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View towards the Mersey

View towards the Royal Liver Building and the Mersey from the 5th floor of the Redmonds Building, Liverpool John Moores University.

This week I have been privileged to hear Professor Ronald Barnett speak at Liverpool John Moores University, where he was the keynote speaker on the second day of their teaching and learning conference. The title of his talk was:

A University for Learning: considering the present and glimpsing the future.

The theme for the conference as a whole was ‘Locations for learning: where does the learning take place?’ so Ron Barnett started his keynote with the question ’What kind of spaces are we trying to open up for students – how much space?’ He told us that the university has been with us for 900 years or longer and will be with us for a very long time. Many of today’s students will be alive in the 22nd century. At the very least we should try to answer questions such as: What is student learning the 21st century? What is it to be a graduate in the 21st century? What might we hope for from our students? What might they want of themselves?

He pointed out that we live in a turbulent environment and that our students are learning in a turbulent age where the higher education mantras of knowledge, skills and employability are no longer adequate. Neither knowledge nor skills may be adequate for tomorrow and we know that there is no guarantee of employability. The world is changing and there is a world beyond work.

He told us that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty and that we don’t only have to think in terms of complexity, but of supercomplexity. In the Abstract for his book ‘Realizing the University in an Age of Supercomplexity’, this is discussed as follows:

The university is faced with supercomplexity, in which our very frames of understanding, action and self-identity are all continually challenged. In such a world, the university has explicitly to take on a dual role: firstly, of compounding supercomplexity, so making the world ever more challenging; and secondly, of enabling us to live effectively in this chaotic world. Internally, too, the university has to become a new kind of organization, adept at fulfilling this dual role. The university has to live by the uncertainty principle: it has to generate uncertainty, to help us live with uncertainty, and even to revel in our uncertainty.

It is interesting to note that this was written 15 years ago!

So in this world of ever increasing diversity, differentiation and complexity, is there anything that should bind us together? What aspects of Higher Education are universal across the globe? To answer this question he said we need to ‘reclaim’ the student as persons who can develop the capacity to benefit the world in wise ways. Higher Education should therefore be more than satisfying students as consumers or viewing them in terms of pound notes.

In this world of uncertainty and supercomplexity, Barnett suggested that learning is often ‘scary’, involving becoming more than you are, becoming other than you were. Knowledge and skills are not enough; they require engagement to become a human being of a certain kind. Individuals must continually give of themselves, must continually remake themselves. The curriculum is not as important as pedagogy, i.e. the student/teacher relationship. We need to open up pedagogical space for our students and search for spaces of possibility. We should support our students in developing the dispositions needed for a world of challenge. Dispositions of

  • A will to learn
  • A will to engage
  • A preparedness to listen
  • A preparedness to explore
  • A willingness to hold oneself open to experience
  • A determination to keep going forward

Barnett then suggested that these dispositions should bind us across institutions. These are the dispositions that would help students to develop the qualities required for a world of challenge, qualities that will enable them to become global citizens who will help to bring about a better world.

He also suggested that to do this we have to understand ourselves as human beings in relation to the world and for this we need an ‘ecological curriculum’ which promotes being in the world, sensitivity to its global/local, personal/professional, systems/persons interconnectedness, engagement in its sustainability and improvement, active empathy and caring for the world.

Ron Barnett spoke with a passion that it is not possible to convey in a blog post and it was this passion that made the keynote so effective and, judging by the tweets and the comments I overheard in the following coffee break, inspired so many in the audience.

At the end of the keynote a question raised was whether these ideas were ‘pie in the sky’. These were not the words of the questioner, but the words that Ron Barnett used in responding to the question. On reflection about the keynote, despite finding it the highlight of the conference and well worth travelling to Liverpool for, I am left with a sense that we were treated to a passionate exploration of a glimpse into the future of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of Higher Education, but it’s the ‘how’ that remains open.

