Recently my daughter announced that she had made the winning goal at her first soccer game! The initial excitement was great. Grandparents proudly sharing the news of my almost 6 year old daughter's amazing feat. Within 3 hours, my uncle asked me on Facebook where were the soccer pictures? I had to reply that I wasn't even at the first soccer game and I hadn't seen the winning goal.
Here's what was missing - the context. It was my daughter's first soccer game at her first day of soccer camp. It wasn't a competitive game -scrimmage may even stretch the truth. Without the context, this accomplishment was misconstrued. (None of this is to say that this was not a big deal. I was quite the proud mom, but maybe it's not on class with World Cup notoriety.)
Context counts in story-telling and in learning.
In educational psychology, I learned that where you study influences your success on an exam - the more similar the environments, the more likely you would perform well. In instructional design, I learned the importance of learning context analysis and performance context analysis. The learning context is where you are learning the new skill or knowledge and the performance context is where you are actually applying that new skill or knowledge. Again, the more similar they are, the easier it is to transfer the knowledge from learning to performance.
Which brings us to course/program design. What context are you designing for?
When I taught K12 teachers, many of them designed solely for the classroom - that is, after all, where they had to do the majority of their work and what they could control. Indeed, many K12 skills, knowledge and attitudes are easily transferable to a performance context (reading for example. You may teach it in the classroom, but the reality is that the kids are surrounded by opportunities to read and motivated to read in those situations - dessert menus for example).
However, we need to prepare our college and graduate students for a real-world context - a global context. When you think about your course, are your assessments, activities, projects designed for the learner when they leave the classroom? Are you thinking about where they will apply that skill beyond the controlled classroom? Are you creating opportunities for your learners to learn embedded in a context outside of the classroom?
Before you get too worked up, I am not criticizing assessments like quizzes, tests, or 20 page papers. I view those as necessary to support the eventual goal of the learner working outside of the classroom. In order to be successful outside of the classroom, learners need to know content information or how to critically think and communicate those thoughts. Just don't stop there.
It's hard. You may try to organize some sort of community learning project or internship and then find yourself thinking - where will the learners go? who will work with them in a meaningful way? how will I know? how do I get this approved? what about transportation? how do I measure learning?
Even if you just move your thinking that the endpoint of learning/assessment is not within your control, you will start thinking about your course differently. Is it super important that they know the capital of Wisconsin is Madison? Or is it super important that they know how to find the capital of Wisconsin - or, for that matter, any capital? How can you bring the outside world into your course and take your course to the outside world?
At Stritch, we're going to try and do it with online programs. So wherever our learners are, that's where we want them to find an opportunity to apply what they've learned. We will be thinking all of those same questions but also things like - what about time zones? how do I know the partner is a legitimate partner? what about documents or legal issues? what about language barriers?
It's daunting, but it's important because we want our learners to be successful - at Stritch and outside of Stritch. Join us as we do this.