fredag 16. desember 2016

GPS is a terrible teacher!

Those of us who assume that learning is a linear process, disconnected from senses, emotions and social interactions, tend to see knowledge as something that can be produced. “Industrial production of knowledge” (Robinson, 2016) is supposed to be effective and result in perfect products in shortest possible time. However, learners are usually humans, not machines.

To make it clear, I am not against machines. I use them all the time and I know that they can be helpful, but I deny being one. I am critical to the industrial production of knowledge and the illusion that learning can be “effective” with precise recipes for teaching. Neither students nor teachers should be compared to machines! Teachers have to be sensitive, attentive and flexible in order to meet each individual in specific contexts, care for them and appreciate their unique talents; Mutual trust has to be established between teachers and students, among other things because learning depends of emotions.

Thinking of analogies between learning and assembly line, and teachers as machines, makes me think about an incident where I trusted a digital device (a GPS with female voice), and when she betrayed me I learned something that makes is possible to empathize with students with bad experience from learning situations. I was on my way to Madrid airport and I followed the GPS’s instruction. The crowded, parallel and curvy lanes on the motorway kept my hands busy and my eyes focused on the road. I did not have time to look around, and I had to trust the GPS-voice. I thought I saw a sign for the airport. I was driving and driving and getting more confused with every minute. Why wasn’t I getting there? When the GPS sent me to circle around a roundabout, I knew something was wrong, but at that point, I had already lost my sense of direction and had no clue where I was. Like in step-by-step instructions (I remember a software course I once attended) I got lost if I misunderstood a tiny detail; There was no way back or possibility to find out where it went wrong. Blind following of instructions - turning off own thinking - can get one to quite unpleasant places. That is what I learned both from the from the GPS-incident, and from the software course. I learned to distrust and to get scared.
After circling around Madrid for one hour and 50 km in radius (I later found out that it was what the GPS was doing – sending me around Madrid because she did not like the address I had given her) I was desperately trying to get off the highway, but the moment I left one highway, I entered another one. There was no place to stop, no one to ask, no time to think. Caught in the traffic felt like being in a never-stopping carousel. The fear of being too late for the plane, mixed with all kinds of stress, discomfort and luck of confidence. I could not think clearly. I probably seemed quite foolish when I simply run of my car and stopped a taxi, hoping that the driver spoke English! The look on the taxi-driver’s face was unmistakably saying: “This woman is crazy”. Intelligence and madness can be quite contextual – we should be aware of that when we, teachers, stress, confuse or comfort our students.
In my view, trust and flexibility are necessary components of teaching and learning.

The GPS-incident has been haunting me for years. You might find my associations with teaching strange, but the emotional side of the experience has been so strong that it has really had impact on my understanding. Meaningfulness of what I learn comes to me when my understanding is connected to my our personal endeavors, choices and struggles – not when I am blindly following someone else’s instructions. Learning is a process of personal engagement!

We humans (teachers and learners alike) are sometimes slow, confused, scared and we sometimes act unreasonably, even stupid. We might not always be accountable, as we expect machines to be, but we are capable of contextual choices, improvisation and construction of meaning in the contexts where we are fully alive.

Robinson, K. (2016). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That is Transforming Education. New York: Penguin Books.

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