Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Generalizations about Education: what’s the point?

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Generalizations about education have been driving me crazy for quite some time. If you know me, you’re probably sick of hearing this. I strongly believe that discussions about education divorced from context have almost no value – or at least, very little practical value to teachers in their own context.

I think such generalizations might be more exaggerated in fields related to educational technology because of technological determinism… so things like MOOCs and blended learning and flipping classrooms (but I could be wrong; it could just be that because of my work I tend to read a lot of non-peer-reviewed work in those areas).

Here are a couple of (contradictory!) generalizations that drove me nuts today.

The Instructional Media Selection Guide for Distance Learning – while a generally good and useful report, with many important nuances, makes a STRANGE generalization that you cannot achieve the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (analyzing evaluating, creating) EXCEPT via synchronous means (see diagram p. 32). I have absolutely no idea where they get that from, or how they can justify it, but it is simply not true. And yes, I am generalizing that this generalization is untrue!!! I have been in many asynchronous contexts (including my entire master’s degree) where learners reached the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Funnily enough, I had recently also read a Taxonomy of Blended Course Designs which makes another subtle generalization: that only the more autonomous learners can do higher-level Bloom’s taxonomy activities (though she does allow for both synchronous and asynchronous ways of achieving that). This taxonomy also generalizes about autonomous/asynchronous learning as if it were less interactive, when much asynchronous interaction involves heavy social interaction (e.g. Twitter, online discussion forums). And I think it is entirely possible for learners who are not very autonomous to reach high levels of Bloom’s taxonomy with some support.

On the bright side, I recently read a really good and very short post about questions to consider before “flipping“, including the importance of figuring out what kind of facilities your students have for watching video at home and your own facilities for creating/curating video! And there are many other questions to keep in mind before we decide whether flipping is really better for our own context. For example, people who do not lecture at all have no idea what “flipping” would look like for them since they already use class time interactively anyway!

I’ll stop here for now… but just needed to get that off my chest today!

Oh, and in case you were wondering: I do see the irony behind my generalization about the lack of usefulness of generalizations :o)) But I’ve contextualized it with specific examples of unhelpful generalizations here :o)

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