Let’s Get Rid of Classes

I was having a discussion recently with some folks, and the topic of gamification briefly came up. It was a side conversation – not really pertinent to what we were discussing – so we didn’t stay on it too long. But in that moment I had an idea about how we approach teacher education: It’s time to get rid of classes.

Here’s how I landed on this….

During our discussion of gamification, the idea of a peer reviewer badge came up. While peer review is not perfect (I have a horror story that could terrify any assistant professor), it is not without its merits. I made note of this idea and decided I would consider if and how I might work it into my fall classes (both are masters courses).

As I started to turn the idea of a peer reviewer badge around in my head, I began to land on some limitations. The biggest one being that I’m the only person in this particular program (probably in the entire School of Education) that games her classes. A peer reviewer badge is limited, I think, when it’s tied to just one course in a program.

And that got me thinking…..

What If We Got Rid of Classes?

I’m not suggesting we get rid of all classes in all programs. But I do think we could consider getting rid of them in our M.ED program – and I think it would be awesome. When I first started my job (11 years ago), I loved our M.ED program. There are still some great aspects to it. But mostly it’s gotten stale and dated. It needs an overhaul.

The program allows for practicing K-12 teachers to specialize in a particular areas – literacy, math, science, and so on…At the end of the program, teachers take an exam (if they wish) that is administered at the state level. Passing the exam means that they have a specialist license in their particular area in addition to having their masters degree from the university.

And a side note – the state’s exam of what teachers should know is pretty dated and bad. My classes will not prepare you for the state exam because the state exam is awful and filled with garbage (generally speaking). My point is, in rethinking all this there is no need to worry about how classes do/do not align with the state exam because if I ever aligned my classes with what the state tested then I would not be doing my job very well. I would certainly not be providing my students with the newest information.

In our program, all teachers (regardless of specialty area) take a set of core classes together. Then they take their specialty  classes. And what I’m saying is this: We have to get rid of every single one of these classes.

No Classes = What????

We are going to get rid of every single class. Instead of having classes, we are going to have competencies. An easy way to first think about it is to simply go through each class and develop a set of competencies. I am sure there would be some updating that would naturally happen along the way. It’s a starting point that I think would keep things manageable.

No classes means that we do not have official meeting times. Instead, we have to move the entire program online. And, since we have no classes, we have to foster an online community.

This means no individual courses locked into a LMS (learner management system). We need some type of LMS, yes, but I can’t have one for just me, and you can’t have one for just you. We all have to get dumped into the same sandbox. There are tools to make this happen. I’m not going to get into that part. I want to focus on the big idea here.

Now, we have our list of competencies. We can group those into categories that make sense. Whatever works. Students come into the program, and they have two years (because it’s a two year program) to complete X amount of competencies. There should be room for choice. For example, if a teacher who is interested in a science specialty wants to earn a competency that is related to fostering reading/writing in science, then that teacher should be able to earn that competency.

We can quantify things a bit. We can say that to be recommended for an M.ED., teachers have to complete X amount of competencies total. Then we can refine that total a bit. For example, of X total competencies, Y must be in your specialty area, Z must be out of the shared core area, and maybe W are free choice (which allows for teachers to dip into other specialty areas that are relevant to their jobs or earn extra competencies in their specialty or out of the core).

What Does This Mean for Faculty?

Faculty have to develop the competencies. But let’s keep it simple at first. Let’s start with existing courses and develop our competencies from there. Let’s use our base to get us launched. Faculty would be expected to develop the content that supports the competencies. We still create the assignments, post readings, hold online discussions, etc… This can be developed in any number of ways. What changes here is that I’m not showing up on Monday night at 5:00 to teach class. However, my responsibilities still need to be clear and bounded in some way.

For example, in the fall I teach a course called Explorations in Literacy. Under this model, I would develop/refine competencies for this course. I would be in charge of making sure students know what they need to do to earn those competencies. I would create whatever assignments/readings need to be connected to competencies. I would foster interactions online. I would also check off that students had completed these competencies.

At the same time, there’s another course going on in the fall that focuses on the teaching of writing. I don’t teach that course. While it is possible that I could choose to participate in some of the online discussions related to that course, I don’t develop the competencies. I don’t sign off on them and so on.

Faculty also have to be prepared for the more fluid nature of this kind of work. Now, some competencies could be prerequisites for others (fine). But that won’t be the case for all. This means that while my Explorations course is technically in the fall (under the traditional model), there could be students who do not finish certain competencies until February for any reason at all. We have to be prepared for this – or we have to bound competencies on a timeline – and we have to think about how our time gets used.

For example, what happens during the summer? In my example, working on competencies in the summer would likely be difficult. This is because I work with teachers and competencies would (I assume) be tied to work they do in classrooms. But are we going to allow for this work to continue over the summer? You can’t create an online community and then just hang up a closed for the summer sign on it. That’s not how these things work. So you can see that there’s a collision here between an online environment – and what works within it – and the traditional structures of offering classes at the university. It has to be contended with and addressed in this model. But I find that exciting.

What Happened to Gamification?

All of this could easily be gamified. I left that out of the discussion because just the competency part – and putting it online – is enough in and of itself. The gamification piece would flow out of doing all the work I outlined. You have to have the curriculum in place – the competencies – before you can gamify it. So gamification could happen. And that peer review badge I mentioned earlier? It could be called a badge or it could be developed into a core competency that is available for anyone in the program to adopt.

If you want to do this, give me a call. Let’s make it happen.

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One Year Ago Today

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