Friday, 8 June 2007

The Radical Impossibility of Teaching

via Stephen Downes OLDaily by John Connell which in turn refers to Ron Burnett's paper Learning to Learn in a Virtual World

John did a great job summarising Ron's key idea which is further summarized by Stephen:

"Is the whole process of teaching a paradox? When teachers teach and learners learn, what is the nature of the causal link between the two, if any? How does teaching produce learning? Does teaching produce learning?"

The traditional teacher/student relationship, whereby, teacher controls the information and claim the authority of knowledge no longer exists in today's world. Information is highly available and teachers can no longer control what kind of information students are exposed to.

As Stephen suggested, the causal relationship between teaching and learning is much less direct than popular wisdom suggests and he believes the teacher is limited to modeling and demonstrating.

Is there anything else teachers can do besides "modeling and demonstrating"?

In so many subject area, "modeling and demonstrating" are not a regular part of the "teaching", e.g. history which is very much a "story-telling" approach - at least as I learnt it in the old days.

If the causal relationship between teaching and learning is illusive, the causal relationship between information communicated to the students and the actual message understood by the learners is problematic and uncertain too. (This is another poiint from Ron's paper - communication.)

I would further add this:
Information is only fragments of the author's inner world as manifested in a language. No author can expose his/her complete world view in full details. The manifestation is only one instance or one way of express what the author really believes. The language, being a socially constructed symbols, is subject to continuous change and varying interpretation. (Isn't politics the art of interpretation, eg "some animals are more equal than other".)

If knowledge means the procedural steps to execute a complicated sequence, yes information can do a lot of "teaching". If knowledge refers to the understanding of the world, the value system and the belief system, then the "causal relationship" of information and knowledge is yet another problematic uncertain area.

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