We were left with the question of how an ecological curriculum which contains spaces for critical self-reflection, spaces for engagement with self, society and the world, spaces for multidisciplinary demanding experiences, can be introduced into a 21st century Higher Education institution. How will these ideas impact on Higher Education? How will they be realised in practice?

As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently invited by Lisa Lane  to write a blog post for her Programme for Online Teaching blog. For details about the programme see the website: Program for Online Teaching 

I am reblogging my post here, so if you have already seen it, there is no need to read any further!

 

Some big issues in online teaching

Pedagogy is often defined as the method and practice of teaching, but is that all it is? And what do we understand by teaching? What is a teacher’s role? These are questions that have always engaged educators, but with increasing numbers of learners taking online courses in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs), teaching online has come into sharp focus again. In my recent reading of research into MOOCs, I have noted reports that there has not been enough focus on the role of the teacher in MOOCs and open online spaces (Liyanagunawardena et al., 2013).

Years ago when I first started to teach online, I came across a report that suggested that e-learning was the Trojan Horse through which there would be a renewed focus on teaching in Higher Education, as opposed to the then prevailing dominant focus on research. It was thought that teaching online would require a different approach, but what should that approach be? Two familiar and helpful frameworks immediately come to mind.

  1. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry Model (2000), which focuses on how to establish a social presence, a teaching presence and a cognitive presence in online teaching and learning.

Establishing a presence is obviously important when you are at a distance from your students. Over the years I have thought a lot about how to do this and have ultimately come to the conclusion that my ‘presence’ is not as important as ‘being present’. In other words, I have to ‘be there’ in the space, for and with my students. I have to know them and they me. Clearly MOOCs, with their large numbers of students, have challenged this belief, although some succeed, e.g. the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC, where teaching, social and cognitive presence have all been established by a team of teachers and assistants, who between them are consistently present.

  1. Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model for teaching and learning online (2000) which takes an e-learning moderator through a staged approach from online access, through online socialization and information exchange, towards knowledge construction and personal development in online learning.

I have worked with this model a lot, on many online courses. Gilly Salmon’s books provide lots of practical advice on how to engage students online. What I particularly like about this model is that it provides a structure in which it is possible for learners and teachers to establish a presence and ‘be present’ in an online space, but again, MOOCs have challenged this approach, although Gilly Salmon has run her own MOOC based on her model.

In both these frameworks the teacher’s role is significant to students’ learning in an online environment, but these frameworks were not designed with ‘massive’ numbers of students in mind. The teaching of large numbers of students in online courses, sometimes numbers in the thousands, has forced me to stop and re-evaluate what I understand by pedagogy and teaching. What is the bottom line? What aspects of teaching and pedagogy cannot be compromised?

The impact of MOOCS

The ‘massive’ numbers of students in some MOOCs has raised questions about whether teaching, as we have known it, is possible in these learning environments. In this technological age we have the means to automate the teaching process, so that we can reach ever-increasing numbers of students. We can provide students with videoed lectures, online readings and resources, discussion forums, automated assessments with automated feedback, and ‘Hey Presto’ the students can teach each other and the qualified teacher is redundant. We qualified teachers can go back to our offices and research this new mechanized approach to teaching and leave the students to manage their own learning and even learn from ‘Teacherbots’ i.e. a robot.

Is there a role for automated teachers?
Recently I listened (online) to Sian Bayne’s  very engaging inaugural professorial lecture, which was live streamed from Edinburgh University.  Sian is Professor of Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, here in the UK. During this lecture, Sian spent some time talking about the work she and her team have been doing with Twitterbots, i.e. automated responses to students’ tweets. The use of a ‘bot’ in this way focuses the mind on the role of the teacher. The focus of Sian’s talk was on the question of what it means to be a good teacher within the context of digital education. Her argument was that we don’t have to choose between the human and non-human, the material and the social, technology or pedagogy. We should keep both and all in our sights. She pointed us to her University’s Online Teaching Manifesto, where one of the statements is that online teaching should not be downgraded into facilitation. Teaching is more than that. (Click on the image to enlarge it).

