Performance as a dynamic measure

Case-in-point. Your course material encompasses A, B, C and D. These are the four elements which you must master to have understood the course.

You are tested for elements A, B and C. That is 75% of what you were originally had to master. You are able to recall perfectly elements A and B. That is 66,666% of what you were tested on. This is 50% of what you were originally required to master according the the course material covered in the course.

Because you have “completed” the course, you need not master C and D. There now exists a gap in your knowledge that you have no incentive to fill. Does this make any sense to you?

The question

Sadly enough, this how most education systems in the Netherlands (where I live) function. Perhaps it is the same elsewhere in the world – I believe it is – but my experience with education systems in other countries is limited, for obvious reasons.

The question is not whether the failure of the systems is the status quo or whether it can be changed. Rather, the question is: given this inadequate system, what can I do to get the most out of my education?

Inadequate system

Why is the system inadequate? In the case-in-point, one of three things go awry in your education. First, the course requirements could be unrealistic, meaning that quantity is prioritized over quality. This is beyond your control, as the teachers is responsible for this. Then the testing is inadequate, as you are not receiving the opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of the entire body of knowledge you are required to learn. Also this is beyond your control, as the teacher is responsible for the fairness of your testing.

Finally, regardless of your obvious lack of knowledge, the system allows you to move to the next level – leading you to believe you are prepared for what is to come, and effectively setting you up for failure further down the line. This, as a final check and balance, is also beyond your control, as the system rewards the discrepancy between your behavior and the results it produces. Or is this final point beyond your control?

A system which fosters learning

We know (for a fact) that positive reinforcement of behavior is a key driver in developing habits. This means that positively rewarding behavior which leads to substandard academic performance, in the long run leads to impoverished academic development. And this is exactly what is happening to most students today. It is not that you lack intelligence in any way. Rather the system that should stimulate the development of your intelligence is failing. It is broken, fundamentally dysfunctional and the victim of this system is you.

The sad truth of the matter is that there is a vast body of knowledge available, from both research science and practical experience, which provides solid building blocks for a system which prioritizes learning and development.

Performance as a dynamic measure

What would happen if the result you got from the test you took was taken as a starting point for further learning and development? It is a concept which is so foreign to the education system you are a part of today, because the current system is a one shot game (perhaps with a re-sit). You either pass or fail. And if you fail, perhaps you can try again later.

Stop. Rather, you say to yourself: I have mastered elements A and B (see case in point), I am struggling with element C and I have no idea where I stand on element D. What can I do to master all these elements which my teacher, from his experience, has stated are elements of knowledge on this topic so I can build on this.

Why is this so important? In an earlier blog I eluded to the fact that the new is born from the old. Any gap in your knowledge which is maintained for no other reason than a lacking education system therefore impedes your ability to make the connection and move from the old to the new.

Learning is truly a continuous process

When your performance is taken as a dynamic measure of your ability, suddenly tests are not a cut off point. Tests become opportunities to advance your learning and development. Rather than being at the end of the learning curve, they are now a part of your learning curve. Thus these tests become starting points for growth and stimulate behavior which takes you from a performance model to a development model of education in which intelligence is not given, but developed. In which you have the opportunity to reach your potential.

What’s the catch?

The argument above has a major weakness. It assumes that the system, not you, provides the test-as-a-starting-point mentality. This is not true.

In fact, you can take your test results as starting point for learning and development. If you think about it, you have all the tools you need to this. You can reflect on your performance and see what you can change in your behavior, preparation, skills and habits, to produce a different result.

The question then becomes why you would attempt to do this in a system where the behavior which led to a result which you can improve is seen as a victory rather than a learning opportunity.

I cannot imagine what the incentive is in the system, but I can see the tremendous benefit in this approach for you.

Imagination in Education

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingSupposedly the young man in the picture once stated that “Logic takes you from A to B, imagination takes you anywhere.”  His name was Albert Einstein.

It is not the ability to know, to store knowledge, which makes you an intelligent human being. Hard drives are described as many things, but rarely as intelligent. Their ever increasing capacity to store is both their strength and their weakness.

If you currently are using a sizable harddrive, you may share the experience that because of this tremendous amount of information stuck on there – gigabyte upon gigabyte –  organization and retrieval become gargantuan tasks.

