Sunday, May 12, 2013

Another Silly Trend in Education

What is it about teachers that they love dogma and simple solutions? In my area of teaching (Physics + General Science) the latest dogma that appears to be gaining ground is Peer Group Work (PGW). While such a mechanism of teaching physics through group work is not new and indeed it has manifested itself under the exotic newspeak term Collaborative Learning in an earlier era, the latest incantation of the phenomenon seems to be gaining a stronger clout largely driven by the zealotry of its followers. This is not to say that Group Learning is without merit, indeed it has its usefulness (I myself make use of it for certain aspects of the curriculum  viz. Hooke's Law and Linear Momentum) but the latest radicalism champions it as the panacea for all the woes associated with misconceptions in physics learning. In fact left to their own devices the PGW crew would use their teaching methodology exclusively in the classroom claiming the support of selective data interpretation of quasi-performance indicators, such as the limited force concept inventory for justification. A cursory glance at their reasoning evidently reveals an emperor without clothes but such a critique will hardly suffice for those who have chugged with passion on this pedagogical kool-aid.

The reality is that there is no single methodology that should be followed for teaching Physics or any of the scientists. Teachers have diverse strengths and skills and the myriad of learners types in a class are too varied to pigeon hole a class into a one-size fits all mentality. The best teachers will employ a variety of learning strategies from formal lecturing, to Problem Based Learning, to careful use of the Socratic and indeed will dabble with Constructivism. Misconceptions can be addressed effectively in such a millieu as I have personally witnessed, The Key is to know your learners and be prepared to differentiate. Approaches vary.

Binding yourself to a dogma - no matter how progressive it seems - ignores the reality of the learner (not all students are extroverted which is what PGW favours) and minimizes to its very detriment the powerful and critical role of the teacher in the classroom. PGW sees the role of a teacher changing to become that of a facilitator. This would be a tragedy especially for those who have traditionally learnt so much over the years from the active role of the knowledgeable other.

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