Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Following emerging trends in education

I work in the HEI (Higher Education Institution) sector as an educational psychologist.

I'm pretty fed up with a specific part of my sector and that is (broadly) 'teaching and learning', specifically, 'inclusion'.

People come to see me because they are pretty smart but are not managing to prove it through their academic offerings (usually essays and exams).

I work with people that are wondering why they are not turning effort and potential into grades.

Most people walk in the door with a question like "is it me or am I just thick?".

Clearly, as an educational psychologist, I would not consider using the technical educational term "thick" as it has a long history of being on the wrong side of PC nomenclature. However, I do understand what they are trying to communicate. People have a felt sense that they are capable of more and wonder what on earth is going on when they spend three weeks solidly shut in their room writing like Jack Torrance (Stephen King and the Shinning) only to get a 45 and cutting comments like "lacks structure" and "did you do any proofreading?" or "have you thought about being assessed for dyslexia?".

So a big part of my job is to help people find a label that helps to categorise this phenomenon that has them at their witts end. It is not a nice feeling like you are really smart but just being rather unable to prove it. Labelling unknown phenomenon is a big part of science. In physics, it might be that a theory predicts a new phenomenon and then data needs to be collected to prove the theorem (e.g. Higgs boson). The only issue for people wanting a label that describes anything to do with learning and cognition is that unlike particle physics, education/psychology has yet to produce one unified theory of anything.

This is not a failure of education, psychology or science. It is that we just have to recognise the order of complexity that each jump in levels of abstraction involves. Say we use a simple hierarchy such as:

Physical systems
Biological Systems
Cognitive Systems
Technological, Cultural and Social Systems
(some might add spiritual systems, but this might not sit well with some scientists, although this is an interesting topic, we might have to be quite precise about we mean by 'spiritual')

Each step up the hierarchy means an exponentially large jump in complexity. And each level 'transcends and includes' the level(s) preceding it.

So returning to our theme, the reason we do not have so many unified theories in education/psychology is that, I would speculate, we have not had the time needed to verify and synthesise the knowledge we have been producing to date. I can't get too far into this topic right now without getting into a lot of messy and complex detail. But there are a few themes that I could mention that are interesting to me at present with regard to the future of educational psychology within the context of HEIs.

1. The influence of business on universities and working with polarities such as portfolios and professional competencies and academic skills progression. I noticed today that Starbucks is offering to pay university fees for employees. Will other businesses follow suit? Will this have an influence on how courses are designed and run and evaluated?

2. I also noticed today that the education secretary is starting a new edtech campaign. Will this impact issues around alternative assessment (assessing inner qualities of learning with a wider range of innovative technology like loopme.io)

We need a move away from the factory model of HEIs if we are to be more inclusiove. Will business and technology be catalising forces? What creates transformation in large institutions? I don't know but am very interested.

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