Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is the Purpose of Education?

Duane and Tim led us in a discussion about the purposes of education and how the educational system as a whole fits into society at large, that grew out of watching and RSA video. We ranged over details such as what is the purpose of grading and assessments to how do we value different professions. In all we generated many more questions than we answered.

On a more focused level we discussed the objectives of specific classes and the expectations we have of students coming into and exiting courses, and what to do to support meeting these expectation. In so doing we discussed the roll of "Weed Out" classes, where the at least implicit purpose of the course is to mandate a certain level of competence for students who continue. Often these courses are lecture heavy and stress facts over reasoning. While we did not agree on the necessity of "Weed Out" classes we did agree that lecture was not a great way to get students involved even those who would otherwise be inclined towards involvement.

We meandered onto a discussion of the pros and cons of grading on a curve. The idea that the merit of work is only determined in comparison to that of others flew in the face of many of our sensibilities. Realistic and attainable goals can be set and communicated to the students. The challenge is then for the instructor to know what is "realistic and attainable" for the students. Several suggestions arose to help instructors meet this challenge including assessing without grading.

We segued into a discussion of the purpose of grades and what they are used for. We concluded that grades are used for at least two distinct purposes, a certification that the student knows sufficient material and second as support and encouragement to students. In discussing if these purposes are at odds with each other we raised questions about types of grading and "If the material is really beyond anyone?"

Other questions we raised over the course of our discussion were: Do we put more value on some professions and courses than others? and if so why? How has the context of education changed given that facts are now at our fingertips? Should we be focusing on something other than facts and recall as assessed by standardized test? These are but a small sampling of the questions we pondered in our discussion.

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