Sunday, September 6, 2015

Real-world problems with real-world projects

I've long had reservations about the real-world projects that much of the edworld is infatuated with. They often detract from time spent on foundational content and basic skills. They often involve a large ratio of effort/time to learning (with time lost to travel, assembly, and other logistics). They often don't match the actual real-world demands that students need to meet upon graduating. And, to the extent that they do, they are perhaps better learned out completely outside the academic setting--i.e., out in the real world. Let the academic courses focus on what they're most suited to: generalized content and basic skills.

Recently a more practical downside to real-world projects has occurred to me: they're much easier than traditional assignments are to fake. No one's looking; no one's checking to see if the real world is as you say it is, or whether you actually went out and did what you said you did in it. Does the classroom or clinic you observed in actually exist? Are the people you interviewed real people? Did you actually conduct the experiment you wrote up and drew diagrams for? Are the results you reported ones you actually got, or merely ones you were hoping for?

Of course, similar questions apply out in the real world--as the field of psychology has recently discovered. Perhaps other fields will follow suit.

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