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What is your response to this tweet?

I have a few. One is that it is impossible to distill all that is teaching in a tweet.

Another is that the question presents a false dichotomy to seed discussion. The “telling” and the “letting” actually represent different ends of a large spectrum.

A more straightforward response, particularly from teachers who have learnt to go beyond telling, is that teaching is both.

I would point out that there is an imbalance. Teaching is still heavy on telling and light on letting. Telling is easier to do than letting, but easier does not mean better or more effective.

Just moving from monologue to dialogue is difficult. The talker must listen, analyse, clarify, and meet the learner where they are at. Reaching learners and empathising with them is fundamental to teaching. If we do not, we are just telling and yelling. Then no one is listening and learning.
 
If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

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When most people speak of “blended learning”, they might actually be thinking about blended instruction. (Here are some considerations of blending that focuses on learning.)

There are many ways to blend instruction. Some might involve the modes (off and online), the content (seamless multidisciplinary content), and the pedagogy (direct instruction with x-based learning).
 

 
Most would justify blending based on the best possible outcomes. For example, in the case of blended modes, being face-to-face affords immediacy in social learning while still being able to leverage on timely resources online.

Not many might point out the worst of blending, particularly blended instruction. For example, someone might blend boring didactic teaching with YouTube recordings of irrelevant content.

Blending the teaching or learning processes does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. The contextual design of blending is critical. Online strategies and tools might not work as well in a low bandwidth environment, language might be a barrier in one context, and pedagogical expectations might be different in another. Here are examples of each.

When I lead talks, I find out how comfortable my participants are with going online with their phones. Depending on the country, venue, and people, I might resort to low bandwidth texting-like activities and think-pair-share instead of challenging them to watch and recommend YouTube videos.

I have conducted a variety of workshops for equally varied groups. When English is not the common language, I rely on activities and succinct pitstops to get the messages through. When I am with a group more familiar with training instead of teaching, I need not worry about much pedagogical baggage from my learners.

Bloggers, Pinterest boards, and tweets might declare blended learning to be engaging. They might be referring to blended teaching instead. Such an experience is not automatically engaging, and if blending is left only with the one who is teaching, is certainly not empowering.

Like most educators, I agree with the point that @BluntEducator raised.

One question the tweet might raise is: What is more difficult than teaching?

My answer: Educating.

Anyone can teach, few can educate. A few years ago I shared some differences between a teacher and an educator.

I do not mean to create a false dichotomy between teaching and educating. I am trying to point out what might not overlap in the Venn diagram below.

Venn diagram of teaching and educating.

One reason for this dichotomy is that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught. Anyone who has undergone a decade or more of schooling has seen models of teaching. Some of these models were good and others bad, but all were embedded in the past.

While most kids are not studying to become teachers, what they see and experience is caught even if it is not taught. So current teachers tend to teach like their teachers, often because of or even despite the efforts of teacher education programmes.

Case in point: I observed this “from the sidelines” while enjoying a day off at a park.

What could have been an experiential learning session came across a lecture and safety briefing. Were the just-in-time delivery of information and safety reminders important? Definitely. But it dragged on unnecessarily.

More importantly, telling does not guarantee listening. Knowing something does not mean being able to do it right. If you are not convinced, consider these exasperated teacher expressions:

  • But I already told them…
  • How many times do I have to tell them…?
  • I just said this earlier, didn’t you listen?
  • I just said this earlier, why didn’t you ask me a question?

Delivering information does not guarantee that it is received. Teaching as some teachers understand and practice it does not guarantee meaningful learning.

What is arguably more important in outdoor education is students learning-by-doing, not replicating the passive sitting or time-tested strategies of a classroom.
 

 
A few years ago, my son went on a field trip to the zoo with his classmates. His enthusiasm soon drained when he learnt that the visit was actually an administrative exercise (forms, briefings, lots of waiting) and a frantic rush to complete worksheets (see checklist teaching).

Teaching outdoors is much tougher than indoors. Teachers cannot control the elements and students might get hurt. The boundaries are less obvious and the modes of teaching are more varied. These might be why most teachers prefer not to teach outdoors or go on field trips when content calls for it. It is too much like real life.

Educators embrace the complexity and uncertainty that the real world brings. The real world has ill-defined problems, no nicely organised textbooks, information that needs to be processed in real-time, mentors good and bad, and real consequences.

