"Elements of Culture"

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Approach to Learning

According the noted author Ken Robinson, "much of the present education system in the United States fosters conformity, compliance, and standardization rather than creative approaches to learning"(Wikipedia, 9/1/13).

In this video, Robinson explains that our problem has roots in attitudes to public education that go back at least two hundred years, which are "deep in the gene pool" of today's public education system.

John Tagg, another educational theorist, identifes the problem by contrasting two different mindsets or ways of seeing education, outlined in the chart below: "the Instruction Paradigm," which currently dominates our thinking, and "the Learning Paradigm," which has been discussed for almost a century but only sporadically put into practice. He suggests that each of these two mindsets supports a very different type of "learning economy," in which students invest their time and energy in order to gain what will be of value to them in the future. And he argues that to change education, all those involved—administrators, teachers and students—must learn to think in terms of the Learning Paradigm, which will change educational habits for the better. [Hear Tagg's own description of this contrast.]

"The Instructional Paradigm"

views education in terms of the formal organizational processes of delivering instruction:

  • segmented courses and credits with little connection between courses dealing with different subjects;
  • separate grades attached to each course, connected only by computation of overall GPA; and
  • transcripts that list course names, credit hours, grades and GPA, to be exchanged for diplomas once a certain number have been accumulated, such that even "C-s earn degrees."u

While those who view education in this way often do value meaningful learning, they ultimately accept an institutional framework that places the highest priority on preserving the elements listed above. Tagg suggests that in this kind of "learning economy," the mechanism of grades, GPA & transcripts function much as artificially set prices do in a monetary economy: they stiffle creative investors and reward those who follow artificially set rules for what counts as valid knowledge, resulting in learning that largely remains at a surface level.

"The Learning Paradigm"

on the other hand, considers it essential that each student be engaged in meaningful learning processes by:

  • developing her/his own goals;
  • pursuing inquiry based on genuine curiosity;
  • gaining the skills needed to collaborate with others in pursuing such inquiry;
  • with all of these elements pursued consistently, over time across many different courses and cycles of study.

Those who perceive these elements of education as key are willing to modify, though not necessarily to dispense with, the elements considered essential in the Instructional Paradigm mindset. Such modifications lead to a much healthier "learning economy," in which students invest find creative ways to invest their time and energy in deep learning to gain truly meaningful knowledge.

(See John Tagg, The Learning Paradigm College, 2003)

In this class I will assume that participating students...

Thus the learning objectives and assignments in this course incorprorate as many elements of the learning paradigm as possible given the limitations of a segmented 3 unit course.

Full Description

Learning Objectives

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Schedule of Readings

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