Paulo Freire, a Brazilian education activist, has written that learning should be something teachers do with students. This breaks down the power imbalance class rooms: teachers hold the power and students passively absorb information in the teachers terms. His ideas of student centered inquiry into topics related to their world, mirrors problem based learning and student centered learning practices of today’s fore runners of education.
To me it seems that learning with students could be easily understood wrong. I highly doubt it means one has to fake ignorance in their chosen field to teach students by “learning” with them. That is why problem based learning needs to be the center of teaching. In this method also the teacher can learn new things while guiding students, despite having planned the starting problem. Students can take the problem and run with it to previously unknown directions. We just need to guide them enough to prevent them from running off a cliff.
Having multiple answers to the same problem at the end makes the wrap-up so much more interesting. In real life multiple solutions are needed and our teaching and learning experiences should reflect this. A nice example of this is the development of the two polio vaccines by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. They both attacked the same problem – polio virus infections – by designing vaccines with different components. Both solutions to the polio epidemic were successful and useful. In this light, every plausible solution to problem based learning tasks deserves our full attention.
Learning with students requires being in the present and being vulnerable in front of them and beside them. I greatly enjoy having a professor who openly tells that he does not know everything. It gives me a bit of agency and reassures, that I also don’t need to know absolutely everything. The enthusiasm and interest the professors and lecturers show towards student’s work, inspires the students. Who knows, maybe we can inspire the future Salks and Sabins by being with the students in the moment of learning instead of in front of them as a blocking authority.
- Freire, Paulo (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed
- History of Vaccines -project of the college of physicians of Philadelphia: http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/timelines/polio
- Chemical heritage foundation: http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/pharmaceuticals/preventing-and-treating-infectious-diseases/salk-and-sabin.aspx