manifestop1

Sian and her Edinburgh colleagues’ interest in automated teaching resulted from teaching a MOOC (E-Learning and Digital Cultures – EDCMOOC), which enrolled 51000 students. This experience led them to experiment with Twitterbots. They have written that EDCMOOC was designed from a belief that contact is what drives good online education (Ross et al., 2014, p.62). This is the final statement of their Manifesto, but when it came to their MOOC teaching, they recognized how difficult this would be and the complexity of their role, and questioned what might be the limitations of their responsibility. They concluded that ‘All MOOC teachers, and researchers and commentators of the MOOC phenomenon, must seek a rich understanding of who, and what, they are in this new and challenging context’.

Most of us will not be required to teach student groups numbering in the thousands, but in my experience even the teaching of one child or one adult requires us to have a rich understanding of who and what we are as teachers. Even the teaching of one child or one adult can be a complex process, which requires us to carefully consider our responsibilities. For example, how do you teach a child with selective mutism? I have had this experience in my teaching career. It doesn’t take much imagination to relate this scenario to the adult learner who lurks and observes rather than visibly participate in an online course. In these situations teaching is more than ‘delivery’ of the curriculum. It is more than just a practice or a method. We, as teachers, are responsible for these learners and their progress.

The ethical question

Ultimately the Edinburgh team referred to Nel Noddings’ observation (Ross et al., 2014 p.7) that ‘As human beings we want to care and be cared for’ and that ‘The primary aim of all education must be the nurturance of the ethical ideal.’ (p.6). Consideration of this idea takes teaching beyond a definition of pedagogy as being just about the method and practice of teaching.

As Gert Biesta (2013, p.45) states in his paper ‘Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher’

…. for teachers to be able to teach they need to be able to make judgements about what is educationally desirable, and the fact that what is at stake in such judgements is the question of desirability, highlights that such judgements are not merely technical judgements—not merely judgements about the ‘how’ of teaching—but ultimately always normative judgements, that is judgements about the ‘why’ of teaching

So a question for teachers has to be ‘‘Why do we teach?” and by implication ‘What is our role?’

For Ron Barnett (2007) teaching is a lived pedagogical relationship. He recognizes that students are vulnerable and that the will to learn can be fragile. As teachers we know that our students may go through transformational changes as a result of their learning on our courses. Barnett (2007) writes that the teacher’s role is to support the student in hauling himself out of himself to come into a new space that he himself creates (p.36). This is a pedagogy of risk, which I have blogged about in the past.

As the Edinburgh team realized, we have responsibilities that involve caring for our students and we need to develop personal qualities such as respect and integrity in both us and them. This may be more difficult online when our students may be invisible to us and we to them. We need to ensure that everyone, including ourselves, can establish a presence online that leads to authentic learning and overcomes the fragility of the will to learn.

Gert Biesta (2013) has written that teaching is a gift. ‘….it is not within the power of the teacher to give this gift, but depends on the fragile interplay between the teacher and the student. (p.42). This confirms Barnett’s view, with which I agree, that teaching is a lived pedagogical relationship. Teachers should use all available tools to support learners as effectively as possible. Pedagogy is more than the method and practice of teaching and I doubt that teaching can ever be fully automated. As teachers, our professional ethics and duty of care should not be compromised.

References

Barnett, R. (2007). A will to learn. Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Open University Press

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49. Retrieved from https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandpr/article/download/19860/15386

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Liyanagunawardena, T. R., Adams, A. A., & Williams, S. A. (2013). MOOCs: a systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. IRRODL, 14 (3), 202-227. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1455

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring. A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. California: University of California Press.

Ross, J., Bayne, S., Macleod, H., & O’Shea, C. (2011). Manifesto for teaching online: The text. Retrieved from http://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/the-text/

Ross, J., Sinclair, C., Knox, J., Bayne, S., & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1), 57–69.

Salmon, G. (2011). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Update

Since writing this blog post Sian Bayne has published a paper about Teacherbots.

