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Education has changed over 1000 years. It has also stayed the same.

George Siemens recently presented a keynote at the Higher Education Research & Development Society of Australasia, and Twitter was fortunate to have Gardner Campbell on hand to live-tweet the proceedings (Siemens did post his slides on SlideShare, but if you have not had the pleasure of seeing a George Siemens keynote, the slides are an augment of the conversation rather than a recitation). Titled Exploiting Emerging Technologies to Enable Employability Quality of Life, the presentation puts many existing assumptions around education and educational technology in the crosshairs.

An increasing number of pundits have taken to ringing the Education Has Not Changed klaxon, finding well-clicked bully pulpits from which to share these pithy proclamations.  Whether it’s Sal Khan linking to Horace Greeley (who links to the Prussians), or Peter Levine saying it hasn’t changed since the earliest universities 1000 years ago, or MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson perpetuating a false mythology of educational inertia

This has me thinking about Lee Schulman today, specifically his 1985 address to AERA that set the pieces in motion for adopting a more inclusive approach to teacher readiness, where contents and pedagogies were inextricably linked rather than siloed or imbalanced (or, in the case of the teacher testing protocols of the 1980s, eschewing both for the ever-popular classroom management).  Schulman understands how in the 1880s a teacher preparation program could be so weighted towards contents, and to an extent understands how a 1980s teacher preparation program could be so weighted towards methodology, but is troubled by the lack of link between the two; if we have grown with an understanding of pedagogy, that should not mean a sacrifice of content knowledge or expertise.

Of course, this becomes even more frustrating today, what with technology becoming as ubiquitous as pedagogy and contents, and the attempts to make TPACK borne of a theoretical framework in why and when, not what and how but too often equated to tool belts and easy application of technology.  The result is too often a third silo, a caste of technologists at the ready to deploy technology from a home base, independent of the teacher or the learners.

Schulman quotes Father Walter Ong’s 1958 work Ramus, Method & the Decay of Dialogue to siphon through rhetoric and see the importance of teaching across time and history — the etymology of Master and Doctor (the highest points of the academic profession) both come from words meaning to teach.  A bachelor was thus an apprentice teacher.  And if teaching is inextricably linked to all professions, then the idea of abstracting contents or pedagogies is a fallacy.  A doctor of anything is an expert in such a regard as to be able to assist citizens in journeying from novice to expert.

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Voltolina’s Henry of Germany has been conflated by many as evidence of needed change in an archaic lecture system; perhaps the issue is much deeper.

Saying education hasn’t changed is certainly a way to sell product (technocentricism, competency based education, online platforms).  Perhaps it is also a signifier of a difficulty in better engaging the expectations of teacher in a rapidly changing educational framework.  Shulman notes the vast changes in expectations of a teacher between the 1880s (when a teacher credential examination was almost entirely based on content) and the 1980s (when the examination was almost entirely based on methodology).  These expectations have only continued to move towards classroom management and away from spaces of expertise, whether siloed expertise in contents or pedagogies or even a more broad expertise indicative of a Master or a Doctor.  In K-12 we see a political movement to classroom managers, and to an extent the discussions of competency based education  and letting teachers do what they do best is the higher education equivalent of diluting expertise so as to serve a framework hierarchy.  And this is antithetical to what Schulman and his contemporaries see as the value of teacher, a person whose expertise is malleable to the point of serving and facilitating a learning journey because of an ability to pull content and pedagogy together based on the needs of the situation and the environment.  Today, Mishra & Koehler have added technology to this construct, which in many ways is a further requirement and hampering on the role of teacher, but the potential affordances have reshaped and expanded on what it means to construct and create knowledge.

I have to think the education has not changed mantra is solely about the passing of contents onto individuals in search of jobs and careers.  From this perspective, it can easily seem like not much has happened — 1,000 years ago contents were passed to students and today we do the same thing.  What a great percentage of the research on education has shown, however, is the fallacy of the contents-mediated approach; education is about transformation and social relationships and externalization and not an easy accrual of facts or an ability to take Google facts and apply them.  The shift Schulman sees to management and methodology is not an improvement but a lateral movement; he calls for seamless integration between the domains of pedagogy and content.

The question Siemens posts at the heart of his keynote (quality of life over employability) is central to this discussion.  When teaching is about employment, it is easier to focus on singular contents or the methods, but to remain siloed even when calling for lifelong learners with liberal arts backgrounds who are critical thinkers and can apply abstract concepts to concrete situations.  When teaching is about quality of life, this is not an indictment of employment but an understanding that public service is only a part of identity, and thus the educators who are engaging emergent technologies in the name of pedagogy and content need to be able and willing to build connections and relationships between the formal requirements of the educational system with the personal transformation of each individual.  It is a balancing act, and a treacherous one in an environment of exponential technological growth and increasing government regulation.  Much like how educators endeavor to help students own their experiences in the classroom, it is just as important to aid faculty in owning their experiences with content, pedagogy and technology.

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