The End of Education’s Industrial Age

Education_gearsLet’s briefly cover the history of American industrialization. Its relevant, I promise.

In the wake of the the industrial revolution, ideas about optimizing the manufacturing process had begun to surface in an effort to increase productivity. One promising tactic was to condition specialized employees by assigning each a specific role in the manufacturing chain. The result? Efficiencies shot through the roof.

Naturally, schooling was a logical starting place to begin grooming a competent – and “skilled” – workforce. American public education was just being popularized and centralized, making it possible for previously disenfranchised children to get an education. To accommodate the influx of students, schools optimized the learning process in industrial fashion: run them through information, assess performance with standardized evaluations, and certainly don’t let questions and individual curiosities stray from the course. Classrooms soon reflected the assembly lines their students were being prepared for.

The workplace has evolved, yet education is still frozen in the industrial mindset – it has become clear that this is simply not how we learn. “Learning happens in the minds and souls,” says Sir Ken Robinson in an interview from The Guardian, “not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.” The education system born from the industrial revolution dehumanizes the learning process. But teaching, as we’ve come to see, is not an exercise in engineering the mind – it’s an art. An effective teacher is not one with a quick turn around, but one who compels a variety of students to connect and engage.

Flipping the Classroom to Humanize the Student

The flipped classroom affords educators an opportunity to directly engage with students. With readings and lectures taking place at home, class time is now reserved for real pedagogy, which, Robinson stresses, is the “heart and soul of teaching”: connecting with students’ strengths and limitations, making the content relevant and interesting to them, and inspiring genuine curiosity.

My company, StudySoup, recognizes that technology is vital to re-imagining the next generation of educators. In spite of the growing number of Open Educational Resources (OER) available today, teachers still spend the lionshare of their time planning courses, choosing content, and regurgitating it to their class. Only if there’s time left in their day can they directly engage with students, answer questions, and lead collaborative excervices.

Bridging the gap between digital content and pedagogy can be accomplished with appropriate technology. The task of collecting, creating, and delivering content can be made more efficient with smart software and a network of educators. This leaves more time for teachers to do what cannot be automated – teach.

Putting Technology to The Test

The flipped classroom is a simple and intriguing idea with a plethora of persuasive arguments The talk is good, but can it walk the walk? Occasionally, industries in distress will impulsively grasp at trending solutions and technologies. But no theory (or technology, for that matter) is ever perfected on paper – you must implement, gather data, improve, and repeat ad infinitum.

Recently, Russell Mumper, a Vice Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, conducted a flipped classroom study on a first-year pharm class over the course of three years. Though admittedly a loosely controlled experiment, it is the first glimpse at the possible impact of a flipped classroom. The findings, published in Academic Medicine and The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, and reported in The Atlantic in a critical look by Robinson Meyer, showed that students in a flipped classed demonstrated improved performance.

Meyer is right to mention the study was funded by an ed tech company, and therefore may come with some bias; but researchers agree that the findings demonstrate some real value in the flipped classroom. Teachers could gauge student engagement in real time while doing problem sets during class, and gave students more compelling reading to do at home. One researcher mentioned the possibility that improved grades came simply from students doing more work. Another suggested that, since students were working on problems in class, they were indeed working harder, but spending less time procrastinating and cramming.

At the very least, starting this conversation will help guide technologists to figure out what the true problems are and how to better solve them. We’re keeping close with teachers we work with to be sure they shape the technology we’re building – after all, teaching the next generation is not a science of numbers, but an art.

Note: This piece was originally released on EdReach.


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