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Multimedia, Teaching

Reforming Education Makes Brains Hurt

Sir Ken Robinson has eloquently explained to me why encouraging divergent thinking in post secondary marketing students is sometimes an incredible challenge. Their education experience has taught them to find the “right” answer. Then they hit my classroom …

What are they supposed to do when there is no perfect solution? How do you learn from a case study if the case solution can’t be found on Google? Naturally, as they have spent 13 years practicing the drill, when they get stuck they turn to me for the solution. When I tell them that I don’t have the “right” answers they are often dumbstruck. Well – what good am I as a teacher then?

When guest speakers arrive to class and share real world business challenges, it takes a great deal of courage for students to step outside of educational norms, take a risk, and join the conversation knowing that they cannot possibly have the “right” answer. There are no solutions at the back of the book in business. Actually, there isn’t even a book!

Through this compelling presentation (I can only dream of being able to doodle like this guy) Sir Robinson has reminded me that students have been forced into these linear, mechanistic learning behaviours throughout their entire formal education. It’s not their fault. Since we need divergent thinkers in business, we must work to ensure that these habits are changed. Here is the big question – how do we do this?

Okay – there are the little things…
– You can choose your own assignment topics.
– I don’t care what font you use.
– I’m not specifying the required # of words. Tell me what you think I need to know.
– I’m not telling you how to present your assignment. Choose what works best for this scenario, a presentation, a video, a report, a play, a storyboard …
– and so on.

These are hardly revolutionary ideas. I’m sure you have many more. But tell me, have you received the same kind of responses as I have? Sure, there are many students who are thrilled to be “free” however this liberation is not appreciated by all. Student evaluations of my classes have included comments like:
– “She needs to give more detailed instructions”
– “I didn’t know what was expected of me”
– “I felt lost”.

Good, that was the point! All of this uncertainty means that you were having to break old learning patterns and stretch to something new. My daughter’s grade 3 teacher explained it so well, “It’s great when your head hurts, and you aren’t sure of what you are doing. That’s your grade 3 brain growing into a grade 4 brain.”

To my students I say that I’m not surprised it hurt a little. You were breaking habits built over 13 years! You are changing your “student brain” into a “business brain”. Steve Jobs hasn’t built Apple by following the instructions. Likewise, your success will come from you, not some instruction manual.


About amandabickell

Marketer - Teacher - Life Long Learner I love my job! I teach Marketing and Organizational Behaviour in undergraduate programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in BC. I consider myself a learning coach. My role in the classroom is to create an engaging learning environment where students are excited about their journey of discovery in the business world. Here I chronicle my coaching approach, share resources, and engage with students & colleagues. The views and perspectives I present here are purely personal, and don't necessarily reflect those of my university. If you are a "coach" too, feel free to borrow what you find here. Let me know how it works for you.


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