Learning in public: week 3

Some folk think that it is odd to talk about folk who are teaching as learners. It was good to learn a little about most of the students last week, even though I forgot about the microphone limit and did not realise I was not being heard till late in the session1. But back to learning and one hopes some forms of knowing that might be associated with an exercise like this course.

I was dipping into a favourite thinker of mine, Tim Ingold2. In the opening to his book: Making : anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture, he writes:

the only way one can really know things – that is, from the very inside of one’s being – is through a process of self-discovery. To know things you have to grow into them, and let them grow in you, so that they become a part of who you are. Had my companions offered formal instruction by explaining what to do, I would have had only the pretence of knowing, as I would find out the moment I tried to do as I was told. The mere provision of information holds no guarantee of knowledge, let alone of understanding. Things, as proverbial wisdom has it, are easier said than done.

Courses like this are too easily seen or perhaps they are rehearsed over and over again as exercises in information/knowledge, well chapters and papers, that students need to somehow digest and then regurgitate on cue. Whereas what I think ought to go on is that yes, the papers and chapters should be read but then they need to find a place, or not, in the intellectual labyrinth of the reader: did I like what this person was arguing? does it mesh with my current thinking about [insert your key ideas about the topic]? where on earth did this line of thinking come from, it's bizarre? how does this help me with my work in this field? These are some questions that might be asked as you work content. Simply reading and making the odd note is not working a paper or chapter.

My challenge is how to communicate this notion of working a paper in a way that is both fun and rewarding, i.e. the odd penny drops.

More of Ingold from pp 1-23

Gregory Bateson – anthropologist, cybernetician and general intellectual maverick – called it ‘deutero-learning’ (Bateson 1973: 1414). This kind of learning aims not so much to provide us with facts about the world as to enable us to be taught by it. The world itself becomes a place of study, a university that includes not just professional teachers and registered students, dragooned into their academic departments, but people everywhere, along with all the other creatures with which (or whom) we share our lives and the lands in which we – and they – live. In this university, whatever our discipline, we learn from those with whom (or which) we study. The geologist studies with rocks as well as professors; he learns from them, and they tell him things. …

Learning to learn, for them as for the practitioners of any other discipline, means shaking off, instead of applying, the preconceptions that might otherwise give premature shape to their observations. It is to convert every certainty into a question, whose answer is to be found by attending to what lies before us, in the world, not by looking it up at the back of the book.