CCK08: Reflection for Week 8 Part 2

Unlearning Pedagogy

In  an earlier post, I made reference to George Siemens’ model of a Connectivist learning design as being based on “learning ecologies” as opposed to using a more traditionally regimented scope and sequence for course delivery. I stated,

Siemens contends that designing for Connectivism concerns creating a design for the space and ecology of learning. What is new about this idea?

Stephen responded in turn by asking about my background readings in this area, to which I replied that I do not have a strong familiarity with literature in the area of learning design. Yesterday, I realized that the greatest body of educational literature (paradoxical as this may sound) with which I am familiar concerns teaching and learningoutside of the framework of compulsory schooling, teaching and learning. When I worked as a Learning Consultant for the SelfDesign Learning Community, the work that I did with individual families essentially constitutedsupporting unschooling or deschooling by being a liaison between families and providing assessment of learners that was aligned to the K-10 curricula of the Ministry of Education. Recall, if you have read my previous post on this subject, that the SDLC is affiliated with the Wondertree Foundation for Natural Learning.

The Master’s Thesis of Michael Maser, the current director of the SDLC, was an exploration of Virtual High. Virtual High transpired in a large house in which the originators of the Virtual High progam lived alongside their teenaged students, and which encouraged and supported those learners to pursue their passions. The thesis was called Virtual High Learning Community: Towards An Ecology of Being (Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Education, April 1997).

This morning, I recalled a discussion that I had in 2002 concerning the idea of writing a book calledThe Ecology of Education.Beyond the many educational books concerning all varieties of unschooling, deschooling, home-based education and emancipatory pedagogy that have informed my personal educational vision, I have also been influenced by ecopsychology, a term introduced by Theodore Roszak (formerly a mover and shaker in the education field in the 1970s) and Murray Bookchin’s work on social ecology.

Doubting myself, unsure about whether I was even clear on the meaning of the term “learning design” after Stephen’s asking me about my background reading in this area, I did a Google search on the term and settled on the first issue of the Queensland University of Technology Journal of Learning Design, whereupon I took great pleasure in reading the first article in the journal, “Unlearning Pedagogy” by Erica McWilliam.

McWilliam’s article summarizes what she identifies as the “Seven Deadly Habits of Pedagogical Thinking.” Below are excerpts from the article that resonated most strongly with me:

Seven Deadly Habits of Pedagogical Thinking

Deadly Habit No. 1: The more learning the better.

Bauman [2004] elaborates:

Just as long-term commitments threaten to mortgage the future, habits too tightly embraced burden the present; learning may in the long run disempower as it empowers in the short…. ‘Your skills and know-how are as good as their last application’. (p.22)

In this liquid social setting, forgetting(or what Bauman calls “de-learning”), becomes as important as learning. For Bauman, it is “the interplay of learning and de-learning” (p.22) that is crucial here.

Many contemporary learning theorists, I would suspect, want to express concerns about the limitations of Bauman’s definition of learning. If tode-learnis to forget, then learning is, by implication, remembering. Indeed, Bauman makes this explicit when he goes on to define ‘learning and de-learning’ as synonymous with “memory and forgetting” (p22). There is much more to learning than memory, we would want to insist, and we have known that for a long time.

Bauman’s thesis remains nevertheless an interesting one – that, in a “liquid-modern” social world, the work of assembling and structuring new social relations is no more important than the work of “keeping them eminently dismantlable” (p.22). His focus moves beyond the individual and the cognitive to incorporate the moral and the aesthetic, and the interplay among these various social elements. So Bauman’s ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’ have more profound significance than one individual’s mind or brain. They connote a cultural and ethical disposition to knowledge that is relational, unfinished and revocable, and an imperative to processing that serves the purpose of assembling and dissembling social relations.

Having opened up the space of pedagogy as an interplay between the cognitive, the moral-ethical and the aesthetic, Bauman is less clear about the principles for getting the right mix of learning and de-learning as interplay. For him, “…how to mix them in the right proportions is anyone’s guess” (p.22).

If we are to entertain Bauman’s thesis about the value of de-learning for the context of “liquid modernity”, we begin to de-stabilise what is the apparent Truth of our time-honoured pedagogical mantra – thatlearning is all that matters.Instead we have to come to grips with the idea that some learning is unhelpful, and thus thatin certain circumstances ignorance might be better than knowledge.

Deadly Habit No. 2: Teachers should know more than students.

