Monday, February 25, 2013

A New Mental Model of Teaching and Learning

This is my attempt to avoid criticizing the many hours of useful work on an assessment methodology that I agree is needed.  For several years, I taught elementary and high school teachers how to integrate systems thinking and dynamic modeling into their curriculum. We were using the infection model to get teachers to adopt systems tools and skills however this approach has not succeeded.  By infection model, I mean our mental model of how to integrate systems concepts into the education system.

Parker J. Palmer described the decades-long situation in teaching and learning: "Our dominant mental models of teaching and learning are individualistic and competitive…they are derived from models [based on objectivism] of reality and of knowing".  In this environment, "teaching and learning will mean delivering data to students" regurgitating it on tests to compete for scarce grades(1).

At a K12 conference(2), Peter Senge asked 150 educators, "In the absence of a major crisis, how many of you would expect to see a major change in the structure of the education system?" A few people raised their hands. Then he asked, "Given a real crisis in the operation of the education system, how many people think major changes would be implemented?" This time a few more people raised their hands. However, this was not the response Senge expected. In a business setting everyone raises their hand in response to the second question. Finally, an educator in the audience said, "The educational system will not change, even in the face of a major crisis!" and everyone laughed.  Now Senge understood what educators think about educational reform imposed by legislators and the impact of technology on the education system. This view of making changes to the educational system is also supported by J. R. Llanes using a system dynamics model(3).

Experiments in using technology in the classroom deal primarily with the techniques of teaching and learning without considering the mental models teachers have of teaching and learning. Our current mental model of knowledge is of a solitary individual, a knower, who uses their senses and intellect to gather data and interpret objects of knowledge. To understand a new model of teaching and learning, we need to reconsider our theory of how we know things.

By representing knowing as a system of interaction using feedback, we can test a new mental model as a foundation for a better way of teaching and learning.  What is going to hinder our effort to get people to learn a new mental model?  Well, what hinders learning?
  • Cause and effect separated in time and space
  • Misperception of feedback
  • Poor interpersonal and organizational inquiry skills
  • Insufficient time for reflection.
Implementing a new mental model for integrating teaching and learning theory with technology requires teaching teachers how to create a system of interaction using feedback.  However the current higher education system does not teach this skill to teachers and K12 schools do not assess students or teachers to find out if they understand systems concepts.

How can we define the problem so that we can see the educational system from an endogenous point of view as defined by George Richardson?  How can we change the educational system so that a new mental model of teaching and learning is implemented?

1 Palmer, Parker J. “To Know As We Are Known, Education as a Spiritual Journey,” HarperCollins Paperback, 1993.  Preface, page xvi.
2 Anecdote from Ed Gallaher.
3 Llanes, J. R. (January-April 1996). Researching Quality: The Continuous Improvement Process (CIP). International Journal: Continuous Improvement Monitor, 1:1. Edinburg, TX, The University of Texas-Pan American, Center for Applied Research in Education.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Second Amendment

The faith community has clear convictions. The war in Vietnam was morally wrong. The war in Iraq was morally wrong. Christian judgments of war run a narrow spectrum -- from the peacemaking ethic of Jesus that rejects war, to the just war theology of Augustine and Aquinas. But even in the just war tradition, conflicts have to pass a number of moral tests and be the option of "last resort." The burden of proof is always on those who support violence to justify the taking of life.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution has been interpreted to allow 1,280 people to die from gun violence since the Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. The burden of proof is on those who support the Second Amendment to justify this taking of life on a daily basis. None of the 1,280 deaths pass a number of moral judgements in the Christian tradition. Owning guns should be the option of "last resort" for Christians.