Sunday, 13 January 2013

Problem Based Learning

I was having a discussion about the future of university education this morning and we were talking about problem based learning and "gamification". The person I was talking to is a lawyer and they felt that the best lawyers were not those that learnt in a problem based way, but those who were taught the old way in a very theoretical way that made them engage in depth with the law reports.

So is she right? I think mostly it was a confusion of ideas. When I mean problem based learning this can mean take away problems that are worked on over time and that could include in depth research and critical thinking. Her concern was the loss of deep analytical skills and an academic sense of law. So I want to see these deeper skills cultivated and old fashioned didactic teaching did nothing for this. You either arrived with critical skills and survived or you had a miserable university experience. The question is what are you doing a degree for? Expanding your view of the world and becoming this "academic" sage like being, or to get a job? Now as someone who is still in academia after over 20 years I picked the first answer but most (all my peers who are now well paid) pick the second. But I am well aware that a dictionary definition of academic is pointless and irrelevant.

For a lawyer this is also a slightly odd point to make as a generation before it was unusual for lawyers to have law degrees and they were encouraged to have broader interests. The final training for law happened at the vocational and practical law schools. There was no need to go to university at all to be a solicitor.

Do the "academic" skills have any place? They help you lose friends and alienate people by being that pompous supercilious know-it-all who bores everyone to death. You have a broad view of the world but you have the same naivities and stupidities as those without the academic skills. Does it make you a better lawyer, doctor, architect? I do not know if that insular world not focussed on the more mundane and practical does any good for anyone. That is the world of Laputa from Gulliver's travels. That is a travel that most people never read about, but it is the funniest story to me. That is the world of the old university, of Oxbridge, of the Russell group and of the Ivy League. Spending all your time obscuring the light from the world outside while you try to weigh rainbows. It is even funnier if you know a little Spanish.

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