In The Weightless Society(2000), Leadbeater challenges the myth that lurks behind habitual thinking about the teacher as knower, ie, the myth that we are becoming a more and more knowledgeable society with each new generation. If knowing means being intimately familiar with the workings of the technologies we use in our daily lives, then, Leadbeater asserts, we have never been more ignorant. He reminds us that our great grandparents had an intimate knowledge of the technologies around them, and had no problem with getting the butter-churn to work or preventing the lamp from smoking. I expect that few readers of this paper would know what to do if their mobile phone stopped functioning and I certainly have no idea what is ‘underneath’ or ‘behind’ the keys on which I am typing. Nor, I confess, do I want to know. But that means that we are all very quickly reduced to the quill and the lamp if we lose our power sources or our machines break down. Thus we are much more vulnerable – as well as much more ignorant in relative terms – than our predecessors.

Deadly Habit No. 3: Teachers lead, students follow.

A corollary of the idea that teachers ought to know more than students is the idea that teachers should provide the starting point for learning activities, and that students should engage in the tasks set by the teacher – ie, that students should follow where teacherslead.There is some interesting work currently being done about the knowledge economy itself which can help us re- evaluate this potentially deadly thinking habit. I refer in particular to public policy analyst Gregory Hearn’s (2005) work on the shift tovalue ecology thinking[my bold and italics]. Hearn maps “an emerging fundamental shift in the way that value creation is thought about in business” (p.1), and the conceptual architecture he provides in his analysis is very helpful for re-thinking the idea of a teacher as the starting point and the student as ‘following’.

Rather than teachers delivering an information product to be consumed by the student, co-creating value would see the teacher and studentmutually involved in assembling and dissemblingcultural products. In colloquial terms, this would frame the teacher as neither sage on the stage nor guide on the side butmeddler in the middle.

I am especially fond of the phrase “meddler in the middle”, because it reminds me of the “crazy wisdom” or “holy madness” approach used in Vajryana Buddhism and in Rinzai Zen (which uses koans) , where teachers educate their students by presenting them with situations that cannot be resolved logically. In those moments where students recognize the futility of trying to come to terms with the situations in question intellectually, they come to understand the world from a new perspective, one within which logic and absurdity mutually coexist.

The teacher isin there doing and failingalongside students, rather than moving like Florence Nightingale from desk to desk or chat room to chat room, watching over her flock, encouraging and monitoring.

Second, the new value ecology raises the possibility that the teacher who does not add value to a learning network can – and will – be by-passed. Therhizomatic[my bold and italics] capacity of networks to flow around a point in a chain means that teachers may be located in a linear supply chain of pedagogical services but excluded from their students’ learning networks. That would be an effectof being perceived to be delivering content but not adding value. Once again, this is not a matter of how much take-up of technology is evident in the pedagogical work, but whether or not pedagogical processes bring student and teacher together in their shared ignorance and mutualdesire to make new sense of their world.

Deadly Habit No. 4:Teachers assess, students are assessed.

In the words of G.B. Shaw, “power is responsibility; that is why most men dread it”.

If the rethinking of pedagogy as co-creation of value re-positions teacher and student as project partners, as co-directors and co-editors of their social world, who then is the rightful assessor of the value of that cultural assemblage? The work is no longer clean of fingerprints, but is tainted by co-direction and co-editorship at every level. So what does it mean to make judgements to credential individuals on the basis of the quality of the co-creation? And what new dilemmas does this set up around ‘objectivity’ and assessment?

…But tension remains between the ‘democratic classroom’ as an ideological ideal, and the role formal educational institutions continue to play as credentialers and reporters to industry and the professions. Experiments that involve students deciding their ow curriculum and evaluating their own work have in general remained just that; Neill’s Summerhill was never likely to become every future employer’s dream.

But apart from the desire of external agencies to know what a particular set of credentials guarantee, there exists within pedagogical relationships a strong resistance to the idea of self or peer assessment. Students – especially high achievers – are very likely to resist any apparent move to ‘downgrade’ the quality assurance that ‘objective’ assessment purports to afford. Such students are likely to share with many in the community a belief that, in its purest form, ‘democratic assessment’ is oxymoronic

Whatever about the ideological struggles that persist in educational scholarship, the matter of assessing a co-edited and co-authored work remains an ethical challenge. While the rhetoric of team building is ubiquitous in universities as it is in other corporate organisations, assessment remains stubbornly individualistic. We assess and promote individuals and then we ask them to be effective members of teams.

Deadly Habit No. 5: Curriculum must be set in advance.

