Is learning a verb or a noun?

I am very, very behind in my blogging. Hopefully, I’ll get caught up over the next few weeks. I haven’t been able to reflect yet on last week’s Faculty Academy. I’m too afraid I’ll forget something if I do it right now. I need a few days off, and then I’ll start.

For now, I want to blog about the incredible ronco discussion I was party to yesterday over at DTLT. I think I’ve mentioned before that presentations tend to stimulate my mind towards thinking that isn’t exactly in line with what the presenter is doing. In other words, while the presenter is talking about X, my mind starts thinking about Y which probably has some subconscious connection to X in my head, though I may or may not be aware of what it is. To understand complex things, I tend to reduce them down to simple pieces that make sense to me, though admittedly some people call me reductionist. So if you participated in the ronco discussion and don’t see the relation with what I’m talking about here, the problem is me not you.

This is a long preamble to justify what I began thinking about as soon as I left the meeting yesterday. The question that confronted me is hard to articulate. It was richer than either (1) Is education about content versus skills? Or (2), Is it about process versus product? The question also has to do with the difference between education and the artifacts of education.

Education involves confronting a student with a stimulus of some sort. The stimulus could be a written text, a lecture, a class discussion, a piece of art, a video or audio recording, or something else. Consider a lecture. Is the education the lecture content or what a student makes of it? What does a student make of it? He listens (to greater or lesser extent). He takes notes, perhaps. Is that it? Shouldn’t he reflect subsequently about what it means?

When I was an undergraduate, I found that my raw class notes didn’t make too much sense, so I tended to go back and process them—rewrite them, and sometimes review appropriate parts of the text to create a revised set of notes that did make sense. No doubt I lost some of the content, thru the process of revision/reduction. (No doubt I also missed some of what the lecturer presented.)

Wouldn’t it be interesting/useful if students could pool their class notes prior to processing/revising them? Perhaps that way, less of the lecture content would be lost since for every point that I missed or misinterpreted there’s a chance some classmate would get it. I’m not arguing here that the bright kid would get more of the lecture and the dumb kid less, so the dumb kid could benefit from the bright kid’s work. Rather, following the Wisdom of Crowds argument, I think it’s likely that different students would “get” different pieces best. That’s certainly what I learned with my groupware experiments during the 1990s, and more recently with blogs and wikis. Pooling the raw notes would enable the group to get more of the meaning. Could this be a successor to the bigwiki experiment of last semester? I have an inkling of an idea. Students would have to revise their notes, and hopefully learn from each other. Now if I can just figure out how to create the right incentive structure for students to participate, and if I can choose the right course. …

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3 Responses to Is learning a verb or a noun?

  1. Laura says:

    There’s a lot here. I’m going to have to come back to it. I just wanted to say that one of the reasons I enjoyed graduate school so much more than high school or college was that we worked as a team constantly. We regularly got together to study for exams, to write papers together, to talk about our classes, our teaching. It was a true collaborative learning environment where we realized that we could learn as much from each other and from our experience of talking with each other as we could from the professors.

    I think that’s part of what you’re getting at here–trying to make learning less of an isolated endeavor. One way to do that is to have students process lecture notes together. You might look at this: and see if it has anything of value.

  2. Pingback: Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » Is learning a noun or a verb, Part 2

  3. Gardner says:

    “Education involves confronting a student with a stimulus of some sort.”

    Indeed. All the while I’m presenting and discussing and analyzing content, I’m also trying to flip every bit of that process into the zone in which it becomes a stimulus, or one might say, a prompt.

    One of the ways I do it is by enacting the process on myself. In short, I think aloud in response to a student question or comment. This sometimes makes for digressive teaching, but the larger quest is always to show a mind in action in ways that will stimulate students to try it for themselves.

    I was trying to get at some of this “enacted cognition” stuff in my podcasting article a couple of years back.

    “Education involves confronting a student with a stimulus of some sort.” Yes. And the best teachers know how to tailor those stimuli, and how and when to deploy them.

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