. For a relatively stable and generally accepted set of goals of education in the U.S., see the article by David Moursund and Richard Ricketts (Moursund & Ricketts, 2013).

  2. Why did you select the particular goal you named to be changed? What evidence do you have that the changes you propose will actually improve the generally accepted set of goals? How would you measure the improvements?

  3. How would you and others go about implementing the changes you propose? For example, will others support the changes, are the changes possible to implement, what will it cost, how long will it take, and so on?

  4. What are some possible major flaws in what you are proposing? Can you give good arguments both for and against your proposal?
You know that we each have our own ideas about effective goals for education. Our current educational system represents a compromise among a large number of stakeholder groups. This system has many and diverse goals, many ways of helping students achieve these goals, and many ways to measure progress toward achieving goals. In total, education is a very complex and challenging human endeavor.

Consider just the issue of goal setting. People have their own ideas as to what constitutes a good education. Parents and other childcare providers each implement their own individual ideas as they care for and help to educate children. Teachers and other educators have their own ideas of what the goals should be, and how to implement them. Similar statements hold for the wide range of other stakeholders. In brief summary, setting goals, designing and implementing ways to achieve these goals, and measuring how well we are doing are not exact sciences. Education is not a factory-like manufacturing process.

Information Age and Knowledge Age

The Information Age in the United States began in 1956 when the number of white-collar jobs first exceeded the number of blue-collar jobs (Moursund, 2016a). The Knowledge Age in the United States began in 1991 when the U.S. spending for information technology hardware and software first exceeded the spending for Industrial Age capital goods. See Learning, Technology, and Education Reform in the Knowledge Age by Bernie Trilling and Paul Hood (Trilling & Hood, May-June, 1999). Figure 1 is from Trilling and Hood’s article.

Seven C’s Component Skills
Critical Thinking-and-Doing Problem-solving, Research, Analysis, Project Management, etc.
Creativity New Knowledge Creation, "Best Fit” Design Solutions, Artful Storytelling, etc.
Collaboration Compromise, Consensus, Community-building, etc.
Cross-cultural Understanding Across Diverse Ethnic, Knowledge and Organizational Cultures
Communication Crafting Messages and Using Media Effectively
Computing Effective Use of Electronic Information and Knowledge Tools
Career and Learning Self-reliance Managing Change, Lifelong Learning and Career Redefinition

Figure 1. The seven C’s: Knowledge Age survival skills.

Spend some time reflecting on the components of this 1999 table. Do you think that our 2016 K-12 educational systems are doing well in these areas?

Some of My Education-related Beliefs

I tend to think about improving education in very general terms. During my long career as a teacher and writer, I have developed a simple set of beliefs that have served me well in my educational endeavors. These beliefs help me to analyze and understand our current educational system and proposed changes in curriculum content, pedagogy, and assessment.

I believe:
  1. A unifying purpose of education is to help people improve the quality of their lives.

  2. Learning is a natural (inherent, built-in) ongoing and lifelong process for all people. Schooling should stress learning to learn, and becoming an intrinsically motivated and independent learner.

  3. All people have the right to a lifetime of rich and varied informal and formal learning opportunities. Schooling should be designed to help each person to develop and use his or her cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills.

  4. Each person is unique. Thus, we should be cautious about designing and implementing schooling content, pedagogy, and assessment processes and goals that “pretend” all students are nearly alike.

  5. Problem solving is an underlying, unifying theme in all education. Through informal and formal education and experiences, people increase their abilities to solve the types of problems, accomplish the types of tasks, and make “considered” decisions in their work, play, interactions with other people, and other aspects of their everyday lives.
You undoubtedly have your own set of education beliefs. Our beliefs tend to be embedded in how we teach and in our own personal approaches to learning. Moreover, both you and I are likely aware that our beliefs do not provide enough detail to design a good educational system.

Problem Solving and Expertise

Of my five beliefs listed above, I have spent the most time and effort on problem solving (Moursund, 2014). Problems and problem solving include:
  • Question situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and answering questions.

  • Problem situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and solving problems.

  • Task situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and accomplishing tasks.

  • Decision situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and making good decisions.

  • Using higher-order critical, creative, wise, and foresightful thinking to do all of the above. Often the results are shared, demonstrated, or used as a product, performance, or presentation.
Gaining an increased level of expertise in problem solving is an important goal in the study of any academic discipline. Quoting again from Moursund (2014):

Each academic discipline or area of study can be defined by a combination of general things such as:
  • The types of problems, tasks, and activities it addresses.

  • Its accumulated accomplishments such as results, achievements, products, performances, scope, power, uses, impact on the societies of the world, and so on.

  • Its history, culture, and language, including notation and special vocabulary.

  • Its methods of teaching, learning, assessment, and thinking. What it does to preserve and sustain its work and pass it on to future generations.

  • Its tools, methodologies, and types of evidence and arguments used in solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and recording and sharing accumulated results.

  • The knowledge and skills that separate and distinguish among: a) a novice; b) a person who has a personally useful level of competence; c) a reasonably competent person, employable in the discipline; d) an expert; and e) a world-class expert. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Thus, I believe that instruction in any area of study should be designed to help students move up an expertise scale such as the one given in Figure 2.

Expertise Scale

Figure 2. An expertise scale. It is not a uniform or linear scale.

Much is known about how to help students gain increased expertise in problem solving. Moreover, problem solving can be taught in a manner that cuts across disciplines—a manner in which there is considerable transfer of learning, both from one discipline to another and over time. Thus, while my comments about problem solving do not suggest specific goals for the various disciplines of study, they provide one approach to measuring the overall quality of education of students. How well can students apply their knowledge, skills, and readily available cognitive and physical aids to solve the problems they encounter in their lives?

Final Remarks

During the Industrial Age, people learned how to design, manufacture, and distribute better “widgets.” They also developed and implemented the idea of education for the masses. The educational systems that we now have are a legacy of a mass production approach developed during the Industrial Age. Goals and processes in content, pedagogy, and assessment have changed over the years to better accommodate changing needs of students and the world.

However, current rates of change in education are not keeping up with changes in our world. The Industrial Age has given away to the Information Age, and is now moving towards being a Knowledge Age.

The next newsletter in this series presents a number of major global changes that our educational system needs to consider.

References and Resources

Branson, R.K. (1987). Why schools can’t improve: The upper limit hypothesis. Journal of Instructional Development. Retrieved 9/29/2016 from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/2007_fall/documents/1-1_3-2_branson_upper_limit.pdf.

Moursund, D. (2016a). Information Age. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/12/2016 from http://iae-pedia/information_age.

Moursund, D. (2016b). Learning problem-solving strategies by using math games: A guide for educators and parents. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/279-learning-problem-solving-strategies-through-the-use-of-games-a-guide-for-teachers-and-parents-1/file.html, Download Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/278-learning-problem-solving-strategies-through-the-use-of-games-a-guide-for-teachers-and-parents/file.html.

Moursund, D. (2014). Problem solving. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/2/2016 from http://iae-pedia.org/Problem_Solving.

Moursund, D., & Ricketts, R. (2013). Goals of education in the United States. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/2/2016 from http://iae-pedia.org/Goals_of_Education_in_the_United_States.

Trilling, B., & Hood, P. (May-June, 1999). Learning, technology, and education reform in the Knowledge Age. Educational Technology. Retrieved 10/12/2016 from http://www.indiana.edu/~syschang/decatur/documents/07_trilling.pdf.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and co-editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books. In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.


Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.