The “Theory” conundrum

Minion-Reading-iconThis time of year, towards the end of exams, I find that teachers in our awesome CAT & IT Teachers Facebook Group start chatting about the whole issue of why students seem to perform so poorly in the ‘Theory’ part of the CAT/IT exams.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter

Could it be that we’re teaching ‘theoretical’ concepts within the confines of 4 walls, shoving data and more data in front of our students’ eyes – forgetting that true learning takes place outside of the class in the real world where these ‘theoretical’ concepts are a reality to be experienced and learnt from?

We have taken experiential learning and hands-on cognitive growth experiences completely out of our classrooms

It’s no wonder our students battle! They never set up a network, they don’t have the foggiest idea how they even connect to the Internet at their own house! They’ve never seen, let alone worked with, an actual multi-function printer or changed the toner in a laserjet or ink cartridges in an inket. They’ve never used Skype, have no clue what a conference call is because they’ve never experienced one or had the need to. The motherboard is foreign to them as they’ve never actually put together a real working computer – thus being able to realise exactly what RAM is and how it works and what storage truly is all about.

We have taken experiential learning and hands-on cognitive growth experiences completely out of our classrooms and watered it all down to text and pictures in a textbook to be memorised via rote learning to be written out for marks which actually do not reveal if the student actually understood any of the concepts in the textbook. Are we surprised our students do poorly in ‘theory’? I don’t think we should be.

Somehow, we have to get out of the classroom to make “theory” into experienced knowledge.
We need to be:

  • building our own computers
  • taking things apart and putting them back together (hardware and software)
  • generating surveys to gather actual real-life data within a community of people
  • processing gathered data into meaningful information on a public platform
  • investigating and effecting various means of outputting processed data
  • exposed to working IT professionals in all areas to see exactly how the ‘theory’ of what we’re teaching plays out in the real world
  • fixing pc’s, printers, modems, screens, tablets of friends, family, school peers, teachers and neighbours
  • learning how to code or solve problems using existing facilities that technology allows
  • learning incidentally, hands-on as individuals and as groups

Some teachers may argue that they are doing some or all of the things in my list above. But how valid and relevant are the outcomes? What are the marks of those students? or, more importantly, at what level is their understanding of the concepts in a real-world context with little or no exposure to those concepts outside of your classroom?

“Theory” needs to become relevant in an experiential and valid infrastructure. I don’t see that happening in our current curriculum setup – it’s too academic, intellectual and wordy. And, it’s simply just too much to cover in my opinion.

My point is that we need a major mind-shift change in what we deem as “theory” and convert our outcomes into experienced knowledge so that our students can leave school knowing how to change a tyre rather than being able to quote the roadside repair manual with no actual skills at all.

So, where do we go from here? …

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