Evidence of Analytical and Integrative Thinking
Summer Semester, 2004
EDCI 797c - Designing and Teaching the Problem-Centered Curriculum
|Teaching on-line and in the traditional "brick-and-mortar" classroom approach the same objective from differing techniques. The goal of the modern teacher is to bring about understanding, maturation, and development of the young person through the acquisition of knowledge and skills that can be applied to a vocation later in life. Moreover, the process of becoming aware of one's world simply makes one a better person. It is better to understand your environment and be master over it than remain in ignorance and become a victim of circumstance. In short, knowledge is power. That power may become economic, political, social, or spiritual power. I don't mean power in the sense of control of one person over another in the way a leader might oppress his people. Rather, what I mean by "power" is the ability to control one's own destiny, to achieve personal and professional goals, and to achieve a level of satisfaction in life that results in a higher quality of life that would otherwise not be achieved.||
traditional classroom has had a mixed record in bringing about a populace
of well-educated, balanced, accomplished citizens. The history of American
education has been mired by the pain of racism and classism, with apparent
equality between racial groups coming into view only within the past three
decades. As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark court case
that ended de jure segregation in American education, it becomes obvious
that it took at least twenty years for the message of Brown vs. Board of
Education to become a reality. Even so, de facto social segregation
is still the reality in many communities. The dream of Dr. Martin Luther King is
still a long way off, and it is up to educators to introduce young people to the
ideals of equality and acceptance related to the dream.
Martin Luther King, from The
Civil Rights Movement: A Black History Celebration, Student Project on http://www.cyberlearning-world.com,
The social studies classroom is one place where the issues of racism, classism, and other forms of discrimination are squarely faced. Discussing these topics within the context of a US History or Civics curriculum gives the teacher a "teachable moment" where values that support democracy and pluralism can be extolled and evaluated. The teacher that presents the entire curriculum in an issues-centered or problem-centered format has the power to lead students to be critical thinkers that will not accept whatever society dishes out to them unquestioningly.
Issues/problem-centered lessons are inherently more interesting to students because they create situations that students will ultimately face in the context of their own lives. Historical events are presented in the classroom as analogies for the contemporary world. For example, the Great Depression of the 1930s introduces the student to the questions of government intervention in the economy, the danger of unrestrained capitalism, and the moral requirements of the welfare state. When students become aware of their own futures enough to realize that the Great Depression program of social security is in danger, they will pay closer attention to its origins and goals.
The Civics classroom has even more contemporary applications because the curriculum is by itself issues-based. The functions of the three branches of government, the role of political parties, the level of participation by the electorate, and the impact of foreign policy on immigration and military intervention overseas are all topics that will impact the student either currently or shortly after graduation. Taxation, employment, wages, and discrimination are topics that the K-16 student must face now to become adept at navigating the waters of the real world that awaits them in the not-too-distant future. Teachers can use these topics to generate interest in the social studies so that students will be at worst aware of these trends and at best willing to pursue them as occupational fields.
It is also valuable to point out that the social studies classroom is a forum for issues related to democracy and participatory government. The History and Civics teacher plays an important role in preparing the individual in becoming an active member of the voting public. There is a fine line, though, between education and indoctrination. There are many values claimed by one side or another that are deemed to be the right way of thinking. The teacher must help students recognize when they are being taught about our democracy and when they are being manipulated by those who have a political or economic agenda. The challenge for the teacher is to present political and historical issues in an objective manner. The teacher may harbor his or her own opinions on any given issue, but the teacher cannot use their position as authority figure in the lives of their students to impose their own world view on them. Presenting a multiplicity of viewpoints and data to support that opinion must be the task of the teacher.
|The on-line educator is responsible for generating the course curriculum the e-student will follow. The activities that make their way into the on-line course must also tap into the intrinsic interest level that one might find in the traditional classroom. In the Community of Practice Learning System (COPLS), the on-line course designer must create activities that are relevant and "authentic" in order to maintain the interest and motivation level of the on-line learner. The regular classroom teacher benefits from the authentic activity as well, but the on-line educator must be able to achieve all of the motivation and effect simply by presenting the information on the computer screen. Unless the activities are highly compelling and well-developed, the on-line learner will be confused, disinterested, and alienated from the intrinsic value of the task at hand. The on-line course developer must place at the center of the learning task real issues that the student is facing or may face at some point in their personal development.||
The give-and-take that occurs between the traditional classroom teacher and student is muted into chat-room exchanges, e-mail discussion, and bulletin boards postings that may take place between the teacher and the student or between a group of students taking the course. The on-line educator needs to know where the resources are on the Web to provide the learner with a well-rounded worldview on any topic at hand. The students is best served as on-line educators and mentors use images, primary documents, discussion boards, and other technological tools to help the student arrive at their own conclusions.
Once the student has gathered the data needed to present an opinion, the job of the teacher shifts from "guide on the side" to "sage on the side." The role of the student is transformed into something that the student might actually do in the future. The activity must replicate what real people do in the field at hand. The student must be able to formulate a coherent position statement in the form of a project or written essay. Such a project is then submitted electronically to the teacher, whose role has been converted to mentor. If the topic is history, then the students is an amateur historian. If the topic is government, the student becomes an intern at the side of a representative in Congress or White House staffer. The authenticity of the main activity motivates the student to dig deeper into the topic, which leads to a clearer understanding of the issues facing Americans and the world at large. Indeed, today's eighth grade Civics student, or today's on-line eleventh grade History student, may become tomorrow's lawmaker or decision-maker.
There is no doubt that the traditional classroom setting and the on-line environment both have their drawbacks and advantages. Often times the mentor or teacher in one is also a leader in the other world, and such an educator transplants skills from one environment to the other with ease. This agility is what makes such an educator the master teacher of the 21st century. With the issue/problem-centered curriculum as the basis for the lesson plan, any student he or she encounters will grow as a result of interaction with him or her.