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Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Learning Something New

It struck me today, as I designed another workshop, that a large part of the learning happening in my classes is from participants simply watching each other and trying to repeat what they've seen. This may be blindingly obvious to most people, but I really hadn't thought about it before.

Improv appeals to me so greatly as a teaching method because it is whole-body, whole-mind stuff that frees people to react emotionally - the ultimate magic pill of learning. That most fulfilling part of the method can be overwhelming in large doses and it is important to intersperse those experiences with the more passive activity of watching and listening. Seeing someone else deal with the same set of rules (such creating a scene from an audience suggestion) gives valuable information about what works and what doesn't!

In my opinion this participatory style of learning is the wave of the future. Simple lecture-style learning is becoming less and less relevant to how people actually participate in their world. We want to ask questions, divert the lecturer from their intended topic to follow a particularly juicy idea, just as we do when surfing the web. This is easy to do with improv - one just improvises the class!

It is difficult for me to justify investing time rote-learning any information because I know that all I have to do is feed my question into google any time I need an answer. The skill set I would most desire as a kid today would be learning to boil down the most relevant information from the many thousands of google hits. And if that's so, then what is the point of the traditional essay, apart from providing proof that you know how to use google? - a complete paradigm shift.

What a exciting time to be working in education!

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St John's College (http://www.sjcsf.edu) is very much an improv learning sort of place -- or was. The idea being that teaching something makes the learning stickier.

My problem with unstructured learning is always... well, the lack of structure. I have never been able to rely on more than two or three people in any group to provide an adequate framework for the consideration of new material. The rest just drift in and out. And talk too much while they do it. :-)
Well, as I see it, the point of an essay is to exercise your logic muscle. Can you take information - any information - and form a cohesive argument with a cohesive defence? That skill is still very relevant and not honed by simple googling.
Soh has said almost the same thing I want to say. There's more than just argument, too -- even a personal essay needs to have a point, and for that you need to learn thesis statements, topic sentences, opening paragraph, closing paragraph. You don't write a blog entry by googling your own thoughts.

Anyway, that is not to take away from the wonderful educational prospects of improvisation. And I do believe that children today do need to learn how to use google effectively. But googling and writing are different skills, and they will need both.
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