Some years ago, someone told me of a new way of teaching students at a certain establishment. There would be no textbooks and very few lectures. Students were to deliver presentations at the end of each day, and the lecturer would then summarise and give inputs as well as grade each student’s work for the day. “That’s wonderful!” I exclaimed. “That would really help getting students to be involved in and be responsible for their own learning!” Not being very much involved in the schooling system at the time, I left it at that, with some glimmer of hope that schooling was indeed taking a turn for the better.
Fast forward a few more years. I happened to have a conversation with a student from this establishment. When I asked what that student’s overall schooling experience was in that establishment, I was looking forward to hearing how much progress had been made in instructional design and technology, and how students in general were looking forward to each day in the establishment. Me, the incurable optimistic romantic.
I heard something else. I heard about confusion as to what the learning objectives of the day really were. I heard about how the students were divided into discussion groups where no discussions ever took place because each one was busy trying to do research, or rather amass as much “content” as possible in order to make their slides more impressive. I heard how each student was only able to dimly understand their own portion of the topic. I heard how, only at the end of the day, when the lecturer gave his own summary and example presentation slides were the students able to fathom what the topic was about. I heard how lecturers were not open to question and answer and were more eager to end the day than to make sure students learned something worthwhile. I understood a little more why real change in any monolithic establishment would take four or five generations. I became a little more convinced that culture, the culture of execution, really eats strategy for breakfast.
Do you have a conceptual breakthrough? Follow through! It will amount to nothing if you don’t have an execution breakthrough! Work at it until it works! If it doesn’t and you still think you have a great concept, then it’s time to try another approach, implementation method, whatever. And if it still doesn’t work, then go deeper and find out what it is you really want to do with that concept.
I spent the next few minutes guiding that student on how to succeed in spite of the system, including searching for tutorials on YouTube, all the while emphasising the importance of discussions as a way of getting to how to make sense of and actually use the mountains of data and information they had amassed. I trust I contributed a little to that student’s education.
Dream. Daydream. Imagine. Fantasise, if that abominable term suits you. But get it done. Even if it takes years. Especially if you know it’s worth it.