Mechanical learning

One of the aspects of my 8-5 job is that I get to have headphones on my head. Most of the time.
Not every job lets you do that.
It kind of means that there is noise distractions in my environment. It also means that my job is mostly not that challenging. I can put some of my attention elsewhere as I plow through emails and databases.
I don’t always listen to music. A whole lot of the time I am listening to someone talk. I like to learn interesting things I didn’t know.
It’s a special balance, listening to something that is interesting but not so engrossing that I can’t have part of my brain chugging away on answering emails and data fields.
This week I have found something that fits the bill perfectly:
A recorded college class on classical mythology.
On iTunes U, there is a video recording of a class that was taught in the University of Ohio more than a decade ago. It is exactly like being in a college class. Which means that it is not at all engrossing. It is barely interesting enough that it required a threat of failure to keep the students paying attention.
That threat doesn’t work on me. I hear the professor threatening with weary humor his audience with what may or may not be on the test.
He repeats himself so often, that even though the subject matter is fascinating to me, it’s dreary.
I’ve talked before about Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I fully believe that teaching is an art, and learning is an art. This Ohio class is not high art. I am sure that the professor is far better at teaching than this snapshot would showcase.
His teaching was captured, and it’s pretty sad. It could be so much better.
Khan Academy flips teaching on its head. The subject matter can be consumed in a form that the student likes best-video, written, audio, you pick. Then a teacher can come in and interact.
Watching the dumpy teacher slowly slowly working through his subject is like cave drawings.
Teaching and learning can be so much better than that. It already is.
This class is about classical Greek mythology. At least the part that I’ve listened to so far.
Those Greeks made quite an impression you know. One quasi mythological man springs to mind when I think about this topic—the art of teaching and learning.
Socrates had a famous style he used. They named it after him, the Socratic Method. Here is how Wikipedia explains it:
a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.
That’s what I’m talking about. My Ohio lecturer really tried to get his students to ask questions. And they were not having it.
Why?
The system as is currently stands does not reward questions.
Learning for learning’s sake is nowhere in the curriculum.
It didn’t disappear though. It just went outside the system. I bet my Ohio lecturer whose name I don’t remember would be delighted to hear that I was listening to his recorded class.
I’m not the only one. Not his class, but all the ways that knowledge is being consumed.
I bet you that the other headphone-wearing cube dwellers

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