Learning Problems and Consultation Based Curricula

(This is a jumble of snippets in no particular order for a post that I’m not going to get round to writing…)

Ewan McIntosh’s presentation at TEDxLondon: The Problem Finders [VIDEO]

All our students, their parents and the people teaching them, have been indoctrinated that is teachers who sift through all the things we can learn, find the areas worth exploring, and make up theoretical problems for students to solve. On top of this, most educators believe that it is their job to invent problems at just the right level of difficulty to appeal to every one of the 30 children in front of them.

A couple of days after I saw this, John Naughton raised a similar issue at the Arcadia project review workshop – that experts and professionals are good at creating (or identifying) problems out of mess or muddle, the trick being that the problems are cast into a standard form to which known solutions/problem solving strategies can then be applied.

Is this related? In science education, I guess it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of framing practical lessons as the running of experiments that try to replicate “the right answer”, as opposed to being activities that set out to explore a particular claim and see if they can replicate it. (I seem to remember that I typically wrote up my own school chemistry experiments but there also being a phase of the practical lessons where everyone would shout out their own results of the particular experiment that had been carried out, thus giving us multiple pieces of evidence related to the investigation being made or claim under test.)

How about problems to which the answer is unknown? New problems will often fall into this class?

Where the problem fits a particular pattern but the answer is not known, finding the answer may constitute “real” work. This is in part what I’m struggling to frame as authentic educational activities.

Stack Overflow is a great place for finding problems that people have identified, but don’t necessarily know how to answer?

Courses are organisational principles: they provide a curriculum; they often provide a linear model to work through. They provide pacing, a cohort, an end point in the form of assessment and feedback.

A quick approach to course design is often to focus on the syllabus.

How about using a consultation document, or a Green or White paper, as providing the core syllabus, the issues to be addressed in the course of study?

Consultation aims to solicit views of people who have a stake in, and/or knowledge about, a particular policy matter or implementation proposal. (Caveat: a cynic might say that consultations provide an opportunity to develop a PR strategy against likely responses to the decisions that follow the consultation period).

Assessment recast as a consultation exercise where the aim is to solicit the opinion and knowledge of the candidate about a particular topic. The aim of consultation based curriculum is to develop the knowledge and critical skills of the candidate such that they can provide a meaningful and considered response to the consultation. The fact that the response of the candidate might have a consequence if submitted to a real consultation exercise means the candidate has a stake in clarifying their personal views and then expressing them clearly.

Consultation based education provides:
– re-occurring, lifelong learning/updating opportunities
– fixed time scales over weeks to months
– a contextualised curriculum: for example, the forthcoming “Communications Green Paper” [need a better link] provides a frame that can be used to contextualise the sort of content that appears in the ICT courses produced by members of my department (Communication and Systems). Could we run an open, online course based around the Communications Green Paper, on part drawing on content deposited in OpenLearn as well as other OER repositories around the web, aimed at helping people understand better the issues raised in the Green Paper as well as the technologies referred to?

There is a risk that consultation/report based courses might be viewed as propaganda. I think we’d need to make sure they were properly framed as scrutiny.

MIT’s recent MITx proposal which will offer credentials around MIT open online courses has attracted a lot of commentary over the last few days. As @alyp responded to a tweet I made about this being an innovation, “The OU was issuing certificates of course completion 20 yrs ago. The innovation may be crowd-sourced and tech driven assessment”. I should have clairified: the innovation is maybe a systemic one, with employers being willing to trust the new form of credential that MITx appears to be offering (where ‘new’ is maybe new only in the sense of rebranding an old idea/marketing it in a new way…)

I notice that the Westminster Forum on the forthcoming Communications Green Paper is “CPD Certified”… Could an updating course around the Green Paper offer similar “credentialling”?

There are opportunities for repeat business (education is a business now, right?): sign up for 5 year updating package that will include courses around major reports and bills in a given subject area published by BIS, for example. Or a technical package that will review technologies and guidance, in course like way, built around COI guidance docs. The courses would be critical, academically minded, and serve to both educate as well as provide scrutiny.

Consultation/report based courses would as a side-effect deepen citizen engagement with policy and legislation development, as well as raising awareness of changes in legislation and policy amongst professionals.

A couple of years ago, a New Year’s resolution led to the WriteToReply experiment I ran with Joss Winn for a while. I’m still working on my resolutions for next year… how does LearnToEngage sound?

[See also the follow on to this post, looking in (slightly) more detail at how a consultation framed course might work: News, Courses and Scrutiny]

PS maybe related? Steve Wheeler on Content as curriculum? Also some of my other doodlings relating to lifelong learning – rather than degree based qualification – relationships between universities and students: Graduate With Who (Whom?!;-), Exactly…?, Subscription Models for Lifelong Students, Subscriptions Not Courses? Idling Around Lifelong Learning, Education, Training and Lifelong Learning.

PPS Just spotted this, possibly worth critiquing: HESA: What is a Course?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

3 thoughts on “Learning Problems and Consultation Based Curricula”

  1. why is it smart to have beginning students try to frame then solve problems with no scaffolding? Why wouldnt we expect teacher’s try to reduce the learning curve for bodies of knowledge in which many typical problems exist and which need solving?

    is it really the case that we cant judge which learning paths are better than others? at any time, any where?

    follow your uninformed bliss to treat every day as unconnected to any other day, be open to the complete world of possibilities. ignore all tentative conclusions formed by deeply experienced people

  2. Ken: It’s not about framing and solving problems with no scaffolding. It’s absolutely about choosing the right level of scaffolding to provide a way forward, without building the whole path for the student, in advance, with no sense of working things out for themselves – exactly what most modern curricula are.

    It’s also about achieving balance between what David Perkins terms “elementitis”, where elements of scaffolding are taught one after the other, without the student ever seeing what the whole game looks like. By having students find and frame problems, and realise that they need scaffolding provided (content, knowledge, skills that need taught), then their learning is framed in a meaningful way: this new knowledge and understanding will help me achieve what *I* want to achieve (not just what someone else wants to achieve for *their* test).

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: