The soft border between teaching and learning

The best teachers, if they’re honest, admit that it’s their students who teach them their art and science. Of course, most students don’t know that they’re teaching their teachers, which is probably a good thing. Just as the analysands (sometimes abusively referred to as patients) in psychoanalysis don’t know that they can only only cure themselves and the analyst is there just to get their unconscious to talk.*  After all, if learners did know that they were teaching their teachers, they might ask for a revision of educational pay scales!

And of course teachers who don’t recognize it are less likely to be good teachers, or may simply be dishonest with themselves.

But what do I mean by students teaching the teachers? Actually, there are several answers:

  1. A good teacher is in permanent interaction with students as their learning is taking place or being constructed. An observant teacher will constantly be monitoring what works and doesn’t work, what produces an effect and what falls flat. As with any public artist, the teacher’s performance skills will improve through interaction with the audience.
  2. A good teacher is dealing with transmitting or preparing four things: knowledge, understanding, certain output skills (manual, verbal, etc.) and, ultimately, accountability in the sense of  helping students to “acquire the ability to account for what they are learning”. This means students are (or should be) actually performing in multiple ways and the originality of their performance will at times add original insights or understanding that contribute to the teacher’s own mastery of the subject.
  3. A good teacher implicitly belongs to a community that consists of other teachers and all learners. Communities create cultures that contain a wide variety of dynamically constructed notions, ideas, associations, perceptions, as well as the “bits of knowledge” traditionally associated with curricula.

If these three things are true, the interactions they imply are a permanent source of learning for the teacher. But what have our system and our traditions done to these three ideas… apart from banishing them from most pedagogical discourse? Let’s have a look:

  1. Teachers’ own interaction with students: some teachers are acutely aware of this side of their art, often because it’s part of their personality and at the same time felt to be a productive talent. Many are not. And our systems almost never require it. Teachers who don’t grow this ability to interact with students and judge the effect of those interactions will spend their careers interacting only with themselves and getting little out of the time spent with students.
  2. Teachers’ awareness of the diversity of skills learners are acquiring: for traditional teaching institutions formal knowledge is the only “measurable” acquisition (thanks to tests) and the only skill eventually taken into account is style (usually a particular type of approved academic style). Knowing this, a lot of teachers don’t realize that developing multiple skills will be instrumental in consolidating the knowledge learners will be tested on. And so, because it isn’t required, it’s easy to forget about it, losing the opportunity to learn from what the students actually do.
  3. Finally, the notion of community, though real wherever people spend time together (provided there is some freedom of interaction), is easily neglected in a system predicated on competitive scoring. Thanks to the social web, it is now possible to envisage communities of practice for teachers. With the emergence of the flipped classroom and MOOCs we are now beginning to understand that learners can also be members of a community, though their classification as “learners” makes it appear as if their only goal is to perform well in the course, not necessary engage in the life of a community. 

The Skillscaper team and many of our friends and relations in the wide community of thinkers and doers in the field — connected as we are through so many groups and events — believe that all this is changing, that we are moving towards a world where:

  • teachers and trainers understand they have performance goals structured by their interactive behavior and not just by institutional criteria,
  • learners actually can continuously contribute to the knowledge and skill sets the teachers are supposed to master,
  • communities – and not teachers alone or their institutions – provide the cultural basis in which the “things to be learned” acquire meaning and transformative power.

So, should we just preach change and teach a new generation of teachers and trainers what they “should be doing” and how they should be thinking about themselves. Doing so, means to some extent falling into the same pattern of error.

According to Adobe’s study of creativity in schools published in June of this year, one of the key factors for achieving any goal associated with creativity is having the appropriate tools. Our imminent release of Chatscaper on our Worldscaper website – which will be available freely to teachers and students alike – constitutes a significant step in this direction. It’s a unique piece of software that makes it possible to get learners totally involved in learning through the creative process. It mobilizes multiple skills and implies permanent constructive dialogue in the teaching-learning process. Because using it immediately implies creating a functional (interesting and fun) game or simulation, without having to use any specific production tools, it is both motivating — creating a game is exciting for anyone — and invites both creativity and critical reflection.

In other words, we see Chatscaper as a tool that softens the border between teaching and learning.  The beta of Chatscaper HTML5 (with limited functionality) is available here for anyone who wants to try it. Serverside management (an essential feature for storing, sharing, retrieving and publishing) will be available once the platform is set up, before the end of November. Those interested in joining a community of beta testers and users should contact us at Skillscaper.

* I hope my Freudian friends will forgive this crass oversimplification.


About pisackson

The cosmos is non-linear. Sub-atomic physical reality is non-linear. Our lives are non-linear. We are persuaded by well-intentioned guides, politicians and teachers to believe otherwise, but my mission is to help people discover the joy of non-linear thinking and acting, otherwise known as...creativity.
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