Monday, July 08, 2013

Apprenticeship learning

Sisyphus At our local PedR meeting last week I discussed our current Digital Literacies for Employability project.

I felt I needed to start of with a general discussion about what digital literacy actually is, and manged to pull off the old "OK then, remove digital from that sentence and see how it changes things" trick.

I went on to talk about the overlaps between digital literacy and employability and the joys and frustrations of running a student-led project. The aspect of the discussion I want to delve into here however is the failure of higher education, at least in recent years since massification, to move beyond the lower rungs of skills and competencies which can easily be measured and therefore assessed, processed and turned into degree certificates. Warning to my theme, I had a little rant about over reliance on assessment.

This is not a new topic for me, I have written about it often before, e.g. in Lies, Damned Lies, and Feedback. And nothing much changes. Give a man a stick, and he'll turn it into a ruler and measure something with it. But rulers (and rules) and only accurate for straight lines, and student's learning journeys mostly describe graceful arcs. So we miss the good stuff, the true learning which is not facts which we mostly don't measure at all.

Apprenticeship learning is not new, it's pretty much Socratic. But we can't measure it so we don't do it. We remain stuck on the assessment treadmill. I can't see any other way of breaking out of this trap other than to embrace much less formal and rectilinear learning pathways. Unless a degree is an apprenticeship it has little lasting utility. By encouraging students to work in partnership with academics we have at least the possibly of moving beyond the MOOC-spawning mess we have created for ourselves.

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