Are you a meerkat or an ostrich?
Etienne Wenger recently declared: 'If any institutions are going to help learners with the real challenges they face...(they) will have to shift their focus from imparting curriculum to supporting the negotiation of productive identities through landscapes of practice' (Wenger, 2010).
We live in uncertain times, where we cannot be sure how the economy is going to perform today, let alone predict what kind of jobs there will be for students when they graduate in a few years time. How can we prepare students for a world of work that doesn't yet exist? How can we help learners to ready themselves for employment that is shifting like the sand, and where many of the jobs they will be applying for when they leave university probably don't exist yet? It's a conundrum many faculty and lecturers are wrestling with, and one which many others are ignoring in the hope that the problem will simply go away. Whether we are meerkats, looking out and anticipating the challenges, or ostriches burying our heads in the sand, the challenge remains, and it is growing stronger.
Wenger may have given us clues to what we should do. Stop emphasising the teaching of curriculum subjects, and spend less time transmitting knowledge, facts and structured content that can often go quickly out of date. It means breaking down the traditional silos of division and opening up classrooms and lecture halls to other possibilities beyond passive reception of content. It requires that we should begin to break down the false boundaries between subjects, developing lifelong learners who will be able to adapt quickly and flexibly to changing contexts, unfamiliar problems and new challenges as they arise. This means creating environments in which students can learn to problem solve, negotiate meaning, develop their digital identities, and practice new communication methods through a variety of different platforms and media. It means exposing them to experiences where they can practice creating and sharing their own content, remixing existing content, reflecting on their practice, thinking and arguing critically.
All of these are skills and competencies graduates will need if they are to face a brave new world where nothing is yet clearly defined and where everything is up for negotiation. Such flexible, learner centred activities will be key to meeting any possible number of futures that may be out there. MOOCs and flipped classrooms are just the start of the movement to create this shift in education. They will not be the only methods employed. We can only begin to guess at what will happen next as education begins to evolve to its next level. Will you be looking out to see what is on the horizon, or will you hide your head in the sand?
Wenger, E. (2010) Knowledgeability in Landscape Practice, in S. de Freitas and J. Jameson (eds.) The eLearning Reader.
Photo by Ray Morris
Meerkats and ostriches by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.