Monday, December 27, 2010

Cheating or learning ?

All through school and university I was conditioned into thinking that learning was a solitary process. Studying meant hiding away in a room for hours, sometimes days, silently reading, memorising and note-taking. The idea that I could learn anything from my fellow students never really occurred to me; only teachers could teach me. Group work was extremely rare and academic ability was assessed on what you could write during a 3 hour session, completely unaided and relying solely on memory.

Self study at study by Hermés, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Hermés 

This attitude to education is still very entrenched in society although many educators are trying to change things. In most workplaces you can't simply sit on your own to solve a problem. You need the ability to quickly find people who can help you.with a problem. No-one expects you to solve things completely on your own and even if you did you'd still need to sell your solution to your colleagues. The modern workplace demands teamwork, social competence, networking and information retrieval skills; none of which are given much time in the traditional educational system.

I've just read a good article on this theme in The Washington Post, What some call cheating can help learning. The author points out how inconsistent the education system is today when it comes to student collaboration. In one school pupils are allowed to take notes into the exam hall whereas another school wuld consider that as cheating. Some schools encourage group work and collaboration whereas others outlaw it since they want to assess each pupil on thier own skills.

"At these two institutions dedicated to equality under the law, what my daughter did during exams at one could have been considered cheating if she attended the other. What are we to make of the uneven nature of such rules, just as unpredictable as those found in our public K-12 schools? Open-book exams are okay some places, not in others. Cooperating with friends on homework is encouraged by some teachers, denounced elsewhere as a sign of declining American moral fiber."

Would we ever be faced with a task at work where we would not be allowed access to reference material or advice from colleagues? Don't we "cheat" every day at work by seeing if we can find a colleague with previous experience of the same problem? The article suggests that homework would be far more effective if the social learning aspect could be stressed as opposed to the solitary and often dull activity it always has been.

Maybe it's time for the education system to find ways of assessing a pupils skills at teamwork, networking and collaboration and valuing them as highly as the individual skills presently assessed.

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