Questioning Learning

Amy Collier emphasizes the importance of questioning — as a means of improving our teaching, enhancing student learning, and understanding our contexts.

Questioning Learning

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In episode nine, I spoke with Janine DeBaise about her style of responsive teaching. It’s her answer to the idea of “best practices”. The trouble with best practices, according to Janine, is that they are created by someone else and said to be the unqualified “best” idea for everyone in any situation. Now when I put it that way, you might object, saying that I’m carrying the meaning to an absurd extreme. “Not every situation,” you might say. “Just the regular ones.” But think about learners for a minute. What’s going on in their minds? What do they want to learn about, and what importance does that learning hold in their lives right now? The answer will be different for everyone. Even in a lecture hall of medical students, they might want to understand the same material and pass the same exam, but the way they understand or remember that material will be different for each person. The associations they make among concepts will be distinctive. An oncologist and a pediatrician would take very different things away from the same session because they see things from different angles and with different interests. If you throw in personal background, previous learning experiences, and current life situations, those differences only increase.

So the idea of “best practices” is built on an assumption of standardization — standardized content, standardized delivery, and standardized humans. Those assumptions strip away the individuation and personal interest that drives us all to actually learn things for ourselves. If all we’re left with is standardization, the personal purpose is gone from learning, subordinated to the systemic purposes of cranking out more standardized, credentialed clones. But again, I may be over-stating things.

To help bring perspective and clarity, I talk with Amy Collier, Associate Provost for Digital Learning at Middlebury College. Amy talks and writes a lot about the liminal state of working through something but not completely getting it yet. It’s that wonderful (or unsettling, depending on your view) time when you’re playing around with an idea and seeing how well it works in various situations without actually feeling like you really get what’s going on. You’re working on building your understanding and experience, but you’re not quite there yet. That feeling is what Amy and her colleague Jen Ross have taken to calling “not-yetness”, and it’s the idea I wanted to chat more with her about. Amy’s been friends with the folks from Hybrid Pedagogy for quite some time, and she presented one of the keynotes at Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo in March 2016. In her talk, Amy presented not-yetness to a group of people interested in critical digital pedagogy.

In this episode, Amy chats about the connection between not-yetness and critical digital pedagogy, the changing nature of outcomes, the learnification movement, the value of education, the need for risk in learning, and the “rhetoric of opportunity” versus the “rhetoric of brokenness” being used in education. She covers a lot of ground, and through it all, she emphasizes the importance of questioning — as a means of improving our teaching, enhancing student learning, and understanding the contexts in which we all work.


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