(#141) Reimagining Education for Students and Their Communities

We need a fresh set of eyes on how to make education work
for the benefit of the students and the communities in which they live.

Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean’s study of college students over a six-year period (2006-2011) begins with these words:

 “This is a portrait of a generation on a tightrope.
Today’s college students are struggling to maintain their balance
as they attempt to cross the gulf between their dreams and the
diminished realities of the world in which they live.”

More specifically, Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s Student looked at college students born in 1990, the world they were born into, and the challenges for them, their teachers, and their employers.


Levine and Dean found that these students have come into a world that is fundamentally different from their predecessors in higher education.  Their research found (among other things) that these students are:

  • Truly the digital natives.  Like my generation was “born into” the world of television (we did not know a world without T.V.), this group grew up the Internet world (they do not know a world that is not “connected.”)
  • More isolated in spite of their constant connectivity. They have 24/7 contact but lack interpersonal skills.
  • The most diverse in the history of higher education. Ironically, while this cohort is “global in orientation…they have little knowledge about the world” beyond them.
  • “More immature, dependent, coddled, and entitled.” This is the generation whose parents did not ever want them to skin their knees. They do not know how to fail—and learn from that.
  • Growing up in a world of profound and unrelenting change–more so than ever before in history.
  • A generation that makes for difficult employees.  As the authors state, “they want the keys to the kingdom” the first day on the job.

Levine and Dean call for education reform to “meet the students where they are…All education is essentially remedial, teaching students what they do not know.”  Since students learn at different rates, tying education to a specified amount of seat time is antiquated and counterproductive according to the authors. They argue that education should present them with a variety of methods to learn.

This reminded me of another book I recently completed: The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan. Starting with tutoring his cousin—and no grand plans beyond that—the Khan Academy has emerged as an international force in education beyond the classroom.  In fact, he has extended the classroom.  His more than 3,900 videos allow for a flipping of the classroom. That is, teachers using this method (Khan Academy or some other video source) assign the video “lectures” for homework and then use class time for what had been traditional homework to move students toward 100% mastery.


In his book and talks, Khan makes a reasoned argument that we do not help students when we move them along once they have achieved only 70% or 80% command of a subject. (Do you want a doctor that was 70% proficient in his studies?)  That creates “Swiss Cheese Gaps” that will hinder the students later in their education and lives. The flipping process allows teachers to become coaches in a self-paced learning model.  Khan maintains that the traditional metric of student-to-teacher ratio is not productive.

Video recommendation for the week:

Instead, we should be looking at “student-to-valuable-time-with-the-teacher ratio.”

There are questions about flipping the classroom. While, it is important to meet the students where they are, it is as important to understand that many students (at least in my 31 years of experience) are not sure where they are. They do not know the questions to ask. Many lack the curiosity needed to explore a subject. (You could make the argument that our education system has beaten the curiosity out of many.)  Levine and Dean found that the students in their research disliked ambiguity—they wanted to know what the right answer was so they could move forward (and receive an award, too, for doing what they were expected to do!). This creates challenges as flipping requires the student to dive in, experiment, fail, and learn. A certain amount of “stick-to-itiveness” is required.

In his book, Khan emphasizes that the classroom teacher is as important as ever in the newly reimagined education model. What we need is a fresh set of eyes on how to make this work for the benefit of the students and the communities in which they live.

Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B. as needed!

Slots are now available for my February 13 webinar, Retention and Persistence: Why Do Students Stay and Why Do They Leave Our Institutions?  Check my website for registration information. 


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please share it (and any of the archived posts on this site) along to friends and colleagues. You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli).  Also, if you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment. Make it a wonderful week!

©2013. Steve Piscitelli.

About stevepiscitelli

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2 Responses to (#141) Reimagining Education for Students and Their Communities

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  2. Pingback: (#188) A Blogger’s Retrospective: 2013 in Review | Steve Piscitelli's Blog

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