Negotiated Requirements

Posted on September 9, 2016


This is part of an ongoing exploratory series on Educational Ideas

I think one of the most difficult challenges in education is balancing requirements and autonomy. I personally lean toward greater autonomy for students, but I worry that students, without visibility into the demands of the real world have little information to guide them in their preparation for the next steps in their education or their lives.

I’d bet that most people lean more heavily on the side of requirements, believing that students will not engage in any productive activities unless they are required to do so. Traditional education seems to reflect this observation.

Which observation is more accurate is not the point for this idea. The goal of Negotiated Requirements is to help bridge the gap between people who want to give students greater autonomy and those who worry that too much autonomy will leave students unprepared.

The basic idea is to create a list of requirements that you think are going to best serve the students. A traditional curriculum is a good example of such a list.

You then allow students to negotiate against the list.

This would have a number of effects:

  • It shows students what you believe to be an accurate list of skills and knowledge that they will need to be prepared for the next stage of their education or life.
  • It encourages a dialog between the student and the teacher regarding why any given requirement is on the list, giving the student a better understanding of why the requirement exists.
  • If a student disagrees with something on the list it provides them an opportunity to argue against it and replace it with something else, giving them greater ownership of the requirements.

I do believe that requirements and curricula can be helpful to both younger and older people who are trying to navigate new territory. However I also think you can damage someone’s motivation and learning if they are only meeting those requirements because they are requirements, rather than because they have a deep understanding about why the requirement is important and they agree with the logic. If they don’t agree with the logic they will likely do the bare minimum to meet the requirement and will soon forget the learning they acquired in meeting the requirement.
At the very least giving students a deeper understanding and greater ownership over their educational experience seems like it would have positive ramifications.



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