They were right after all. We are seeing a comeback (were they ever really gone anywhere?) of some of the old theories about learning and how teachers should conduct their lessons. Edtech is making possible the practical application of the Socratic method, of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, of Vygostky’s studies and experiments. All the other pedagogues who have advocated more direct involvement and participation from the students in their own learning are being vindicated and having their theories confirmed and validated.
Some of the methodologies we see in use today are becoming possible because of the realization of individualized learning. It boils down to a student facing her app alone in her bedroom to start with. And from there we can exploit the use of questions (Socrates) to lead that student further and further on the path to the right answer, or, even better, to her own answer in the case of a more abstract problem (such as moral, ethical or political issues); we can personalize teaching to make the context more relevant for each of the students, and therefore resonate with them (Paulo Freire); and we can flip our lessons, having students reconvene in class afterwards to cooperate in solving problems (Vygotsky), after having spent time alone in their homes doing research, reading, watching TEDs or other relevant videos on YouTube.
We have always known that personalization, cooperation and inductive approaches worked fine. They have the power of grabbing the students’ interest and attention, keeping the findings longer in their memory. We’re clever teachers after all, we do our homework as well, we went to college and were fascinated by Plato and his dialogues, we felt invigorated by the potential and possibilities of the pedagogy of Freire; and we could easily see that pairing off weaker students with strong ones who would pull them along zones of proximal development made total sense.
But we lacked the means to make it happen. How to apply these exciting methods to classes of more than 30 students (or even more sometimes)? How can a single teacher dedicate enough time to the needs of individual students in these conditions? How much time is there outside the class for teachers to mark essays and homework, to create interesting lessons, to prepare the long – and possibly very boring (for the students) – lecture to present on the following day?
The good news is things are changing. More and more, the new technology being created will allow us to go back to the masters and make the most of their wise insights and theories. Few teachers doubt that learning is up to the student. It’s their direct responsibility. Teachers are important channels and organizers of the different methods students will have to use actively themselves on their way to discoveries.
Let’s not be afraid of using apps, audience response systems, flipped classrooms and LMSs in our schools to recreate the necessary conditions to hand learning back to where it belongs: the students! Socrates was sentenced to death for doing exactly that. They called it “corrupting the youth” back then. Well, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we are not in Kansas any more”. Let’s corrupt them!
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