Learning in public: week 4

I've taught a good deal of my academic life at a distance. It's now called online but the basic protocols remains, you have a group of students who sign onto a course, often knowing little about what to expect apart from some ridiculously brief account in a handbook somewhere. I learned long ago that most students fell into two broad groups: those who simply wanted to get the course done and dusted and those who were looking to get as much from the course as they could. This binary reminds me of [*2014 the excellent set of rules (in italics below)], popularised by John Cage for teachers and students. I've reproduced them here with some annotations (the indented text), because I think they are important.

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

Trust is a key idea in an age in which a great deal of information can be easily shared about self, projects and ambitions. It's hard to create trust out of nothing. People have to try things and see what happens. Trust is also fragile and easily lost. I think good rapport between teachers and students is fundamentally built on a level of trust that allows free and frank exchanges despite the student perception of the teacher having power over them.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

This is particularly hard at a distance. Each year the course runs I see some students do both. I appreciate how time poor people are and so it's often not possible to hit the bar here.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

Seriously tricky doing this remotely and also in a face-to-face class. Why do it? Because students are probably the most important resource in any class. They bring so much. They know a lot of stuff. They bring years of experience that can play hugely important roles in any course.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

I'd qualify that by saying to make the experiment small and affordable. Not in $ terms but certainly in terms of time.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

I like this rule, particularly when one is faced by the biggest distraction machine ever built by humans, aka the Internet. The word discipline also applies to those bodies or fields of knowledge that have their own particular rules about how to follow, i.e. mathematics or history. Education, to me, does not have such tight rules, i.e. is much less disciplined.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

Well you can make mistakes but they are only useful if you learn from them. It's how much/most of learning occurs. This is why celebrating your muck ups, your mistakes is way more important than celebrating whatever green elephant stamp you are awarded at the end of a course like this. This is where school gets things so badly wrong. A culture that worships right or correct answers is not the place to nurture curiosity, creativity and serious play, all of which to me are key elements for any kid trying to deal with what this century holds.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

Here I tend to think about the unconscious, that part of the brain we have no direct access to but which works all the time giving us things at inconvenient times like when you are in the shower the brilliant idea for your resource suddenly comes into view for you.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

A lot more to be said here but let's keep it simple.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

Any amount of research indicates that your predisposition has a huge impact on how we think and how well we think. If a course is not a source of fun, pleasure and joy then it's not a good course.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

Most important rule of all.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

A small problem here in that there is now so much stuff you can save, keep. I'd qualify this by adding the word curate, i.e. you collect material but it needs to be curated, given a place, so it fits in with whatever logic you are using to think about an idea or problem.