Jeff Longland

Relax, don't worry – have a home brew!

Freire and Edtech – A Simple Essay

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I wrote the following essay for a course a few years ago.  The tone is…  dry.  It’s a bit boring. Cliched.  But a recent tweet by @kylemackie got me thinking about it.  I’m posting it here, as it was submitted to my instructor.  Please be forgiving, it was written parallel to building a grade submission web app (there’s a window into my life…)

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The instructional technology community is filled with discussion about the potential of technology to transform learning.  The very nature of the community lends itself to such rhetoric.  I’m not throwing rocks at glass houses – I too am guilty of promoting idealistic visions of technology.  In recent years there has been a growing movement that critically questions how and why technology has been integrated into teaching.  Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed frequently arises in these dialogues.  In this paper I will argue that Freire’s concept of “the banking method of education” is valuable to authors who are mounting oppositions to the modern ‘downloading method of education’.

Freire believes that the individual should form himself rather than be formed.  Education should allow an individual to reach a truly reflective state through which they develop a self-construction of the world.  Freire believes that “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the the world, and with each other” (Freire 58).  But the predominant approach to education is characterized by lecturing and memorization.  Freire calls this approach the “banking method of education”.  In this model, “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” (Freire 58).  The banking concept forces a passive role on students.  It stifles their development of critical consciousness as direct participants in the world.  The banking method encourages students to simply adapt to whatever view of reality is narrated to them by the teacher.  When combined with a paternalistic social action apparatus, the banking concept can be used by oppressors to change the consciousness of the oppressed rather than changing their situation.

In opposition to the banking concept, Freire advocates for a problem-posing education that encourages critical consciousness and intervention in reality.  Freire makes a call to action: “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students” (Freire 59). The problem-posing teacher transforms students from docile listeners to critical collaborators.  Students and teachers are jointly responsible for the learning process.  The role of the problem-posing educator is to facilitate consciousness-raising.  As students are challenged with problems that place them in-the-world and with-the-world, they will come to see the problems within a web of relations.  Their response will lead them to new comprehensions that are increasingly critical and less alienated.  Freire argues that “a deepened consciousness of [one’s] situation leads men to apprehend that situation as an historical reality susceptible of transformation” (Freire 73).  The banking concept fosters a model of ‘education as oppression’ whereas the problem-posing approach fosters a model of ‘education as freedom and realization’.

I believe that Freire’s work is valuable to authors who are mounting oppositions to the modern ‘downloading method of education’.  Over the past decade, countless initiatives have attempted to transform education with technology.  The Open University was established in the United Kingdom to “promote educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential” (http://www.open.ac.uk/about/ou/p2.shtml).  Any individual can access courses from the Open University for free.  Similar initiatives can be seen in projects like MIT’s OpenCourseWare or lecture-sharing site Academic Earth.  While I applaud these initiatives for making their content available beyond the members of their institution, they perpetuate a model of education that is still uni-directional.  The general availability of educational packages seems to suggest that downloading and consuming them will result in learning.  A problem-posing educator is absent from most of these initiatives.  Learners are left in the virtual ‘wild’ to fend for themselves.

Beyond open eduction initiatives, the ‘downloading method of education’ can be seen within the walled gardens of online learning systems that are found at many institutions.  Systems like Blackboard, Desire2Learn and WebCT are largely used for distributing content to students.  The focus of such systems is evident in their very name: learning management systems.  While these systems have capabilities for many-directional interactions, they are used primarily for the delivery of course content.  These online environments are tightly integrated with administrative systems to the extent that teaching & learning is something that occurs as part of larger institutional business processes.  Students are constrained within these systems and isolated from larger communities of discourse that could be facilitated by through the use of instructional technologies.  While technology has brought benefits to education, I do not think the oft-discussed transformative potential has been realized.  I think that Freire’s work is of considerable value to authors mounting oppositions to the “downloading method of education” and the need for a problem-posing approach when leveraging instructional technologies.

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Written by jlongland

January 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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