Dangerous ideas for the future of teaching and learning

A teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame.  The teacher who has come to the end of his subject, who has no living traffic with his knowledge, but merely repeats his lesson to his students can only load to their minds.  He cannot quicken them. Truth not only must inform, but also must inspire.  If the inspiration dies out and the information only accumulates then truth loses its infinity.  The greater part of our learning in the school has been a waste because for most of our teachers, their subjects are like dead specimens of once living things, with which they have a learned acquaintance, but no communication of life and love.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore


I took this photo of a sculpture of Rabindranath Tagore in the grounds of  Kalakshetra,  a cultural academy dedicated to the preservation of traditional values in Indian art, when I was in Chennai, South India in January.

He was quoted in today’s ChangeMooc presentation by Geetha Narayanan  –  who gave an inspirational talk about the dangerous ideas (or inconvenient truths) that she thinks we need to embrace as educators. She talked of the need for smallness and keeping education local (which is contrary to current moves to scale education through ventures such as the Khan Academy and indeed MOOCs). She suggested a need for slowness, meditation and stillness – an integration of mind and body. Her view is that we also need a disruptive and innovative curriculum. Embracing these ‘dangerous’ ideas will enable our children to cope with an unpredictable future.  It is all about wellness, survival and expanding the inner self.

Geetha talked with such passion and sincerity that everyone was ‘stirred’.  She was not emotional, but through her sincerity managed to model the humanness, consciousness and alive and energetic learning spaces she aspires to.

The recording of her presentation has now been posted. Well worth listening to. Here are the links

Recording:  https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/jwsdetect/playback.jnlp?psid=2012-02-22.0635.M.3A0EAE843895F0175E240FB3B50AA6.vcr&sid=2008104

Slides:  http://www.slideshare.net/geethanarayanan1/beyond-rhetoric-to-resurgence-and-resonance


10 thoughts on “Dangerous ideas for the future of teaching and learning

  1. Scott Johnson February 22, 2012 / 7:23 pm

    This is great! Thank You–I’ll listen tonight.

    I’ve been struggling with the notion Massiveness as we have decided MOOCs are and the contradiction of their feeling localized and personal to me. Local is important but local can also be limiting as too small a scale eventually has only one version of itself. Maybe we feel size is necessary for diversity to emerge? That diversity is within all of us but each can only hold so much or we burst from trying to contain everything?

    My thoughts aren’t clear on this and I wonder if I want to reach clarity just yet on this? Maybe that’s the dangerous thought in education past: get to the point of knowing, be tested on it, then freeze it into another block in our foundational knowledge? We are not transported by our learning, we are cemented in place by it.


  2. thatwritinglady February 23, 2012 / 1:43 am

    Thanks for sharing this talk! I love the phrase “Truth not only must inform, but also must inspire”–so true.

  3. Jaap February 23, 2012 / 9:36 am

    Hi Jenny, could a MOOC be the frame in which we are learning in small groups and as individuals? Could we combine Geeta’s small and silent learning and the connections to the MOOC?
    Geetha’s students learn in small groups and after that they live and learn in the big world.
    regards Jaap

  4. jennymackness February 24, 2012 / 8:15 am

    @Scott – thanks for your interesting ideas. I think I have read Stephen Downes say somewhere that MOOCs do need to be massive to get the neccesary diversity and Matthias Melcher has said the same in a comment he made on a blog post I made some time back – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/mooc-principles-and-course-design/#comments. Getting the balance right seems to be the tricky thing.

    Carmen Tschofen and I also discussed the place of the individual in MOOCs in our paper which we published recently – http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1143

    > We are not transported by our learning, we are cemented in place by it.

    I find this comment very thought provoking. I think this is another balance that has to be achieved. Etienne Wenger writes about this in terms of reification.

  5. jennymackness February 24, 2012 / 8:23 am

    Jaap – for me a MOOC is exactly that – a frame in which I learn in small groups and as an individual. My blog is mostly my individual space and my research groups and research partners are my small group spaces.

    But the writings about connectivism and MOOCs suggests that small groups lead to ‘echo chambers’ and that frequent interaction is the key to successful learning. The individual is scarcely mentioned in relation to MOOCs and connectivism, which is why Carmen Tschofen and I wrote our paper http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1143

    Have I understood you correctly?

  6. Jaap February 24, 2012 / 9:54 am

    Jenny, you did understand me correctly. In http://connectiv.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/rhizome-or-network-in-change11/
    I try to understand this personal individual aspect of a network. I am still thinking of a picture of a network and an individual. This connection of person and network is important, as you and Carmen write this in your interesting paper.
    thanks Jaap

  7. Pingback: MOOC | Pearltrees
  8. brainysmurf1234 February 28, 2012 / 7:26 pm

    Thanks to Jenny and the commentators for a thought-provoking read today. The way that I act in a mooc seems to involve many different combinations of individual and small group activities. For instance, I may reflect on my learning independently (in my head or in writing) and not share my thoughts with others. Or, I may create blog posts and Daily Create assignments and Diigo bookmarks that others consume on which they may leave comments. I also read the FB group posts for #change11 on occasion and have small conversations there. In each case, there are some folks I meet repeatedly in the webosphere and others I only meet up with a few times or less. I believe the massiveness of a mooc and the diverse platforms on which we share our ideas and experiences keep the blender churning.

  9. jennymackness February 29, 2012 / 6:27 pm

    Hi brainysmurf – thanks for your comment. I am still thinking about Geetha’s session. I believe that the new ‘Right to Education Act’ and associated ‘Rules’ that have recently come into force in India, might put the kind of educaiton system that Geetha and others aspire to under threat. As a friend said to me – ‘Small is beautiful, but also illegal’ (in India). It seems that the Indian education system is about to come under the same pressures that we in the West have been constrained by for quite a while……

    ….. which actually makes it all the more important that there are opportunities to learn in different spaces of our own choice – as you are doing.


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