Learning in public: week 0

I’ve been thinking about what to me is the main point of the course to get across which gets totally scrambled in the verbose and silly set of learning objectives that are mandatory for each course.

I went back to Bret Victor’s thoughtful piece: some thoughts on teaching. Some quotes:

Traveling through Toronto recently, I met a man who taught plumbing at the local trade school. Inside his classroom he had built a house; this house had six bathrooms and nothing else. His students had been rejected by the mainstream school system, labeled "failures" for their unwillingness to sit still and memorize. He gave these kids a solid, useful skill, gave them confidence and pride in their skill, set them up with apprenticeships, and generally put them on the road to a decent life. These so-called "failures" weren't dumb. They came to this guy's House Of Bathrooms and listened up, because he earned their respect.Twenty years of plumbing had provided for a family and a home, he had run his own plumbing company, he literally knew his shit. He was as much a role model as a teacher; these kids learned his skill to earn his life.

I can hardly consider myself a teacher in comparison with these people, but when I write or talk, it comes out of trying to understand a way of thinking that's deeply personal and valuable to me, and then trying to share this understanding. It's more than mere passion — anyone can be passionate about anything. It's a kind of honesty that comes from distilling and passing on my own genuine insights and experience.

I'm hoping the entire group will bring genuine insights and experience to this course. I'll tell them that it is not just a sit at the feet of the teacher and try and work out what he wants kind of exercise. Given how other courses operate this will be hard for them to accept and I've had a hard time communicating that in the past. Any course, all courses are simply conversations. I hope we have conversations that are more than just me talking and the class listening. There is already too much of that in terms of the course content.

Like so many thing in formal education, this course is a compromise between what I'd really like to do and the silly strictures of courses. We are seeing the slow erosion of both the status and interest in such courses as various experiments in doing education differently, alt-ed if you like, appear in and around the edges of formal education practices.

So it comes back to me thinking about what do I want to try and get across or at least engage the group with.

Bret Victor again,

Real teaching is not about transferring "the material", as if knowledge were some sort of mass-produced commodity that ships from Amazon. Real teaching is about conveying a way of thinking. How can a teacher convey a way of thinking when he doesn't genuinely think that way?

So my task is to try and convey a way of thinking, my way of thinking. But about what? Well there is the focus of the course and I do have clear ways of thinking about the digital that I don’t want to impose on folk but to use as a way of engaging with the way they think about the digital, games and education. Sitting alongside or perhaps integral to the first is helping folk learn to play the academic game a little better, i.e. to write better academic pieces, to make good use of time saving devices like bibliographic software and perhaps to be a bit more savvy in working in a world of information glut1.

One of the more thoughtful folk in this field, Michael Wesch, has captured much of what I have been thinking about in this short YouTube clip2. It's something all teachers will be familiar with. He draws attention to the galactically stupid practices of much of formal education in the face new ways of producing, curating and sharing knowledge. He makes the key point that we need to move from a mindset of valuing knowledgeable to one of valuing being knowledge-able.

One of the illustrations I use to make this point is to contrast what I know when I am at the beach without smart phone or any other digital device. What I know is a blurry mixture of stuff I can dredge up from memory. Stuff that is cued from my surroundings, i.e. knowledge about waves and body surfing and reading the conditions in the water. What I am at my desk, I know a heap more. I won't bore you with the list of digital and material resources at my finger tips and with which I have become adept at using to do a whole bunch of different tasks.

So my task in this course is to become knowledge-able about the group of students who have agreed to play in the 7131 sandpit for a trimester.