Shifted Learning and Silliness

The term “Shifted Learning” is one I”ve been using for some time. I didn’t coin the term as a far as I know (I think it’s something Will said but a quick google of the term showed 3 sources coming from me) but it does address for me a change in what we think learning might look like.

Many argue that really nothing has changed, that educational gurus from Socrates to Dewey to Papert have been talking about learning in constructivist ways for years. I’m no educational historian or theorist so I would attempt to disect the nuances of these educational giants and their specific beliefs about learning. While I certainly credit these visionaries for their role in today’s quest for relevant, engaging and authentic learning there is clearly an element that exists today or at least is more prominent today than perhaps ever before. I think it’s silliness. Before I expand have a look at this:

I first saw this video in the summer at BLC during Ewan Mcintosh’ presentation on your Public Body. Ewan called it “wonderfully silly”. That term stuck with me. I’ve added this video and several others to various presentations I’ve done to illustrate one aspect of shifted learning. Silliness can be defined as a lack of seriousness, wisdom and even good sense. To many, this type of endeavour looks that way.  Here’s another example:

Again, what Ewan so masterfully pointed out was the reaction of the mother. She doesn’t get. Watch it again to see what I mean. When I showed this to a group of administrators they had much the same response as the mother.  A combination of “who cares?” and “I don’t get it”. What they don’t get is the depth of learning that is demonstrated. Without never having grabbed a cup and trying this it’s difficult to see the mastery. Same with the guitar video above. The time taken to learn this is astonishing. Ewan’s point was to consider how much of this learning involved a teacher. I”m want to focus on something else and that is the apparent silliness and where it perhaps began and what other “silly” and non-educational activities we are currently trying to squelch in our schools.

Today I see an article in the New York Times about cellphones. The article basically goes to lament at how cellphones are examples of disruptive learning that really is taking away from quality learning.

The poor schoolmarm or master, required to provide a certain amount of value for your child’s entertainment dollar, now must compete with texting, instant-messaging, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, and other poxes on pedagogy.

“There are certain lines you shouldn’t cross,” the professor said. “If you start tolerating this stuff, it becomes the norm. The more you give, the more they take.

“The baby boomers seem to see technology as information and communication,” said Prof. Michael Bugeja, director of the journalism school at Iowa State University and the author of “Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age.” “Their offspring and the emerging generation seem to see the same devices as entertainment and socializing.”

Perhaps attendance records should include a new category: present but otherwise engaged.

“The idea that subject matter is boring is truly relative. Boring as opposed to what? Buying shoes on eBay? The fact is, we’re not here to entertain. We’re here to stimulate the life of the mind.”

“Education requires contemplation,” he continued. “It requires critical thinking. What we may be doing now is training a generation of air-traffic controllers rather than scholars.”

While I don’t want to argue specific points which may be valid, it does appear that the idea of shifted learning has alluded many of the teachers in this article. I recently wrote an post about Facebook and Social Learning. Admittedly I don’t know exactly how Facebook fits into the daily learning of a classroom but then again, how could video games, speed stacks or creating silly videos? Shifted Learning to me means considering that learning doesn’t look the same as the classrooms we all grew up in. That may  seem like a “duh” statement but I don’t think it can be overstated.

Even Gary Stager’s recent criticism of Michael Wesch’s Vision of Today video made me think that partly there’s a misunderstanding of what learning looks like. Gary writes:

A concerned competent educator might ask, “What should I do to make learning relevant without making it dopey or trivial?” This video offers no such guidance.

The excitement and praise afforded “A Vision of Students Today” is a clear example of what Dr. Seymour Papert called, “verbal inflation.” Apparently we should all be astonished that college students used Google Docs and then conflate such a trivial mechanical act with educational innovation.

Without trying to put words in Gary’s mouth, it would appear that he considers some element of silliness or certainly triviality in this effort. So maybe kids spent a few class periods holding up signs in an effort to create this video. Maybe it wasn’t totally educationally rigorous.  But it makes a point well.  The teaching methods of Dr. Wesch may or may not be conventional but both the content of the video itself as well as the making of it places into question what learning should like like. I realize that wasn’t Gary’s main criticism with the video but to me this is a partial point to be considered.

I think it’s changing and good teachers are understanding that the tools that students are using can lead to learning.  Allowing students some latitude in how they learn, guiding students to learning using their preferred communication and entertainment devices will take effort but ultimately can bring about some really powerful artifacts of learning. I think that’s really our job; to try and figure out how learning can be social and yes at times even silly. Yet silliness is the first reaction and sometimes can can lead to wonderful learning. Not always but I’m not seeing much of an effort from many to find the potential of silly.

If you get twitter, you get exactly what I”m talking about. To many a waste of time, silly and useless. Try telling that to dedicated users. Try telling them to shut off twitter during a workshop or meeting. It is silly and at the same time provides examples of powerful, connected social learning. It has proven to be an invaluable tool and yet, I can certainly attest to its silliness as could my followers. This truly exemplifies shifted learning for me. How many considered and still consider blogs silly? My colleagues who watch me work at times have difficulty understanding all of the windows I have open. It appears disorganized and perhaps silly but I would argue any day of the week that I’m learning at an accelerated rate.

The discussion in the article definitely views learning in such a confining way that there would be no room for serendipitous learning or really much interactivity at all.  If you’re really there to “stimulate the life of the mind”, consider how silliness or fun might be included. And not necessarily our definition of fun but consider theirs. This again, is not to abdicate our role in terms of guide or wise counsel but it’s too easy to dismiss the content of youtube or facebook as being trivial.  Let’s have a second look, let’s ask kids and challenge them to find meaning in their silliness. We might be surprised at what we find.

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