Thursday, June 13, 2019

depressing abstract

This paper (PDF) is from 2015, but I was just notified of it thanks to It's about a topic that's near and dear to my heart: student-centered, task-oriented learning. This particular variety goes by the names "project-based learning" (PBL) or "project-oriented learning" (POL). You can learn more about PBL done well at this old blog post of mine. The idea is to make the student more proactive in his/her own education through the use of projects, but once you read the abstract below, you'll realize the depressing reality that Koreans don't do well when given too much freedom. Thinking for oneself isn't a cultural value in Korea; the mentality does exist, but it's not indicative of the country's collective headspace. Read on. I've inserted asterisks to mark where I have comments.

Kim, Mi Kyong. (2015). Students' and teacher's reflections on project-oriented learning: A critical pedagogy for Korean ELT. English Teaching, 70(3), 73-98. This paper explores students' and teacher's experiences with project-oriented learning, as a form of critical pedagogy for Korean English language teaching. The teacher in this study developed and implemented a model of project-based instruction into a Korean tertiary context. The data set consisted of learner journals, teacher journals, and interviews. Six findings were ascertained: (1) The project approach created resistance from both the students and the teacher;* (2) Communication between the teacher and the students eased the students' frustrations; (3) The goal-oriented nature of project work encouraged students to construct linguistic and topic-related knowledge; (4) Group work promoted independent and collaborative learning; (5) The teacher's role as a facilitator continued to confuse the teacher;** and (6) Plagiarism seemed to limit student learning.*** Based on the findings, two pedagogical implications were drawn: Student-centered approaches in large low-level classes would require some degree of teacher-centeredness in order to respond to language demands;**** and learner and teacher journals can serve as an indicator of a need for teacher-centered methods.*****

*I'm going to assume the teacher is also Korean. Korean teachers tend to freak out when exposed to Western teaching methods. They're used to following a very specific program with little to no opportunity for divergence from the step-by-step plan.

**Almost certainly a Korean. Don't look to Koreans for improv.

***A culture that encourages both passivity in learning and uncreative problem-solving will of course be okay with plagiarism—a problem that many Koreans don't see as a problem. If a person can steal someone else's work and look good as a result, well, in a status-oriented society where prestige is more important than intellectual honesty and moral integrity, idea theft tends to be rampant.

****So what's the fucking point? Reread that sentence: for student-centered learning to work, it needs to be somewhat teacher-centered. Priceless.

*****My God, the whining. I don't think I could get through those journals. They'd all sound the same, and they'd all be filled with the moaning and groaning of lazy people rebelling at (1) the new thoughts bubbling up in their heads thanks to exposure to another culture, and (2) the notion of being responsible for one's own future and fortune (gasp!).

A comparison of pedagogical approaches:

ADDENDUM: this paper is also depressing for other reasons. The author (who, I gather, was also the instructor described in the paper, i.e., I was right to guess that the teacher was Korean) emphasizes a concept called "critical pedagogy," which already made my spider sense tingle because of the word "critical," which is beloved of postmodernists. Going to the Wikiversity page merely confirmed my suspicions:
Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional cliches, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse. (Empowering Education, 129)
This is a recipe for paranoia and other forms of insanity. How does one live a happy life when one is always trying to peel apart every situation as if social reality were an onion begging to be analyzed (more like anal-yzed, as in ass-raped)? I can't fathom it, personally. Maybe that makes me stupid. Maybe I'm a rube who prefers to remain unaware of subtext.

Wikiversity's article on critical pedagogy goes on to say this:
In this tradition[,] the teacher works to lead students to question ideologies and practices considered oppressive (including those at school), and [to] encourage "liberatory" collective and individual responses to the actual conditions of their own lives.
And according to the research paper whose abstract is discussed above, what exactly happened when students were encouraged to operate according to "liberatory responses"? By the teacher's own admission, the class turned to shit. It was only rescued when the teacher herself stepped in and made the class more teacher-centered, which is what Korean students normally expect, anyway. We expats encounter this inertia every damn day. Korean academics might be amenable to postmodernist bullshit, but Joe Normal students in Korea are not. While this academic/prole divide is a strike against PoMo-style thinking because of its academic elitism, it doesn't mean I have much sympathy for Korean students and teachers, who really need to change their pedagogical approach—and not toward postmodernism—if they want to be truly creative and innovative. East Asia, taken as a whole, is beginning to see some innovative thinking (cf. South Korea and robotics), but the continent isn't going to change as long as everyone insists on hanging on to old, useless educational traditions like rote memorization, multiple-choice testing (which encourages the false belief that, in every situation, there is only one correct answer), student passivity, and utter reliance on the teacher. This is a big mountain to move.

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