Whether they are stored on your hard drive as files or held in your brain as memories, the ability to connect those pieces of information is key to your intelligence. The ability to tell one strawberry from ten strawberries is a simple task; the ability to measure out the number of strawberries needed to make jam is one which requires you to piece together information about a variety of different things; from the necessary ingredients to the steps in preparing the jam.

This is why I agree with Sir Ken Robinson when he says that creativity has slowly been pushed out of the school system; where as it should be the cornerstone of any education.

If you do not know that you can build a ship, a house or a table with a hammer, why should we even provide you with that hammer?  You understand that there is more to intelligence and creativity than simply the ability to put the tool of knowledge to good use. It is the ability to make mistakes, to learn from these mistakes and to keep moving forward with determination that you can and will, in some way, some day, make a contribution.

An artist may draw a hundred pictures, simply to capture what she pursues in a single stroke. But she must draw those hundred pictures, steadfastly and undeterred. It is the search, to the find, which matters. It is that search that gives meaning to your endeavor.

Every day you have a choice. You may wake in the morning and go through the same routine. But today, after you have read this post, perhaps you can take a different look to your breakfast, lunch or dinner. Add some strawberries, kiwis or mangos to the mix. To because you particularly like them, but because they are colorful and different. Who knows, it might taste horrible, but for every time it tastes poorly, you may well discover something that tastes real good!

Let your imagination get the better of you sometimes. Everything it needs is right there inside of you. All you need to do is give it some space.

Photo credit: http://www.awesomestories.com/assets/albert-einstein-in-1912

Why do we go to university?

At 6.52 a.m., having finished reading an article, in which they tie intelligence, learning styles and personality traits to academic performance (whether you passed your exams or not), I am left shocked. To put it mildly.

At the end of the article the idea is put forward that deep-processing (which is linked to creating memories, i.e. actually learning stuff!) is not important in passing exams; if you simply work hard and conscientiously (put in the hours, people!) you can pass the tests.

Eehh…, hello: I did not go to university to pass tests. I did not go to university to take exams. There is not a student in the world (I assume, correct me if I’m wrong) who looks forward to, who cannot wait for, who longs for, exam time. Except for it to be over.

If deep-processing, and by this I mean learning, is not necessary for a university degree, then what does a university diploma mean? Learning, mastery of a subject, the acquisition of knowledge is a privilege; and it seems like our system has demeaned the gift of education (if you do no longer see education as a gift, take a look at the work Knowledge for Children does) to a marginal activity in which reproduction, not creation, is master.

Wow. This cannot be true, can it?

Intuitively I disagree with the idea that academic performance is not furthered by learning. Perhaps, the authors meant to add: “in the current education system.” to their argument.

Obviously the effect of learning on performance depends on how you measure either of the two concepts. Maybe we should not look at grades so much anymore as a measure of learning (apparently they are not a true reflection of learning anymore – if grades ever were…), but rather at a students ability to create, from what she has learnt some new, different, novel, thought, idea or concept.

In the end, it is not only what you know, it is what you can do with what you know. There is, for me at least, great pleasure in intellectual stimulation, in learning something new: whether it is a word in a language I do not yet speak, or a new fact about education and motivation, the discovery of something new is in some, unexplainable way, intensely satisfying.

It seems the feedback we get from our education might not provide for us this gift of discovery, and thus the opportunity to grow in the way education once was, and perhaps still is, intended. Has a diploma become merely an end in and of itself?

Curiosity. Learning is about curiosity. If you are not curious, you cannot learn, discover anything new; simply because you do not wonder what is there that you have yet to discover. Being curious, perhaps inquisitive, means that you by default engage in deep processing: wondering how and why things are the way they are, imagining how things could be means you are connecting experiences, thoughts and observations to knowledge you already have. And in doing so you learn, and you may even create.

The Student Achievement Program

It is to Newton that the following quote is attributed. He wrote in a letter he wrote to Robert Hooke: “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” (Sholders is the original spelling.)

To me this implies the power of learning; being able to see things because you are able to build on the accomplishments of others.That is what learning is all about; being curious, discovering and passing on, in order to create what is new.

And that is why I am so surprised to see that it is actually plausible that learning is not necessary to perform well at university.

Learning is perhaps the greatest gift society affords us. It is something we should cherish. A gift we should not cast aside so easily in return for a grade.