Monday, January 25, 2010

Cooks and Chefs

I've been asked to justify some of my practice in terms of the learning model adopted. This is a task I find unexpectedly hard, and I draw the following flawed analogy.

The culinary arts website indicates that the primary difference between Cooks and Chefs is that Cooks may also be expected to work on construction sites and in logging camps, however I would make the following distinction.

A cook will follow a recipe. We refer in chemistry to "cookbook chemistry" when we wish to imply that doing the experiment is just a purely routine matter of following the written instructions. Again, we expect technical texts such as the The IC op amp Cookbook, the Camera Cook book etc. to provide step by step instructions to achieve a given end.

A chef on the other hand is expected to be innovative, to bring together their knowledge of a wide variety of recipes to produce something new, something novel, something which is better than that which has gone before. Even if throwing together a simple omelet at the end of the night for what remains of the kitchen staff, the chef will not follow a recipe but will rather take whatever's there and produce an optimum result 90 seconds later.

I'm a chef. I serve up a succulent confection of androgogy confected with behaviorism and structuralism, with just a soupcon of teaching as drama.

If that doesn't work, then 90 seconds later I'm scouring the literature for more leftovers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Learning objects: why its not quite as easy as “chunking”

I stand in the gallery looking at a rather grey picture of a water fall. The artist William Turner has used his fingernail to cut through the pigment and provide the flashes of white from the foam at the top of the falls. I consider my plan to bring my children in to the gallery on a visit and imagine explaining to my daughter that these are the Reichenbach falls where Sherlock Holmes died, only to rise again by climbing up the rock ten years later when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave in to public pressure and resurrected his hero.
I’m also aware that this late in January time is running out on this plan as there is very little time left until the collection, under the direction of the bequest under which they were acquired, is locked away for another eleven months to protect it from the effects of sunlight.
I wonder if the rather drab palette in this picture is a result of such fading, or if this was the vision of the (now dead) artist.
All this takes but a moment and indicates the richness of the objects we encounter in everyday life. I could go on, relating this to the rest of turners art in this gallery, placing it within his body of work, or contrasting it with the similar landscape across the room which was not painted from life but which was painted using another artist’s sketch for a guide and from this I could end up discussing plagiarism in art, or I could relate this work to the Hudson river school in the states. I would do this because of the similarities I see in the philosophy which informs them, and is based on my personal juxtaposition of the two bodies of work, having seen the Wadsworth Atheneum exhibit of the Hudson river school two years before, and relating it to my recollection, (possibly faulty) of the four magnificent turner oil paintings in the Frick museum in new York.
In teaching a subject we often perform a spectacular filtering of the actual richness of everyday life, viewing it through the lens of one subject, and one stage in the development of that subject. Maybe we should take more care to look at the minor details as well as the major subject when we are teaching.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The heart of the matter

The blogosphere has supplanted formal journalism as the movers and shakers of the world. This is because the cost of publishing ones thoughts to the masses has dropped precipitously, and the industries which were predicated on providing mass media access to the public are now struggling.

The enabling technology, the pusher on the street corner, is clearly the internet and the new cultural artifacts which it has bred (blogs, Wiki's Cops).

But this is the first shoe to fall. Still up there is most of academia. University is predicated on the rarity of good speakers with in depth professional knowledge of any subject you can take a course in. In the past, If you wanted to study quantum mechanics, you got to a university and started taking courses.

But this is no longer true. If I want quantum mechanics, its right here, one click away, coming from one of the greatest centers of scientific research in the western hemisphere, and it's the same with any other subject I care to name.

In the old days it was(in principle) the education that mattered, not the qualification, in the new regime, one of the few features universities can still offer to the student, which is not as clearly available via the internet, is certification for your learning, wherever you got it from.

So for long term survival, there are going to be some interesting moves by universities, towards being more research based institutions, towards being online repositories of course material accessed by the end users etc. At this point its hard to extrapolate, particularly with my educated academic bias on the issue.