I was teaching a blogs and wikis class to a group of teachers a few weeks back, and I stumbled into an excellent conversation about how to teach and learn technology. We were discussing the topic from an adult’s perspective, but upon further reflection, I realize this conversation holds up when considering students as well.
The discussion essentially broke down into a very congenial debate. On one side of the ring we had the firm believers in the step-by-step tutorial method of learning. These people wanted each direction of each step for working with any specific technology broken down and presented in a handout that would serve as a reference point in the future.
On the other side stood the “throw them in the boiling water and remove them slowly” crowd. I believe that’s a near-direct quote from Dave Cormier when discussing a class he was teaching over the summer. This group believed we had to present the general framework and potential purpose/use for the technology, and then let people have at it. Jump in, get soaking wet, and call for rescue should the undertow prove to be too much and threaten a drowning.
I judiciously stood in the center acting as an unbiased moderator, pretending I hadn’t already chosen a side. I was doing so well until someone commented that if I had tried the “throw them in the water” approach entirely, this person would have walked right out of the class. That got me thinking. If they had stood up and walked out, would it have mattered? That sounds terrible, but stop and think about it.
When we give people step by step directions, do we ultimately end up enabling them to be dependent rather then freeing them to be independent? It’s like driving behind someone who is leading you to a place you’ve never been before. You concentrate on following each turn, but end up losing the context of the trip. By the time you arrive at your destination, you have no idea how you really got there. The analogy isn’t perfect, but I think it holds up.
When we walk students, be them adult or adolescent, step by step through doing something, do we not disable the natural sense of learning that would have taken place had we just thrown them in the water? There are certainly some foundational skills that need to be honed, and we should always be there to throw the life preserver, but come on, let’s at least give them a shot to swim on their own. I need to write more about this soon. It’s something that I’m working through, and I think it has significance in considering how I want to teach my teachers how to teach.
Thanks to James Cridland for the Flickr image.