(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

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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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

One thought on “Generalizations about Education: what’s the point?

  1. Hi Maha, wonder if writing in the guidebook “style” persuades their authors they are experts in the field? Or maybe they feel pressure to be opinionated in order to seem genuine? In 2008 I went from working in the construction trades to doing a data collection project on transitioning college teachers from face to face into online instruction. Being in the midst of change myself drew my attention to the effects of beginning something new for our instructors who were mostly in mid-career and very used to relying on themselves yet stripped of their confidence by all sorts of generalizations about technology.

    In the end my research was thrown out for a more top-down program that told the instructors what to do but never allowed them to own the learning in their own selves. Six years later the college is stuck with no progress and frustrated teachers.

    Because I was unqualified to to do academic research my results were, I guess, suspect and considered unusable. Alternately, since I only knew research from some minor journalism courses and by asking “dumb” questions, my data was at least fresh from the field.

    As a generalization of my own I’d say the interest in new educational models come from wanting to shed some those people that think they know more than they do:-)
    Scott

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