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Monday, February 4, 2013

Content vs. Skill

            A class, as my friend Roy says, is content-based or skill-based. Essentially the focus is either on transmitting specific information related to a subject to students, or in aiding students in the acquisition of a skill.
            Some classes inherently lean more one direction than another. Many of the sciences, for instance, focus on the specialized information that students need to know about the discipline.
            However, I believe that there are too many who focus on the content rather than the skills. There is always some content instruction. There must be. However, the skills are far more important, especially in an age of the internet.
            As my favorite professor (and the man whom I’ve patterned my teaching after) said, “There will never be a time when you are without the text.” That was back in the fledgling days of the internet, as well. Now, with access to all of the information on mobile phones, his words are more true than ever.
            While the English Composition courses I teach are fundamentally skill-based (at least in my world-view) the mythology class I teach could lend itself highly to content-based knowledge. In fact, when I took the course, that’s how it was taught: memorization and quickly surveying a new continent every other week. I barely had a chance do more than spin around before the next scantron was in front of my face.
            And I felt cheated.
            I didn’t really learn much. I learned as much about mythology from that course as I would have looking at Wikipedia pages.
            So when I started teaching mythology, it was not an exercise in memorization. I’ve shifted the class to skill acquisition. I teach students how to look at mythology. I want them to be able to crack it open and pull out everything that’s inside of it (and there is quite a bit). I want them to know what to do when they read a myth, and how to recognize the value and the culture of the people who wrote it. When students pass my mythology class, I’m confident that they will be able to apply this skills to other myths.
            It’s time we stop treating education as the equivalent of looking something up in an encyclopedia, and focus on the skills necessary to utilize the knowledge.
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