August 7, 2012

Trickle-down and Bubble-up Pedagogy

"Trickle-down economics" and "the trickle-down theory" are terms in United States politics to refer to the idea that tax breaks or other economic benefits provided by government to businesses and the wealthy will benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole.

Though many people today associate it with Reaganomics or supply-side economics, the term has been attributed to humorist Will Rogers, who said during the Great Depression that "money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy."

In some ways, there is a “trickle-down pedagogy" theory around in education - especially in the use of technology. The theory is that innovation starts in higher ed and then works its way down into K-12.

Examples might be the use of learning management systems, or 1:1 computing, or giving students iPods, tablets and phones. A lot of this innovation is economically motivated. Colleges have more to spend and can require students to spend. They also have fewer restrictions on what they can do with adult students.

Right now, MOOCs (massive open online courses) are a hot topic in higher ed. Though I can't imagine a K-12 school or system being able to offer a MOOC, I can see high school students and teachers participating in them, In fact, I can imagine more of the secondary school people participating than in higher ed.

More and more vendors of educational software are looking to K-12 as an untapped market for products and services that were seen as more suited to colleges. Learning management systems is a good example.

I feel pretty safe saying that the innovation in pure pedagogy - how we teach - comes from the lower grades and sometimes bubbles up to higher ed.

Is there any trickle-down pedagogy?

When I moved from secondary education to higher ed in 2000, I was amazed at what pofessor had not heard of in education. Topics and movements that I had been exposed to ten or even twenty years earlier were unheard of on campus. I blew the dust off materials I had about Bloom's taxonomy, learning styles, backwards design, rubrics, problem-based learning etc. and presented them to educational theory virgins who were surprisingly interested. More than a few faculty confessed to me that they knew almost nothing about educational theory and research. Some said, "I try to be like the good teachers I had and not like the poor ones."

I guess that would be a form of bubble-up pedagogy.

When the college I was working at back then offered some days of professional development for high school teachers, we had a hard time finding professors and topics that would be new to the teachers that they could actually do in their classrooms. They loved seeing our labs and toys, but they knew they had no chance of using what they saw in their classes. In teaching those workshops and sitting in other professors sessions, I often heard the high school teachers suggest to the presenters ways that they taught the content that seemed more innovative than our pedagogy.

And I don't want to get started on the blame game that trickles down from every higher level about how the students are unprepared by the earlier levels. That game extends even beyond schools. Primary teachers can blame pre-schools who can blame parents. Employers can blame the universities.

Of course, the best pedagogy sharing would be bidirectional and we would each learn from the other levels. It's unfortunate that upper level teachers (high school and college) often look down on teachers in K-8 because the content is so "simple" and ignore the innovative ways it is being presented and assessed. College professors are often seen as working in ivory towers of rarefied academic air that has little application to the teaching of "children."

Trickle-down or bubble up. We need good pedagogy to move across all levels of education.

Cross-posted from Serendipity35

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