64. Self-Paced Flexible Packaged Courses

The general method, approach and goals of education should be to teach knowledge depth rather than a multitude of shallow facts. Students should be taught fewer things, but they should be taught those things much more thoroughly. Shallow learning (merely or essentially memorizing facts, names, etc.) is inefficient, unrewarding, quickly/easily forgotten, and essentially a waste of time. Deep or exhaustive learning is the opposite. It’s just like drilling research wells: you learn much more about the geology and history of a landscape by drilling a few deep wells (but learning a lot with each one) than you would by drilling many shallow wells. Everyone would agree that education should be deeper and its easy to say this, but how it can be done is harder to plan out. First, we must realize that there is no shortage of knowledge that we would like our students to acquire. So much can be and had been included and defined as necessary to the proper education of an average individual, that there is often not enough time for students to fundamentally understand and internalize what they are studying. Effectively, students graduate knowing superficially about a whole lot of different subjects, but too much of that information is quickly forgotten. In the end, much of the effort placed by both students and teachers has been wasted. Furthermore, students often graduate and enter the labor force in their mid-twenties or beyond, spending the first several of their potentially most productive and energetic years in the classroom rather than perfecting their skills on the job in their chosen career. The following paragraphs represent some proposals to make the educational process more efficient, more tailored to specific student interests, and able to produce people ready for full time participation (beginning with on-the-job-training, if necessary) in the labor force at a younger age (age 20 for most non-technical or non-specialized labor).

Flexible Course Design

As many educational courses as possible, but beginning with courses intended for children around 13 years of age and especially for students towards the end of secondary school and beyond, should try to be designed in such a way that allow students a much greater flexibility in scheduling their study time, including in-class study time. The more that students progress through a secondary education, the more they should be responsible for choosing, within proper parameters and oversight, when to study a subject, how much to progress in a subject each day or each week, and when to schedule their testing for each subject.

Designing this degree of student flexibility into the educational system would require some fundamental changes in conventional education practices. The following suggestions are general guidelines for how educational courses and facilities should be structured. These guidelines could very well require modifications depending on students’ ages and abilities or the nature of the course.

More Self-Driven Learning

First, students would primarily learn through the reading of textbooks, viewing of videos and other media on their own. In fact, students should learn to learn from more passive, ‘dull’ methods of instruction (i.e., reading a book) early in their educational career so that they do not become so bored of lecturers in the future that they will require a passionate lecturer just to keep them awake in class. The standard teacher lecturing format would become a secondary teaching method, except for maybe the lower grade levels where students may not have yet developed the discipline to work independently. Even tertiary level education (colleges and universities) could use self-driven, passive materials for many of their courses, though lecturing may be more appropriate in certain courses due to the unconventional nature of teaching cutting edge knowledge. In the latter grades of secondary school, lecturing could still account for perhaps 25% of the school day. Students in the lower grades should be gradually transitioned or weaned off the lecturing method onto more self-driven methods. Though teachers may not always lecture to the class, they would always be in the classroom to supervise and be available to answer any questions that students may have. Teachers may also lecture to a subset of the class when a significant number of students have reached the same point in their studies that require teacher assistance. Throughout secondary and tertiary school, students needing assistance from a teacher could possibly pay a very small token fee for that assistance. The idea is to more effectively encourage students to study on their own, ask their friends, and make greater efforts to understand.

Packaged-Course Design

Second, educational courses (especially common ones) should be given in packaged form. This means that students should be able to go to the school store (or anywhere these courses are sold) and purchase the required courses which would ideally include the following items: a complete and detailed syllabus of the course, textbook(s), either the inclusion of and/or a list of all tools or materials required, a list of tests and/or papers due, description of the course grading method and other such relevant information. In other words, the course that the student buys should consist of a package that has virtually everything needed for that student to know what the course entails and to successfully complete the course, except for the actual tests themselves.

Independent Classroom Studying

Third, except for lecture classes, students, for the most part, would be studying independently. They would be given individual desks arranged so that when students are sitting in them, they are not able to be distracted by either other students or other things going on in the classroom. Students would be given individual desks that are large enough to contain all of the conventional supplies that they would commonly need throughout the day (pencils, erasers, pens, crayons, facial tissue, pencil sharpener, rulers, dictionaries, textbooks for all their subjects, paper, etc.). These desks should be at least three feet wide and two feet deep, though larger would be better. Desks constructed against and facing the walls of the classroom may be the best option. Students would place their backpacks or any things they brought from home under their desks or in an open shelf space provide under or over their desks.

