I’ve been reading a little of the literature on 21st century learning, including an article by Gunther Kress called ‘Meaning and Learning in a World of Instability and Multiplicity’ (Stud Philos Educ 2008 27:253-266). It was recommended to me by Rachel Bolstad at New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
Aside: I’m doing this reading because I think that the justification for e-learning in teaching and learning is that it not only offers us powerful ways to enhance curriculum and pedagogy as it is currently practiced (eg self-paced learning, increased engagement, access to wider range of resources) but also to develop new kinds of curriculum and pedagogy that respond to and shape 21st century society. Namely, powerful ways to enact the new notion of knowledge as something you do rather than something you have and to support learners to learn how to learn. It’s my personal opinion that our focus should not be on bringing the technologies into the classroom as such, but on exploring young people’s cultural, social and ethical practices associated with these technologies, and what this means for new ways of learning in the 21st century. Anyway …
Kress talks about the ways that technology and changes in the traditional structures of authority have set learners free from the ‘church’ of education, which has historically mediated learners’ relationship with knowledge (see my blog post ‘The Digital Reformation‘). He says that the agency and the responsibility of the learner is one of the most significant aspects of the new environment of learning.
This argument has always left me thinking that the role of the teacher in the knowledge age is still critical but fundamentally changed, and Kress expresses the nature of this change very nicely indeed.
He says the school/pedagogue’s task remains essential. The schools is still the agent of culture and society, with the mandate to ‘propose’ what is to be learned. This task remains crucial to a functioning, cohesive society. However, ‘what is to be learned’ needs to be negotiated with learners in a way that recognises the constructed nature of that knowledge and those cultural values, and that affirms both the school’s expertise and the students’ interests:
All my arguments so far suggest that the school’s focus … must change so that the interests of the students and their transformative work are at the centre of educational attention. This is, in no way, to ask the school to abandon a clear sense of the importance of the culture’s knowledge and values; quite the contrary. The school needs to value that knowledge and those values, and show them as the result of the principled, transformative work on the world by the many members of a culture over a long period of time. The real and difficult task is to convey not only a sense of value but a means of showing its significance in ways that connect with the lives of the young. (p261)
Kress says that notions of assessment are at the heart of any attempt to bring about change in schooling:
Is [assessment] to be – as it has been – a metric of ‘acquisition’ of conformity to the authority of the curriculum, or is it a metric of principles and transformation of the materials engaged with on the basis of the evidence of signs of learning? In my view, only the latter opens up a newly essential window on learning. (p265)