A few weeks ago at dinner, my family and I engaged in a delightful discussion around the practicality of education. Stereotypically, academia is regarded as devoid from reality, with the professor dreamily creating scenarios up in the "ivory tower." Isn't that sad, that we take it as a standard that education is theoretical and unrealistic? How can we change that? Wouldn't you say that's detrimental to a child's learning?
According to author Malcolm Gladwell, the three things needed to make work satisfying are autonomy, complexity and a relationship between effort and reward. If students are to enjoy school and embrace learning, our schools need to contain these three principles. This work is meaningful. Theoretical, unrealistic academia is not meaningful. Take a step back and think -- does it make any sense to do pointless work; work that's meaningless? Most adults wouldn't waste their time on that. However, that sort of meaningless work is what students go through everyday. Gladwell says in Outliers, "Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning." Basically, if lessons in school were given a practical application, a tie to the real world, students wouldn't find learning to be a drag.
I feel like Bob Rhyske from the Center of Teaching in Atlanta summed up the current state of education well when he said: "School is real life, but the process of learning in traditional schooling does not reflect process of learning in real life. In real life, I don't do worksheets, daily quizzes and multiple choice tests. My learning is organic, spontaneous and adaptive."
I think that the Internet and our current state of high technology have the power to help give schools the meaning and real-life connection needed to engage and thoroughly educate their students. Technology allows us to find resources and make connections that expand our learning database. Now, a student in Sweden can learn math from Americans online. Sample problems, extra examples, even more complex concepts for eager students all can be found at the click of a button. Teachers can also grow thanks to the many professional learning networks that are springing up via social media, Skype and more. This expanded network means that questions no longer go unanswered andboundaries can be pushed even if your teacher has to help others catch up. The Interwebs allows students to take their learning into their own hands and give it life and meaning -- they can apply their passion to what ever they choose. Now, work doesn't have to be meaningless. The world of theoretical academia should not be real life, and with technology, it's becoming more and more a thing of the past. But the question is, are the schools teaching for yesterday or tomorrow?
Follow Tara Subramaniam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tara_supersub