A conversation about the new teaching approach part 1

Last month, I attended a technology conference in Japan where I gave a talk about the fast-changing of technology and the need to improve the education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. During the conference, I also met several Asian education leaders and one told me: “It is easy to talk about improving the education but to do it is a different matter. Many people have talked about this topic but few can explain in details how to do it. What is your suggestion?

I understood his concern so I answered: “The first step to improve the education is developing a new training program that focuses more on science and technology then re-train all teachers so they can teach this new program. The goal is soon most of your students, from elementary to college, will be educated in this new program so they can develop the needed skills for their future jobs. Today many students have no direction about what to study, what skills to develop, and what future jobs will be, that is why the current education is more a “guesswork” rather than a well-designed career plan.”

He laughed: “We had added science and technology courses to our curriculum already but I did not see any benefit.” I explained: “Adding more science and technology courses is only the first step. You must change the teaching method and restructure the training program to make it effective. In my opinion, the current lecturing method is not suitable for teaching science and technology and it will not motivate students to learn.”

He asked: “How do you restructure the training program? I explained: “The traditional curriculum structure is focusing on the “Subject,” which is abstract to most students. For example, students often ask: “What is the benefit of learning Calculus? Why do I need to know Biology?” A better approach is to break the abstract subject down into “smaller tasks.” Each task is associated with a specific skill, so students know if they master these tasks, they could develop certain skills. The task describes the instructions for students to do and what they will be able to accomplish when they complete it.”

He seemed surprised: “I never hear anyone mention on the breakdown an academic subject into smaller tasks.” I continued: “It is easier for students to learn one task at a time to make sure they do it well before move on to the next so no one will be left behind. It is also easier to change the content of the training when technology change too. First, you must identify all tasks that student must do to meet their course requirements. Then you analyze each task to determine how a competent student would perform on that task. You need to focus on the process that students must follow and what decisions they must make. From there, you will be able to identify the skills necessary to perform the task. With that information, you can write the learning outcomes such as by learning this ABC task, students will be able to perform XYZ skill.”

He seemed to interest: “Now I understand, each task can be associated with a skill so students can develop certain skills when they complete the course. But how do you structure the course material?”

I explained: “After defining all tasks, you must determine the prerequisite relationship among the learning outcomes. You must ask does certain skill need to be mastered before another so you will be able to structure your teaching material orderly from easy to more difficult. Once this process is complete, you can organize the instructions that enable students to master the learning outcomes. If you organize the training program in a logical way that shows how they relate to each other, you can create a hierarchy that shows a prerequisite relationship among the tasks or skills that you intend to train. This is the approach to develop new curriculum for the active learning method. As you organize your course content, you must identify the main points necessary to accomplish each outcome by asking yourself “What must the students know and be able to do when they complete this course?” As you teach, you can identify the learning outcome and the benefits of the learning these tasks to the students so they know why they need to learn this task and what is the benefits. Before moving on to a new topic, you can review the task’s outcome and ensure that all students can accomplish it.”

“The benefit of this new teaching method is students know what to do, why they need it, and how they can develop their skills so they are encouraged to learn more. When students are motivated, you add some pre-class readings for them to read before coming to class so class time could be used for discussions rather than lecturing where students passively listen to what you teach.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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