edLab Seminar Design Exercise
In week three of the Summer edLab seminar the group was involved in a design exercise. The exercise was presented to the group as follows (this scenario is purely fictional!!!):
Background: A New TC Mandate
As prospective students assess their options for graduate-level education in 2005, they will find that there are more and more educational programs — including graduate schools -- offering certification quickly, cheaply, and conveniently. While TC believes that efficiencies are important, the institution would like to “competeâ€? in this environment by emphasizing the unique qualities that make TC stand out from its competitors.
The Trustees of the College have mandated that TC further distinguish itself from other graduate institutions by rethinking the development and delivery of educational services and products. They are hopeful this new strategy will improve the quality of teaching/learning at the College, and empower the institution in the education field. To that end, the TC Administration is strongly encouraging the faculty to involve graduate students in real-world projects.
The rationale is that TC students should start making contributions to their respective fields at the onset of their TC experience rather than after. These projects will be in the areas of 1) a current TC Academic Program (e.g. school improvement, adult education, teacher education, educational leadership) 2) academic research (i.e. publishing in peer-reviewed journals), and 3) other educational reform efforts (e.g. more effective use of technology and tools in the classroom).
Under this new model, the strict student/faculty dichotomy should fall away. All members of the TC community should be engaged in teaching each other, in working toward co-producing new ideas, theories, tools, etc.
Objective: Developing Alternative Systems/Structures/Institutions
The current operational model at TC emphasizes particular modes of 1) learning/instruction (e.g. lectures, semester long courses), 2) student advisement (e.g. office hours), and 3) learning/work opportunities (e.g. Graduate Assistantships, Research Fellowships, Internships). However, this model is unable to accommodate the new TC mandate.
The task before each team today is to propose “something new.â€? Please consider the infrastructure (i.e. technologies, tools, facilities, etc.) that will be necessary to make the overall system function efficiently and effectively. The “winningâ€? design will pay careful attention to the following:
1) The system cannot bankrupt the College; the school must remain solvent.
2) The system should accommodate all TC students, not just advanced doctoral students.
To address this task, the seminar was divided into three groups. I will do my best to summarize the approach offered by each group.
Group 1: Hui Soo Chae, Brian Carolan, Lin Lin, Maureen Grolnick
This group presented a solution which could best be described as the "Dewey Lab School Approach." The idea was to get the students away from 120th street and into lab schools around the city, or around the state/country. They saw two types of lab experiences, one that emphasized teaching and one that emphasized research. They hoped that the two would reinforce each other.
Group 2: Clifford Hill, Hugo Ortega Lopez, Suzanne Hughes and Brian Krawczyk
This group drew a diagram that portrayed a fluid movement of interaction between faculty, doctoral students and masters students. This group noted that it would be important to do away with our current departmental structure, and rather concentrate on real-world projects. At the center of such projects would be one or more faculty members. Around the faculty would float some doctoral students, and around the doctoral students would float the masters-level students.
Group 3: Brian Hughes, Ivan De Jesus, Christine Epting, Larry Furnival
This group proposed that the TC examine what it is good at and emphasize those qualities. The notion was put forward that faculty are the ultimate asset of TC, and that they should (a) be give the autonomy to create interesting opportunities for their students, and (b) should be judged (as in tenure review) based upon how well their students do upon exiting TC. In fact, under their scenario, well-placed, high-earning students would owe money back tot he faculty member to pay back the debt they owe for the great placement. Presumably these students would have paid nothing for their experience at TC.
I thought the exercise went well, and that everyone was eagerly engaged. At one point toward the end, it dawned on me that there may have been a better way of stating the original problem:
The most effective means of learning are well documented in the literature. Over and over we read about the promise of the constructivist, hands-on model. However, despite the fact that we know that constructvist learning is very effective, we do not pursue it, even on our own campus. At least we do not pursue it widely. Rather, we rely upon the lecture/seminar model. Most learning at TC happens in classrooms (I know there are programs at TC with robust internships experiences, etc -- I am talking about most learning). My question is why are we unable to offer the types of learning experiences we know are most effective? My guess is that it is a question of economics.
The classroom model is cost-effective. We can teach many students relatively quickly, and at a price-point that students can afford (don't laugh). The real-world-project model is expensive and limits access. This flies in the face of the college's new equity campaign. In general, constructivist models are not efficient.
Now, hold on to your hats, here is the billion dollar question:
Given new the information-rich, highly-connected work in which we find ourselves, is it possible to create, through the use of new tools and technologies, the infrastructure that would allow any institution, not just TC, to engage faculty and students alike in a constructivist model of education?
Each of the solutions presented by the groups above state, in one way or another, that it is important for students to be involved, in real and meaningful ways, in the practice of education. What we did not get a chance to address is how that can happen without overturning the financial model of the school. We can propose lab schools and projects, but we must simultaneously propose the means by which these endeavors can be supported. This is a tricky question -- one that might engage edLab and the edLab seminar for years to come.
See everyone next week,