I don't often post long articles but I found this one quite interesting. It
certainly is germane to our own paradigm shift in mathematics education.
From The Guardian [Education.Guardian.co.uk], Tuesday, October 29, 2002.
Our role should not be to lecture but to guide students on journeys
of discovery, says Steven Schwartz
By Steven Schwartz
Hamilton Holt, an American college president, ridiculed lectures as
"that mysterious process by means of which the contents of the
professor's notebooks are transferred by means of the pen to the
pages of the student's notebook without passing through the minds of
either". That was 60 years ago, and little has changed. University
students are still expected to sit passively through lectures or
their hi-tech equivalent, the PowerPoint presentation. This would be
fine if lectures or presentations actually produced learning.
Unfortunately, they don't. Psychological research shows that students
taught passively remember little of the material presented to them,
and understand even less.
Teaching and learning were once very different. Classical scholars,
Socrates particularly, eschewed didacticism, preferring instead to
teach by interaction. Socratic dialogues, in which propositions and
ideas were subject to close scrutiny and debate, were widely
considered the best way to instill knowledge and creative thinking.
Over the centuries, however, practice changed. By the middle ages,
active debate between teachers and students virtually disappeared.
Students were expected to learn church-approved wisdom; teachers were
priests whose job was to transmit religious teachings, not question
Interest in new forms of teaching and learning revived during the
Enlightenment. Philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that
students learn best when they are allowed to discover knowledge for
themselves: "Put questions within [the student's] reach and let him
solve them himself. Let him know nothing because you have told him,
but because he has learned it for himself."
Rousseau's ideas exerted a profound influence on Jean Piaget, the
Swiss psychologist who studied the development of the intellect in
children, and also on the American educator John Dewey. Dewey
advocated what he called discovery learning, in which learners
uncover facts, theories and relationships for themselves in the
course of solving meaningful problems. The teacher's role was to
guide students and facilitate discussion.
Rousseau, Piaget and Dewey are the forebears of problem-based
learning, which has now been developed into a complete medical
curriculum used to train doctors around the world. In contrast to the
traditional curriculum, which begins with lectures on basic science
and works upwards to organs, systems, and finally to clinical
syndromes and treatments, problem-based learning begins by posing
students a realistic clinical problem and letting them discover the
solution, with the professor as guide. As more problems are
presented, students learn to ask increasingly deeper questions. They
"discover" the answers by their own library, internet and laboratory
research. Unlike students in traditional lecture-based courses,
students studying in problem-based mode are able to relate everything
they learn directly to the clinical context.
As Dewey and others asserted, problem-based (discovery) learning
leads to a deeper and more meaningful understanding than mere
memorisation of facts. Because of the emphasis on discovery, students
who graduate from problem-based courses may actually know fewer facts
than those who studied more traditional lecture-based programs. But
in a fast-moving field such as medicine, "factual" knowledge is soon
obsolete. Graduates from problem-based medical courses who learn how
to solve problems are far better prepared for a lifetime of learning
and discovery than those taught in lecture formats.
I predict that within the next decade all university learning will
become discovery learning. Problem-based learning is already
spreading to fields other than medicine - engineering and
architecture, for example.
This trend will accelerate as academics and students continue to
harness the enormous power of the internet. Not only does it provide
students seeking solutions with access to databases around the world,
but it can also provide access to sets of "problems". Lecturers
around the world can post problem-based exercises on the web; these
can be accessed and perfected by other academics, eventually
providing a globally accepted curriculum for problem-based learning
in many different fields.
Internet chat groups also provide an excellent way for students to
explore problems with their instructors guiding the way. In this way,
lectures will give way to assisted problem solving, and passive
learning will be replaced with deeper understanding.
The first step is a change in mindset. Students are not empty vessels
to be filled with facts, but active, enquiring human beings whose
natural curiosity we must harvest. Most important, we need to
redefine our jobs. We academics are not here to teach students, but
to show them how to learn.
Jerry P. Becker
Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: [log in to unmask]