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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy

One might take a simple observation (like the one tweeted below) and turn it into a teaching moment.

At first glance, you might see nothing wrong with the set up and leave it at that.

As the Twitter personality points out human foibles like laziness or oversight, you might look for something wrong. So a second look might reveal how the rolled up screen cannot be lowered past the projector.

Even so, anyone who has used a short-throw projector knows that 1) it is typically used with a wall-mounted whiteboard (like the one in the same photo), and 2) the projection on the board is often interactive. The second point means that the presenter can tap or write on the board — this requires a stationary surface, not a dangling one.

Still, someone whose job was to install the projector could have also removed the old screen. But even that is not nuanced enough. Why replace one type of projector with another?

Administrators and policymakers have bought into the sales pitches of vendors who say that such interactive projections are the next big thing. They are not. They leave the teacher squarely at the front of the classroom, with little involvement of the learners.

To teach is the learn twice.

If the adage that “To teach is to learn twice” is true, then we understand why teachers become content experts. They are constantly unpacking and repacking content for others.

How about the learners? Would they not benefit from teaching one another more often than not?

If teachers have just one critical job (for the record, they have many), it is to ensure that students learn effectively and meaningfully. Presentations on screen do not ensure learning; performance using the new knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes do.

Learning is not a spectator sport. --Chickering and Ehrmann

If you seek to indoctrinate, provide the answers. If you seek to educate, provide questions.

I have been wondering out loud about designing and conducting workshops on the pedagogy of questions.

I revisited my plan after reading this piece by George Couros, Starting With the Questions to Develop Curiosity and Better Solutions.

However, these workshops remain a pipe dream because I have not met people open enough to try this approach.

Recently I took the opportunity to share my ideas with a contact. It went as it usually does — after a pleasant conversation, the ideas were gently rejected.

But I refuse to develop an immunity to people who either dismiss what they do not understand or not bother to find out more. I have the cure they need the most: It is called the pedagogy of questions.


Video source

One thought that crossed my mind as I watched this video was how much science undergirds and enables the art. The same could be said about pedagogy.

I define pedagogy as the science and art of teaching. The science refers to the theoretical principles, experimentation, and research of what might be quantified about teaching. The art is the practice getting better with critical and reflective practice. Do one without the other, or favour one over the other, and we are unlikely to teach effectively.

Is there anything wrong with providing an answer before asking a question?

The tweet above by a newspaper typifies what some teachers do: Not just answering their own questions, but answering before questioning.

This might seem efficient, but it is not effective in nurturing learners who can think creatively and critically.

Answering before questioning creates these expectations and habits:

  • Do not think, just wait for the teacher
  • The teacher will provide
  • There is only one right or desired answer

Providing one or more answers before asking questions is like providing a solution before identifying a problem. There is no purpose or context. There is no authenticity. There is no reason to create meaning.

I have said this before and I will say it again: We need to rely less on a pedagogy of answers and more on a pedagogy of questions.

Here is a critical question and a critique in the space of 280 characters.

Policymakers, administrators, and some teachers like to tout the so-called 21st century competencies. So what if we cooperate, collaborate, or communicate, particularly in superficial or inauthentic ways?

So what if all that sharing is feel-good and does no good?

Are we prepared to ask the critical and difficult questions that reveal how uncertain our answers are? Only then can we move forward instead of resting on our laurels. Only then can adults model and lead by example.

I like watching videos where experts either explain difficult concepts to learners of different ages or just to kids. The video below is one of the latter.


Video source

Explaining to an adult how to create bioluminescent plants from firefly DNA is challenging, much less kids. The two content experts from MIT were not quite comfortable teaching kids and their attempts illuminate some concepts about how students learn and what an effective teacher looks like.

When one content expert tried simplifying the concept of transferring bioluminescence, she ran into some trouble.

Expert: “…we just ask them to give us some chemicals”.
One child: “Do you tell them?”

Expert: “We just borrow the light from the fireflies…”
Another child: “Do you mean like real borrow or do you just keep it?”

The expert was visibly stunned by the kids’ questions and their teacher intervened with timely and appropriate answers.

An effective teacher is not just knowledgeable in content, she should also be a child and learning expert. As information mushrooms and knowledge needs to be constantly negotiated and updated, being the latter type of expert is critical.

The other expert got the kids to participate in a hands-on activity where they simulated bioluminescence by mixing chemicals in small vials. Instead of hearing about bioluminescence, they tried and saw for themselves.

This is not about appealing to different “learning styles” — which is a myth anyway — but to teach and reinforce with multiple methods and modes. That said, kids generally learn best by what stems from natural curiosity, i.e., experiencing and asking.

The teacher as a child and learning expert asked a critical question at the end of the experiment: “What do you think this could help solve?” She did not provide answers to her learners, but got them to generate answers that required them to think actively about what they just experienced.

You might look at the obvious design and implementation flaw in the tweet below and wonder how this happens.

These are commonplace judging from the number of photos and websites that feature such flaws. They are easy to spot with a critical eye.

The flaws are obvious as is the physical harm users might experience as a result of such designs. However, some designs are easily overlooked.

One such less obvious design happens in “new” classrooms. These are helmed by agencies and vendors that claim they design for learning. They call these places hubs of learning or classrooms that are smart.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who had to test a new classroom. Some background: This campus had issues with pillars blocking views and platforms facing the wrong way.

Having experienced so many design flaws myself, I asked him what the problems were with the new room. Off the top of his head he mentioned that there weren’t enough writing surfaces. He also described a pillar with an odd configuration of displays. If I find this design faux pas, I will photograph it and update this page.

The people in charge were unhappy with the design flaws. This invariably led to delays in using the classrooms (time cost), modifications to correct the errors (effort cost), and budget negotiations (financial cost).

One reason why these errors persist is that these classrooms are designed without consulting progressive-minded policymakers and reflective educators. Most modern universities also have learning or pedagogy centres who can advise on these design. But these agencies are as easily overlooked as writing surfaces.

I suspect that many designs are based on photos of visits to cool-looking venues and administrators choose an item from A, another from B, and so on. All at the lowest possible price, of course. When this happens, the designers know WHAT to do and HOW to do this, but not WHY.

The WHY of the design of a classroom is not just about aesthetics or comfort. It is about pedagogy and learning. Including a person or a small team that has expertise in such design is not cheap, but it prevents bad pedagogical design of a learning environment.

It just takes sense/cents to save a dollar.


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