Is cheating part of learning in school

The deception with self-determined learning

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In an article in the “Wirtschaftswoche” on September 28, 2016, the education professor Karl-Heinz Dammer criticizes the new learning culture of autonomous self-directed learning: Abilities of the students should be oriented so that they can work on them independently in an agreed time. The whole thing is controlled with the help of so-called learning contracts, in which students and teachers jointly determine what should be done and checked in which period. The learners should reflect on and evaluate their learning process in order to 'learn to learn'. All of this is made possible by educational standards that are formulated more and more openly in terms of content, which only give teachers rough competence goals.

The description of this new model already indicates some contradictions. What occurs with the pathos of autonomy and self-determination is in reality prefabricated learning material and is subject to strict control by the »learning companion«, the contemporary term for the teachers. In practice, there is a tight timing for the processing of the tasks to which the students have to submit by contract.

Interestingly, the practice of the "new learning culture" fits very well with the systematisation and computerization of learning content promoted by the state and also by the increasingly massive "education industry". These are by no means worked out autonomously by the student, but exist as standardized, small-step learning units with success control and evaluation that have to be worked through.

Self-control as disguised external control

Dammer criticizes the concept of “self-control”, which is central to the “new learning culture”: “This concept implicitly declares the learner to be a technical system and learning a technical process that precisely controls itself on the basis of specifications. This not only fails to recognize the complexity of learning processes. This also reveals a problematic image of man. ›Self-directed‹ as a technical metaphor means that the pupils submit to outside regulation of their own accord and should therefore feel responsible for the successful implementation of expectations. «Here the contradiction between apparent self-regulation and outside regulation becomes abundantly clear. Autonomy is organized and controlled: a contradiction in terms!

Profitable business models

It is interesting that since the student movement and the educational reform in its wake, almost every time the pathos of autonomy has turned into a profitable business model. The proximity of the practice of self-determined learning to the interests of the textbook publishers and the IT industry is more than obvious. It is not for nothing that treaties such as CETA and TTIP demand liberalization of the health system as well as that of the education system. In a comment in the “Wirtschaftswoche” on October 16, 2016 with the title “Schools have other worries than a lack of computers” Ferdinand Knauß calls the media-effective digitization initiative of Education Minister Wanka a “subsidy machine for hardware manufacturers”. Then he quotes from an article in “Stern”: “At some point, thousands of teachers could save themselves from always preparing the same material over and over again. It's a waste of time when there are high-quality learning videos instead. ”And Jörg Draeger, head of the Bertelsmann Foundation, raves about the“ personalization for everyone ”that would be made possible by learning software. At the end of the development, there would then be the pupil, more or less monitored by the computer, who would measure his or her level of learning. At the moment you might still think of that as an Orwellian scenario, but I wouldn't be so sure about it. What is technically feasible usually becomes reality. The programs are already being worked on, the monitoring may still be lacking.

Self-determined through strong relationships

The reality of self-determined learning still looks different in practice. In the best case, each individual student has a clearly defined task and sits in front of his worksheet or PC. Ideally, one or more competent teachers are available to help with problems. It should be clear that this cannot be very easy with a larger number of students or with more complex technical topics.

Ideally, the students work at their "workplaces". But with a large number, who can determine whether what they are working on is not flawed? You can do this with results checks in arithmetic, but otherwise? Who can prevent copy-and-paste, also known as “Guttenbergen”, from the ubiquitous Wikipedia in so-called “free presentations”? Who stops the students when they turn to far more interesting topics with a click of the mouse: The last Formula 1 race is still the most harmless variant. It is now undoubtedly the case that approaches to this "new learning" work in practice. I was able to observe this during internships in Montessori schools and also in more radical implementations at Waldorf schools. What struck me in these positive examples was the charismatic commitment of the teachers involved with a noticeably strong relationship with their students and probably also a strong supportive commitment from the parents involved. These school projects were not limited to providing a computer room with learning programs and managing the evaluation and self-evaluation. As I experienced it, relationship was everything. Those responsible for these projects have repeatedly warned against introducing their concepts in addition to ordinary lessons.

One condition always seemed to me to be the small number of students in these projects. This form of learning is extremely intensive and therefore expensive. Someone has to pay for it: the parents or the teachers with reduced salaries. I strongly assume that the idealism, which is naturally assumed here, has a subliminal effect.

Is the teacher still wanted?

The conflict about “self-directed learning” in the press points to a socio-cultural break. Do we want a school in the future that renounces everything "imponderable" in the teacher-student relationship and whose staff consists of the caretaker and software administrator? As a result, the caretaker is superfluous because the PC or tablet can also be in the children's room. The security for the school yard is unnecessary anyway. Approaches to such a development are visible.

Or do these developments mark a turning point towards a kind of conservative educational revolution and the "workshops" end up on the rubbish heap of pedagogical history, like set theory in elementary school and writing by ear? Who knows?

About the author: Hubert Geißler was a teacher in the subjects of art and German at various Waldorf schools.