Yes, true story. I used to be one of those kids that was always asking why…apparently so much, that grandma told me to stop asking her “why” about everything. To which I reply: “grandma, why can’t I ask why“. Well at least my mom told me that this happened, and I totally believe her. I do remember, however, a total stranger giving me a popsicle during a soccer game, with the condition that I would stop asking so many questions to my uncle about the game…and yes, I asked my uncle why this stranger was giving me a popsicle…ok maybe the last part of the story did not happen, but it is not the point, what matters is that from the beginning the curiosity has been always there. And even though in multiple times the adults tried to crush it down, I am still asking: why?
Questioning, as Thomas and Brown pointed out in their book1, is essential to the creation of knowledge. Asking leads to new discoveries, it allows to those with curious minds to embrace themselves in new adventures, in a new journey, that at the end will likely benefit the entire society. But, if asking is so important, then why so many times are questions being ignored in classes? Why are some students afraid of asking? Why class duration often prohibits for longer discussions? Or is it how classes are designed that really prohibits the discussion? The latter would probably happen in what Thomas and Brown discussed as the culture of teaching, where the role of the instructor is to pass “valuable” information to the students.
Old style lectures (i.e. instructor just passing information), like Robert Talbert suggests in “Four things lecture is good for “, need to be combined with dynamic experiences to move into a culture of learning. Although there are fundamental theorems that stay the same through time, the most relevant information is constantly changing. Therefore, an evolving environment, where discussions are shaped by all participating members is needed; where creativity, imagination, curiosity, invention, and team work are fully integrated, without fixed teaching structures or boundaries hurting the networked learning. This means that we need to ask another important question: how do we get there? My best guess is through experiments, taking chances, making changes, and hope for the best outcome … and if anything, something would have still been learned along the way.
Thomas’s experimental approach with his class must have been an incredible journey, especially for Star Wars fans. In case you have no clue what I am talking about, just imagine going to a class where the professor gives you the opportunity to play computer games as part of the class meetings (actually, I really suggest you read it). Weird, fascinating, fun, right? Well if you don’t like gaming then probably not only weird to you, but also likely to appear as a waste of time. Probably, that is how the parents of the students saw it at the time. Being completely honest, if I was Thomas’s boss, I would have call that idea a recipe for disaster. A very risky approach, even if some sort of lecture and discussion were still included within the three-hour class duration. What would have been my reaction to such class approach, A RECIPE FOR DISASTER, tells me that before technology, internet, networked learning, community learning, etc., can fully develop, a cultural shift is required. A new mindset to approach the learning process as a journey, needs to be cultivated and harvested. Maybe then actions like my grandma’s (sorry grandma) and the popsicle stranger will not happen again, and instead we will all play the game, like when we were kids.
I do have to ask myself, wouldn’t I have done the same and give an annoying kid a popsicle to watch the game in peace? Yeah, adult me will do it. So let’s keep learning, let’s keep educating, let’s keep asking WHY? but not during a soccer game, there is a proper time and place for everything.
– Carlos F. Mantilla P.