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Education: Addressing the gaps between the fun and the anxieties

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 30 April 2011

Later today if my 3 minute talk is selected I’ll be giving my thoughts on education at the  #purposedpsi event in Sheffield.   Purpos/ed is “a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?”. I have made my contribution on a recent post entitled “Education Will Make Us Anxious“. My brief presentation builds on this idea (which was taken from a post by Dave White)  and mashes it up with Tom Barrett’s comment that “Education should be about cradling happiness”.  I feel that both ideas are true – and the challenge for those of us working in the education profession is in understanding and addressing the gap.

A 3 minute  slidecast of a rehearsal of my talk is available on Slideshare and is embedded below.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to give acknowledgements for use of the photograph entitled “Hippie Carnival Arambol (Goa)” used on slide two which was taken by ‘PeterQ‘ and is available on Flickr and the photograph used on slide three entitled “Anxious” which was taken by ‘Phoney Nickle‘ and is available on Flickr under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. I am grateful for permission to use these images.

Script

Note also that the script for the talk is given below.

My name is Brian Kelly. I’m based at UKOLN at the University of Bath and this is my contribution to the Purpos/ed campaign on the future of education.

In his blog post on the purpose of education Tom Barrett suggested that “Education should be about cradling happiness” .  Another way of putting this which we will be familiar with is that “learning should be fun”.  And the fun that we can have in learning new things – which can include social learning, such as the dancing illustrated in this photograph – as well as scholarly learning need  not be restricted to the learner.  It can also be fun teaching.

In contrast to Tom Barratt’s comment, Dave White felt that “Education should make us anxious”.  We will have all experienced feeling of anxiety whether it’s due, as in my case, to the  difficulties in memorising irregular French verbs, understanding molecular chemistry or, more recently, trying to lean a new rapper sword dance.

But just as the fun aspects of learning aren’t restricted to the learner, so the feelings of anxiety will be felt by others involved in learning: the teacher wondering whether the approaches they are taking are working and whether they’ve chosen the right resources for the learner.  Similarly those involved in use of technology to enhance learning may be worried whether the right technological approaches are being used.  Is the Social Web, for example, really an appropriate mechanism for supporting informal learning?  Was the open source VLE environment the right choice? And policy makers may secretly be anxious over changes in policies: “I’m suggesting that new approaches to learning will be more effective than those used 30 years ago – but I did OK from the old styles of learning – what if I’m wrong and the ‘back to basics’ campaigners are right?  After all, I’ve little evidence of the benefits of the new approaches.”

For me, then, education is about understanding and addressing the gaps between the feeling of fun and excitement in learning something new and the feelings of anxiety which we may sometimes forget about.  And let me point out that I’m not suggesting that the gap should be removed – I don’t think this is possible.  Let me quote in full Dave White’s comment on anxiety:

 “… education should make us anxious: anxious to discover new ways of understanding and influencing the world.  It should challenge our ways of seeing and force us to question our identities and our positions.

Learning professionals – and learning organisations – will continually strive to discover new ways of influencing learners and the learning processes. We will always be anxious. There will always be tensions. This is the challenge of the profession we have chosen.

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