Rigor and Relevance

Have you ever been told to ‘try and go to sleep’? Or to ‘try and forget something’? It’s one of those things that we just don’t do well. Ironically it is the same with remembering. Some things one remembers well, other things just don’t come. Yet even at higher education it seems to be the make or break for academic success.

Last week I wrote touching upon the processes that take place within learning, and how understanding these processes is the key to understanding learning. Connectivist learning theory furthers this in suggesting that with the changing in times – to the world of information abundance – which the real benefits of being educated are not that one is a walking book, but that one knows how to manage information (Siemens, 2004). Where to find it, what it really means, whether it is valid or not and so forth. Knowing things was never any use to anyone until it could get a job done.

I want to give mention to another topic that affects the learning process: academic rigor. We had a semester of blogging last year. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I thought I had been thrown off my feet, and it felt like I had been giving every waking minute across 9 weeks to getting these blogs done. Needless to say it was one of the most time intensive exercises since coming to university. But when I broke it down, I probably spent 15-20 hours a week maximum on it. And I called it hard…

This week I set a goal to have the introduction section of my dissertation complete. Most of my peers thought this was a very ambitious goal – to write a 2500 word argument. And by comparison they would be right. The thesis is by far the largest assignment we will write. But it is only 6000 words. My blogging experiences of last semester, however, have brought me to accept that it is reasonable for the academic world to demand rigor.

On the topic of rigor, I would like to draw attention to the ‘Rigor/Relevance Framework®’ (International Center for Leadership in Education, 2012). This theory postulates that real learning goes far beyond acquisition of knowledge. Assimilation, adaptation and application are all further steps in learning something to a higher level (Daggett, 2005). I might know now the mechanics of long term potentiation within brain neurons. But have I taken that knowledge and found out how it is used in practise? Have I considered how I could add to the research? Have I spent any time really getting into the opposing theories and the critiques? Sufficiently that I might properly be able to form novel ideas? Or am I held to ransom by the tyranny of more course content, to pass the exam?


Image is copyrighted (2012) by the International Centre for Leadership in Education

Even so, the idea of having more analysis, synthesis and evaluation doesn’t sound that demanding does it? Here’s how I see it. The dissertation is demanding, because I have never done it before. And it is a piece of work that does call for the above described skills. I have a novel challenge to meet, I have something to become. A change needs to take place in me.

We all know plenty of tricks for knowledge acquisition. It is often an associative process, so Skinner boxes and behaviourism tell us we will all get there in the end. The problem is that it’s boring! It’s just how it is that actually changing who we are, and learning new skills is hard. We are teaching ourselves new processes. And the content looks after itself.

After I complete my dissertation, I presume the next one will be easier in some respects. On the other hand, it will likely be longer, deeper and therefore harder. But that is its way of breaking my intellectual muscles that I can grow further. With that in mind it is no more complicated than the old adage: nothing ventured nothing gained.

The Rigor/Revelance Framework® is a registered trademark of the International Center for Leadership in Education

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