Teaching needs to change so that it more resembles educating. Educating anyone at any level means starting first with each learner and where that learner is. It does not start with content, a curriculum, standards, or a scheme of work. While these are important, they should be secondary to the context and how that person learns.

What stakeholders observe from the sidelines might be valid, particularly if they have strong educational backgrounds. If they notice that today’s classrooms and teachers look and behave in the same way they remember, they have a right to be worried.

If they see a disconnect between the way the world operates now and the manner in which schools claim to prepare their children, they have the right and responsibility to speak up from the sidelines.

If we think of ourselves as educators, we should be listening up instead of shutting them down.

So what is more difficult than teaching? Educating. And eating humble pie.

What would prompt Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, to weigh in on Pepsi? It was an advertisement so ill-conceived and reviled that the company had to withdraw it [NYT] [Wired].

Stephen Colbert gave this withering but humorous critique of the ad (click here for the segment).
 

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It would be easy to accuse Colbert of being mean because he was making fun of the company in the name of entertainment. However, such critiques are deeper and more important than we might think.
 

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Vox unpacked what Colbert and others do: They inform in an easy to digest manner and they leverage on not being neutral.

While proper news channels might try to report just the black or white facts, we recognise today that most issues are subjective and nuanced greys.

Satirists use fun and laughter, and in doing so, disarm their audiences and combine emotion with logic. They inform and educate in ways that not many teachers have been taught or believe in.

They embrace subjectivity and make a stand. They combine creativity with critical thought. They call bullshit when they see it.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.


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As I watched this neuroscientist explaining “the connectome” to five people at five different levels of prior knowledge, I thought of how:

  • This was a great example of how good teachers attempt to personalise instruction.
  • Just about anything can be taught to anyone if you empathise with the learner first.
  • Anything worth teaching should be taught to a wide spectrum of learners.

Personalised teaching is about going to where the learner is first, not trying to pull them where you are or where the curriculum dictates.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

 

The saying, “Pics, or it didn’t happen” is wiser than it appears.

The phrase is a quick way of saying show me evidence, specifically photos, because what you claim to be a truthful or factual account may not be valid or reliable.


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Our memories are imperfect. The majority of us do not have “photographic” memories, and those that do are exceptional talents. Even then, captures are not facts devoid of colouring, contrasting, or other manipulations.

Any teacher who still thinks that drill and rote memory are still the best ways to teach and learn needs to reconsider or retire.

What you capture today might not be relevant tomorrow in the age of social media. There is as much point to objecting to such circumstances as there is blowing raspberries at a tornado.

Instead, “pics, or it didn’t happen” could be one principle to base change on. It could be the foundation for dealing with fake news. It could start the line of questions against learning styles, digital natives, “best” practices, and extrinsic gamification. It could shift the focus away from just learning-about (content) to learning-to-be (contextual thinking). It could spur the search for evidence-based practices, and personal and professional development.

I am fond of taking photos of my workshops and classes, but I can only do so during the learner-centric phases.

I often take panoramic shots of my sessions to capture the overall context and strategy. I share a few photos in order to highlight a theme.

Using collaborative learning stations to learn about collaborative learning.

Jigsaw peer instruction with SPED teachers.

Peer teaching by groups of future faculty/teaching assistants.

Station-based learning of ICT-mediated pedagogies.

Station-based uncovering of game-based learning principles.

Switching between student and teacher “hats” during my flipped learning workshop.

Military personnel decoding the differences between (and overlaps of) the flipped classroom and flipped learning.

The obvious similarity is learners working in small groups. Read the captions underneath the photos and you will realise that the contexts, pedagogy, and content differ.

My point is this: The physical environment is an important factor in shaping what an educator does, but it does not dictate or determine what happens. The important ingredients are creative thinking, reliable wifi, mobile devices (preferably owned by the learners), furniture that can be arranged to create stations, and elbow grease.

The elbow grease is one thing you do not see in the photos. Organisers who work with me realise how much time and effort I spend during preparation. This often involves site visits prior to workshops, liaising with administrative and technical folk, and physically setting things up just right.

While the elbow grease ensures that the articulating points move smoothly, it is the creative thinking and planning that brings the parts together in the first place. This sort of creativity is balanced with critical thinking that is a result of deep knowledge and experience with technological instruments, content, and pedagogy. These three elements are overruled by contextual design.

It is not pedagogy first and technology second. It is context that comes first and everything else in a very close second.


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