Throughout our teaching courses, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the core skills of English, maths, and ICT. You can broaden the view to understanding English in both written and spoken forms and include other languages depending on location and personal circumstances. Maths is a subject that can be too abstract at school, when I was young I never quite saw the point; my teacher was a bit old school and given I was at school in the 70s it gives you an idea of just how old school he was. Algebra, Logs, and all manner of gobbledygook never quite broke through my conscious. As for ICT, well in the 70’s that may have been a calculator and, if you were posh, a digital watch.
Personally, I think the core skills are those which help us function every day. The ability to communicate, how to think for ourselves and cope with technology are all important. A submission from a student got me thinking about something which is becoming increasingly important, the skill of research. Looking back to my experience at school it was all about books. You went to the reference section in the library to start your journey, you picked titles published by known luminaries or organisations such as Collins, Oxford, Britannica etc safe in the confidence that the work was established and trustworthy.
These days research is much simpler, well that’s the theory. We have instant access to vast amounts of knowledge and herein lies the problem. Information is so easy to access and there is so much how on earth do we navigate to what we want or need. What makes one source more reliable than another. There have been lots of studies in recent years that highlight we all regularly suffer from information overload, we have become adept at scanning or scrolling. Our attention span is shorter, and we are more likely to read a title than move on, making assumptions and drawing conclusions without delving deeper. Let’s face it, who has the time to read anything properly anyway!
So, what as educators can we do? For me, it is all about relevance and needs. My goal is to help students achieve independence through understanding and confidence. It is not about telling students what I know, it is about fostering curiosity and a desire to know more. If a student wants to know more, you have something you can both work with; you must stoke the fire of curiosity by asking questions of them. What do you think? What would you do? Where could you find out more? All are great questions because they kindle the fire and give the student the opportunity to do more for themselves. Even better, get your students to ask those questions for themselves. Where can I go to get more information? How will I know if something is true? What if there is more than one answer, how do I decide which is correct? Those are the vital questions when it comes to research. Good research is thorough and draws on relevant sources, so books still have their place alongside the omnipresent internet.
Timing is a very important factor. Building knowledge without relevance is not helpful so it is best to do research when it is needed, especially given that things change at such a rapid pace. Of course, some things don’t change so it’s important to recognise what may change in the future and be prepared to revisit information to keep yourself current. Help students to recognise the difference between trustworthy and untrustworthy sites; show them the importance of questioning what they read and not just accepting things without thinking. Engender the habits and behaviours which stay for a lifetime such as keeping an open mind, accepting there may be more than one answer and that not everything you read is true. Value the opinion of others even if you don’t agree with it. Avoid clickbait and don’t follow the crowd blindly, ask your own questions and come to your own conclusions.
Independence must be the goal for your students because then they can achieve their full potential.
Tony Lamsdale, Tutor, The eLearning Network.