Sunday, April 1, 2012

Comparing systems - mainstream & BigPicture education

For some time I have been a peripheral member of a research project being undertaken by BigPicture Education Australia. So how does BigPicture compare with a lot of mainstream schooling?

In mainstream schools, students are largely organised by the system which determines curricula, timetables, assessments and to a certain extent teachers as managers... and for many capable students this can work well. Minimal responsibility for students, economies of scale, a sense of order...

Mainstream schooling tends to…
  • assume a linear “production” system approach: input -> process -> output, and so,
  • provide blue-prints* for educating students based on the assumption which implies a concept of education as "processing"
  • result in schools being be managed as production systems - the rules are specified at each step, increasing lock down, reducing flexibility, production is measured
  • associate quality with uniformity
  • has limited capacity to accommodate special causes of variation
  • make minimal demands on students in terms of engagement (other cooperation)
Perhaps, most significantly, students are rarely, if ever, involved in the development and/or evaluation of the system. Their contributions are minimal which leads to a low sense of belonging for many students.

[*Note: the well-intentioned blue-prints also tend to be fragmented and most systems have only low levels of overall coherence, especially from the perspective of many students. The result is often something akin to an Escher architectural image]

In BigPicture, students and teachers are largely self-organising within the context of the Distinguishers

BigPicture tends to...

  • provide a flexible, modified supportive, coherent environment
  • promote and supports learning by the students, one student at a time
  • accept that purposes and activities emerge from the interactions in which the student is involved, that is, the members of the system interactions are largely self organising within the environment provided
  • provide a few simple rules: Students learning, "one at a time in a community of learners" that underpin this self-organisation
  • associate quality with consistency
In summary, the difference lies in the assumptions made about about the systems involved
  • Mainstream assumes a linear "production" system (centrally managed, aiming for uniformity...)
  • BigPicture assumes complex adaptive system (emergent, self organising, co-evolving, aiming for consistency rather than uniformity...
More soon...

No comments: