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Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Success if Measured

A few days ago I heard this grant-sponsored academic PhD researcher gush about a teacher profiled in some of his research, roughly as such:
Let me tell you about this amazing science teacher. Some of his students were having trouble with the class module on 'The Scientific Method.' They were failing tests and papers about it. This science teacher went to meet with these students after school, and found them all playing World of Warcraft. These students had charts they had made about discoveries in WOW all over the wall. This science teacher made an incredible discovery. These World of Warcraft playing-students were actually applying the scientific method without knowing it. What he did then was to explain to the students the links between their methodology and the scientific method. From that point on, the students aced that part of the curricula.
To me, this was not a success story - it was a cautionary tale. Here is the Unschooling Rules break down.
  1. Most importantly, the scenario is about students who taught themselves the material on their own better than their teacher, who failed utterly.
  2. The teacher applied a testing methodology that didn't pick up the fact that these students had a working knowledge of the target skill set. The system could easily have failed the students who had the best understanding in the class of the material.
  3. The teacher's goal and success metrics were for the students to do well in the test and papers, not master the material.
  4. The school wrapper around the students' self-learning probably cost about two thousand dollars in total costs of resources including teacher time, all to justify a failed instructional methodology and testing methodology.
Centuries ago, in some cultures, the happy ending of a fictional story (specifically "comedies") was one in which every protagonist got married. Through our modern perspective we rightfully challenge that definition of success. Today, most school success stories (at least told in academic, political, and foundation cultures) end when students are back on track to consume more education hours.  This may be the happy ending for schools, but not necessarily everyone else.

See also: Right and Wrong Questions


  1. I recently read this article and thought of you. http://whartonmagazine.com/blog/losing-the-capacity-for-experiential-learning/

  2. What a great find! Thank you so much!