Bayne, S. (2015). Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 20(4), 455–467. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1020783

At the beginning of March I was contacted by Lisa Lane and invited to write a blog post for her Programme for Online Teaching Blog. As with everything Lisa does, this was very well thought through and organized. Here was what she wrote in her introduction:

The Pedagogy First! blog is taking over the main page at the Program for Online Teaching.

We are hoping that we will present the views of those at the vanguard of online teaching as a creative and dynamic process. Through a journalistic approach, we hope to inspire those teaching online, make them think, and give them the tools to develop their own online teaching style and materials. Let’s go till June and see what happens!

She set up a Googledoc with a list of suggested topics, attached to specific weeks and invited us to select one or something similar.

At the time I was thinking a lot about the role of the teacher in online open learning environments, so that’s what I wrote about and it was scheduled to be posted at the end of May and has been posted today .

I so admire Lisa for her unwavering dedication to online learning and to promoting this at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California. Her open Programme for Online Teaching has been running since 2005 and, together with a number of colleagues and volunteers, she must have encouraged many, many teachers to explore the potential of online learning.

I think the next POT Cert class will probably start in September and run for about 12 weeks. In the meantime, what a great idea to keep people engaged, connected and interested, by setting up a multi-author blog. I’m not sure exactly how many blog posts there have been since the beginning of March, but probably about 20. You can find them all on the website

Thank you Lisa for inviting me to be one of the authors.

I have committed to writing a monthly blog post this year, rather like those who commit to posting a photo a day. I have resisted the photo a day – I hate routine. Even making a monthly blog post feels too prescriptive, but given that I seem to be lacking any motivation to blog recently, this commitment to a monthly post will hopefully keep me going until my motivation comes back.

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing. I have been writing a lot – just not in public!

The end of this month has seen a focus for me on the meaning of ‘metaphor’, in particular in relation to the rhizome metaphor. Frances Bell, Mariana Funes and I have been finalizing a paper about the rhizome, how it is understood and how it applies to teaching and learning. This is a Wordle composed from the content of our submitted paper.

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 19.16.11

 

We have been working on this paper for more than a year. There was a lot to learn. What has been extremely enjoyable about this has been the number of authors I have become familiar with who write about the rhizome. I have so enjoyed the poetic imagery that some of their writing conjures up.

For those completely unfamiliar with the concept of the rhizome, then a good start is Chapter 1 of Deleuze and Guattari’s book. A Thousand Plateaus (1987, Bloombury) – and we have already published one paper about this. Our research is ongoing, but for our initial thoughts and findings see our paper in Open Praxis – Rhizo14 – A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade.

‘Meaning’ has also featured prominently in May for me, i.e. meaning in relation to what I have been doing and the meaning of my life as it relates to those around me. I think it’s something to do with age. My husband reached the age of 70 this month and for some reason that feels like a significant milestone and has brought with it lots of associated thoughts related to meaning. I bought him an Anthology of Emily Dickinson’s poems to mark this event (he is a fan!) and each day, he selects another poem to read, share and discuss. This week, this is the poem that has resonated most strongly with me:

 

A Thought went up my mind today –

That I have had before –

But did not finish – some way back –

I could not fix the Year –

 

Nor where it went – not why it came

The second time to me –

Nor definitely, what it was –

Have I to say –

 

But somewhere – in my Soul – I know –

I’ve met the Thing before –

It just reminded me – ‘twas all –

And came my way no more –

(Emily Dickinson, 701. Emily didn’t give her poems titles – she simply numbered them)

Finally, motion – what is that about? Well it’s about the motion of the wheels of my bike. At the start of the month we were cycling in Holland, through the tulip fields. This far exceeded my expectations of an enjoyable holiday. Of course I know we were so lucky – no rain, only one day of high winds, a fantastic hotel, amazingly safe cycle routes and lanes with good surfaces, and the stunning tulip fields.

Holland

Needless to say I took far too many photos of tulips which I have posted on my Flickr site.