If pedagogy might be rethought as the co-creation of value, then curriculum cannot be ‘fully formed’ and set in place in advance of pedagogical activity… While this does not imply that teachers have a new licence to be unprepared for pedagogical activity, the nature and purposes ofwhat counts as preparationmust change. From fixed and immutable, curriculum needs to be conceptualised ascontent for meddling with. And this means a significant shift in what many teachers prioritise in their teaching. While the written text remains important,the remixable curriculumdemands that the contribution of other ‘non-text’ media – visuals, animation, sound – be elevated from their currently marginal status in an overwhelmingly text-dependent curriculum. In Lawrence Lessig’s (2005) terms, we need to come to see “redaction” ascentral toeducation,not lesser thaneducation.

Once the plan is written, care is usually taken not to stray too far from it or to be distracted by students with other agendas. This logic, in large measure, runs counter to the requirements of a remixable curriculum. The predictable or planned experience gives way to genuine experimentation, with outcomes neither known nor guaranteed. As a co-creator of value, the teacher shares with students experimental tasks in which failure is both likely and anticipated, where students and teachers fail without shame or disappointment. Bauman’s dictum that: “[y]our guess and know-how are as good as their last application” (p.22) applies equally to teachers and students. Put bluntly, where the stability of the plan is the hallmark of good pedagogy, then the experimental culture that is a corollary of the remixable curriculum is virtually impossible to achieve.

If our higher education institutions have a deadening effect on experimentation, the same cannot be said about the excitement of university managers around technology uptake. As Strathern (1997) points out, technology “comes with the friendliest of epithets” (p.317) in the university culture – the more of it used in ways that the university management approves, the better. Thus the self-managing academic demonstrates improved teaching performance by pointing to the use of more and newer ICTs… The problem here lies in the naïve hope that more and newer ICTs will mean a more exciting set of learning possibilities. Where curriculum remains fixed and immutable, however, these good intentions remain just that. There is no doubt that new information and communication technologies offer all sorts of new possibilities for remix – but, as Sassen reminds us, they cannot of themselves berelied onto change anything.

Deadly Habit No. 6: The more we know our students, the better.

I asked a group of Masters and Doctoral students in my faculty about the nature and purposes of education. ‘Raising self-esteem’ proved to be an almost universally agreed purpose, ranking alongside ‘helping people reach their full potential’. What flows from this logic is a heavy investment by these teachers in the development of a positive and friendly teacher-student relationship. And this is achieved in turn, by getting to know the students as individuals. Such determination is not to be thought of aspryingbut as seeking appropriately to teach the ‘whole person’.

They are usually…circumspect in their response to [the] question, [So what do I need to know about you?], less willing to give permission to pry. But the point is nevertheless made. The good teacher builds and maintains a close warm relationship with students and this means knowing ‘the whole person’, whether or not we want to be ‘known’ as a psychological subject. In this rationality, ‘openness’ is a marker of the good student and ‘interest in the person’ a marker of the good teacher. My point is not that we should be looking to return to a culture defined by the lofty arrogance and elitism of academics, but that one that respects students enough to challenge them by messing things up with and for them. The role, as Geoff Garrett, Head of Australia’s CSIRO put it at a recent senior management forum, is to become ‘chief disorganiser’.

Deadly habit No.7: Our disciplines can save the world.

It is my hope that I have demonstrated the problem with Deadly Habit Number Seven in my treatment of Deadly Habits One to Six. The approach I have taken to my own unlearning has been to range across academic disciplines and outside them in search of bright and shiny objects that can be used to generate different pedagogical thinking. Unfortunately, I have for some time now found relatively few compelling ideas about pedagogy coming out of mainstream education research, or professional development or leadership and management literature broadly defined…. Finally, I intend to save myself from another deadly habit of academic authorship – the deadly habit of summarising main points at the end of a paper. This will allow the reader to dispense with the deadly habit of needing to be reminded about them. In Bauman’s terms, the invitation is both to remember and to forget.

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2 Responses to “CCK08: Reflection for Week 8 Part 2”

  1. CCK08: Week 9 Stacks « Clyde Street Says:

    […] paper, a number of posts by John Mak, a paper on the Simnet blog, Bradleyshoebottom’s paper, Adrian’s reflection paper and many […]

  2. I need a reading! « Jenny Connected Says:

    […] Adrian’s posts this week and was interested in his discussion about home-schooling and the seven deadly habits of pedagogical thinking. So I have filled my need for a reading through his blog. Thanks […]

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