Perhaps the main benefit of these flexible packaged courses is that students would be able to progress through a course at their own speed. Since all students do not naturally learn at the same speed, they should not all be required to learn at the same speed. Unfortunately, the conventional educational system, and lecture structured courses in general, tries to educate all students at the same speed. Using flexible packaged courses, students wanting to finish a course in a matter of days or weeks would experience no resistance, whereas students who may need or want more time or more accommodating testing dates would also be allowed that flexibility. Such flexibility would dramatically reduce unnecessary artificial stresses associated with education, especially for secondary and tertiary courses.

For these independent, flexible courses to successfully impart the required knowledge to the students, the information contained within the courses must be complete and easy to understand to a wide range of students. To be most effective, they would need to present the information using various different styles to appeal to the various different styles of learning to which students are most receptive. They must contain far more details, charts, graphs, photographs, etc. They would include information that would answer the most common questions students may have. In fact, students who are old enough (and parents of younger students) should be able to request and choose certain courses that are taught using a teaching style or method that may provide the greatest benefit to the student. Of course, since every question of every student could never always be anticipated and answered in advance, these courses would rely on feedback from past students and a large sample of educators about what information to include in future editions of the course so that those questions are answered. Included in the course could be website references to short video clips where students may also have the opportunity to view videos that would discuss a very narrow issue, which is usually what students have difficulty understanding. Many different professors could each make multiple videos about the same topic, describing it differently each time. Perhaps one professor could also make his videos on different days or weeks so that he describes the same problem/solution/topic slightly differently. The student could then choose to view as many of these video clips as many times as necessary until the student is confident about his understanding and knowledge about how to work or solve the math problem or whatever matter it was that was explained.

Tests Administered At School

Fourth, students would need to go to a school, educational facility or any place supervised by a school official to take the tests required by the course. Exams should be given periodically throughout the course and comprehensive final exams should be given for each course. The student would request his or her test from the school test site administrator by providing proof of enrollment in the course and successful completion of all previous tests. The student would go to a room without taking any of his/her unnecessary belongings with them. The student will either be supplied with all necessary items or all his/her necessary items would be inspected by the test site administrator to ensure that they may not be used for cheating. Only the test scores, projects, papers and other specific assignments would determine students’ grades that they receive on their classes. Nothing else should be taken into consideration.

Naturally, the more self-disciplined and motivated students would excel under such arrangements, nevertheless, most students, even young elementary-aged students may be able to successfully operate under such condition. Furthermore, students of all ages may also find studying in such an environment described here more satisfying and rewarding than the conventional educational environment, while simultaneously being less stressful. Regardless, this system would encourage students to develop their own initiatives to propel themselves to set and complete their schoolwork goals.

Due to the lowered demand for lecturing space, schools, especially colleges and universities, could enjoy an excess capacity of space which they would be able to dedicate for other uses, rent, or sell, thus reducing the operating expenses of educational institutions. Most of the school’s facilities would be open for as much of the day as possible and seven days a week so that school would not interfere with students’ other, and possibly more urgent or important, activities.

Short, Single-Topic Educational Courses

Small, short, independent, single-topic educational courses should be designed to supplement or even partly substitute standard general education courses. These courses could be called mini-courses because they would take one aspect of a larger subject and study it in great detail. The student would come away from such a course knowing a whole lot more about the larger subject by studying a narrow facet in great detail. Students would identify and analyze how virtually every possible influence has interacted with and affected that facet of the topic being studied. Studying narrow, specific topics within larger subjects enable students to construct deep pilings of knowledge which can later be used to construct a solid framework on which to securely hang future knowledge. Allowing students to have a much greater role in picking and choosing what they want to study would make education more exciting, rewarding, fulfilling, and efficient.

Absolutely any piece of knowledge could possibly be made to be taught in a mini-course. Examples of what could be taught in mini-courses would be things like very narrow and limited periods of history, such as the Presidential Election of 1912, Watergate, Vietnam War: Tet Offensive, the Yalta Conference, Texas’ role in the Civil War, the Little Ice Age, etc.), or other things like history of company mergers and the pedigree of the current business world, sonic booms, meteors, the sun, sound waves, the blue sky, why tape is sticky, or absolutely anything else. Some mini-courses could explain in detail what each profession does and give the student a feel for work life in that profession. Still others could teach students about how to choose and write about their own topics, improve writing skills, another could teach good use of transitions, and smooth flowing writing, and one could teach the proper use of all kinds of punctuation. Classes that teach how to take notes from lectures, discussions, observations, readings, etc., would also be another good option for students. mini-courses could also deal with large scale but yet narrow topics such as principles of problem identification and solving and various ideological approaches to solving environmental, social, economic, political, personal, and other problems. Students should be required to choose a minimum number of these mini-courses throughout their educational career while achieving a minimum balance throughout the major subject areas.

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