I’m not sure where April went. I didn’t blog once during the entire month. Looking back I can see it was a month of de-cluttering and disconnecting.

De-cluttering has taken the shape of a massive purge on our house, which we have lived in for 30 years. The de-cluttering is almost finished – only the outhouses to do. I have been quite ruthless and hope I won’t regret it. 500 books have gone to charity and ten years worth of teaching notes have gone to the tip. It has felt quite cathartic. I would like to feel that I could walk out of here one day to the next with the minimum of hassle and with no need to look back. I would like to think that I am not defined by my possessions.

I have also felt the need to de-clutter mentally and this has entailed a degree of disconnecting, which I suppose is one reason for the lack of blogging.

I have thought a lot about the Divided Brain course  that I went on in March, where Iain McGilchrist’s seminars focused on the different world views of the left and right hemispheres, and what we are missing when the left hemisphere dominates at the expense of the right hemisphere. On the course we discussed the role of technology and machines in this, so I have thought quite a bit about how much I want to be online, how much I want to connect, with whom and what, and how much I want to disconnect, from whom and what.

I have also increasingly thought about the balance of public and private in my life. My preference is to be private, which creates a bit of tension with some aspects of openness. I find myself questioning the extent to which this blog post is public/private. I realize that despite being supportive of openness, I am selectively open.

With respect to disconnection, I have been discussing this very topic with my friend and research colleague Frances Bell, for a paper we are preparing for the Networked Learning Conference 2016. This is a ‘fun’ venture, as we are working with Catherine Cronin, Laura Gogia and Jeffrey Keefer, to get together a symposium of papers related to Networked, Connected and Open Learning. I am also working with my Austrian friend and colleague Jutta Pauschenwein to prepare a paper for the conference. Both projects are currently at the ‘messy’, ‘where are we headed?’ stage. The call for papers for the Networked Learning Conference is here.

April has also found me working on a project in Blackboard, with people I haven’t worked with for a long time, so lots of trips down memory lane and face-to-face meetings, which is a refreshing change for me. It is at least ten years since I worked on Blackboard – so in all respects a bit of a blast from the past. This must be a reconnection after a disconnection and it is interesting to work in a closed space after so many years of working in the open. It raises for me all the issues related to balancing open and closed, private and public, connected and disconnected.

Finally, April has seen my bike come out of the workshop. We had some glorious weather in the middle of the month, which resulted in quite a number of rides. A favourite is a 15 mile ride round trip which takes us to a nearby estuary town, with a wonderful ice-cream shop, and back – and enough hills on route to get the heart rate up. Our longest trip this month has been 37 miles, again along the estuary with a great little café stop for lunch. After so many dark winter months, it is liberating to be out on the road again – reconnecting with the beautiful countryside in which I live.

Cycling Spring 2015 (4)

            Cycling Spring 2015 (2)Cycling Spring 2015 (3)

At the beginning of March we had an amazing fall of snow.

Snow March 1 2015 2

In the space of half an hour we had about four inches. A village friend said to me later that he had never seen snowflakes so big – he described them as being the shape and size of feathers – and this is from someone who has lived in this village for eons. The flakes certainly were bigger than any I have ever seen, and they were the shape of feathers, those downy feathers you get from chickens and ducks, and in no time at all the hill that I can see from my study window was covered with people sledging.

Snow March 1 2015

It was just as well that they took advantage of it, because within a few hours (unlike the incredible pictures that I have seen from the east coast of America and Canada this year), the snow was all gone. But it was quite magical while it lasted and also quite magical because it didn’t last.

Like February, March has been a month of sunshine and shade, both in terms of the weather and in terms of my life, although the month has definitely ended on a high.

The darker side of this month has been around my experience of and thinking about the meaning of ‘open’ in the online environment. I have always had reservations about how ‘open’ to be online, and this month’s happenings confirmed for me that ‘less is more’. I received some very good advice from a friend who said ‘…. everybody gets to have an opinion or ask a question, but they aren’t automatically entitled to a response’. I have remembered that many times this month, but I am also saddened by the increasing number of people who seem to be subject to online abuse. When I first started to work online, more than a decade ago, we always used to say to the students – ‘Remember that there is a human being on the end of your post and always believe, at least initially, in their best intentions’.

