Gimmicks or Substance?

Sadly, one of the more frequent L&T questions I get thrown my way is “what’s the latest gimmick you’ve got for teaching?”  This is typically asked by people to whom I’ve not fully explained the pedagogic underpinnings of what I would term non-traditional approaches.  However, it speaks to a wider issue.

On the one hand, we talk a lot about active learning (this blog’s title, indeed) and putting the student at the centre of the process.  On the other, I often have the impression that anything that isn’t a lecture-with-seminar is somehow not ‘proper’ or rigorous enough. To me, this is so obviously incompatible a pair of positions that I struggle to see how they could be reconciled.  Maybe it’s the entire language of ‘professors’ and ‘lecturers’, with its emphasis on the transmission of our wisdom to those less learn’d, like Platonic Guardians: we know best, so sit at our feet and try to buy into our worldview.

We don’t live in that world now (if we ever did) and such attitudes need to change to reflect our more communal understanding of knowledge-acquisition and -development.  Personally, I always feel uncomfortable at the front of the class, lecturing; not because of nerves, but because it seems much less productive a process than getting students to articulate their thoughts.  I know what I think, and I have no interest in producing mini-mes (for which I think we should all be grateful).  Instead, I want to find out what other people think, precisely because it will be different to my own thoughts, so allowing us to have new discussion and advance further into the subject in hand.

All of this is a long way of answering the original question. Yes, there are novelties in my teaching practice, but they all speak to this desire to provide a genuinely useful and engaging experience for students.  Learning should never be a chore and I will always work towards that, one pedagogy at a time.