The Right Answer
Our educational experiences, from a young age, teach us to value correctness. Early assignments are often marked right or wrong and we strive to earn the gold stars and other rewards given for being correct. Moving through the education system students acquire the habit of looking for the right answer but as students mature they need the ability to deal with multiple outcomes from their work. Their research activities can generate conflicting conclusions. The issues being addressed are simply more complex. To help students make this shift, authentic Active Learning activities produce diverse outcomes.
Many students go straight to their favorite search engine when looking for answers and they often neglect to explore more than one response.
Diverse Outcomes for Different Disciplines
Designing Active Learning activities with multiple outcomes seems straight-forward in disciplines like the Humanities where important issues usually encompass several points of view. Conflicting opinions and supporting evidence are not hard to find on political and social issues such as universal health care or the death penalty, for example.
Historians often present different interpretations of historical events. This too can provide students with the opportunity for comparative analysis. In disciplines such as the Social Sciences there are often different schools of thought. Students could compare the views of Freudians, Behaviorists, and Existentialists in a psychological analysis of behavior, for example. In the natural sciences there is the evolution of theory where older views are challenged by newer ones. These can be compared. Newton’s laws of motion apply only under certain conditions. They do not seem to describe the behavior of sub-atomic particles. In Biology the primacy given to genetic structure is somewhat mitigated by the fact that genes can be changed and the fact that there are not enough genes to account for all of human diversity. Psycho-biologists debate the locus and the role of human emotions in determining behavior. Climate change pits scientists against each other in dealing with an issue that may require a very long time frame to comprehend. Politics and Economics present conflicting responses to concerns about global warming and sustainability.
The challenge for teachers often lies in our tendency to simplify and isolate concepts in order to make them more understandable. We un-complicate the real picture. We reduce it to basics that can be more readily mastered and hope that the greater complexities will be presented at some later point in the student’s career.
Active Learning activities are authentic when they present the real world of the practitioner. It is understanding real world complexity that students can find the motivation to dig into the basics that they will ultimately need. This is, to some extent, a matter of flipping the usual teaching progression. The simple ideas do not have relevance until they can be connected to some larger idea. Having students meet the complex realm first provides a more honest and more effective picture of the discipline under study and creates the challenge of mastering basics in order to return to the more complex problems.