But of course every cloud has a silver lining, or some clouds have silver linings, i.e. along with the dark side comes the sunshine and this experience of having difficulties with ‘openness’ online is now feeding into three research papers, all with people I really respect and enjoy working with.

Also this month I have, with my friend and research colleague, Frances Bell, had a presentation proposal  accepted for Liverpool John Moore’s Teaching and Learning Conference in June. I expect we will be blogging about this nearer the time. I am really pleased about this, not least because Ron Barnett, who I have long admired, will be speaking on the second day of the conference.

But the highlight of this month has been the four-day course about the Divided Brain featuring Iain McGilchrist, that I attended this month in the Cotswolds, UK. I have written a series of blog posts about this. This was a wonderful course. I had already read McGilchrist’s book (some parts very slowly word for word, other parts more lightly), but the seminars over four days made it all fall into place. I could see many, many connections between Iain’s work and my own life, work and recent thinking. I am amazed that when I look back through this blog many of the posts relate to some of the ideas discussed in Iain’s seminars. It was really good for me, this month, to hear someone of Iain McGilchrist’s standing reaffirm my understanding that we need both dark and light experiences to have a full, rich and embodied view of the world. As I have written before on this blog, ‘dark’ experience is needed to clearly see the ‘light’. The overall message from the course was one of optimism. Iain McGilchrist was optimistic, feeling that despite our apparent increasing tendency to allow the left hemisphere to dominate our view of the world, (a manipulative, decontextualised, inanimate, abstract and static view), mankind has, in history, overcome this before and will again, allowing a more empathetic, understanding, holistic, open and embodied view of the world to come into being.

I too am feeling more optimistic as we move into April.

Monday 23rd March pm

This is my final post in a series of posts I have written following a four-day course with Iain McGilchrist.  Details of the course, which will run again next year can be found on the Field & Field website.

Here are links to my previous posts:

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 13.36.32Source of image: RSA Animate Video

Final Thoughts

The final session with Iain McGilchrist was an open question and answer session. This last post about this fantastic course, allows me the opportunity to write about three things.

  1. Iain’s writing process. We asked him to share this with us and he kindly did, but in a previous session
  2. The possible implications of his work for education
  3. My own final thoughts

Iain McGilchrist’s writing process.

It took Iain 20 years to research and write his now acclaimed book….

Iain McGilchrist (2010). The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press.

… which has been the subject of this four day course. He told us that he finds writing a hugely difficult process. He told us that he is a very slow reader, having to regularly stop and mull over sentences or needing to read aloud. After his research and when he was ready to start writing ‘The Master and His Emissary’, he found he had writer’s block. He just couldn’t seem to get going and couldn’t understand why he was finding it so difficult. He tried various strategies, one being that he wrote all the themes/topics of the book on separate cards, laid them on the floor and tried to work out how to organise and connect them so that the links would be coherent. That approach didn’t work, but it did lead him to write a 1236 page draft outline for the book! Ultimately a good friend read the draft and helped him to shape the book. For an example of the beautiful writing this led to, I can recommend reading two paragraphs from pages 230 and 231 of his book starting at:

The feeling we have of experience happening – that even if we stop doing anything and just sit and stare, time is still passing, our bodies are changing, our senses are picking up sights and sounds, smells and tactile sensations, and so on – is an expression of the fact that life comes to us. …..

and finishing with the sentence…

Similarly there is ‘whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves’, but ‘whatever it is that exists’ only comes to be what it is as it finds out in the encounter with ourselves what it is, and we only find out and make ourselves what we are in our encounter with ‘whatever it is that exists’.

 (Iain McGilchrist, 2010, The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press, p.230-231).

I have selected these two paragraphs to quote, not only for the beauty of the writing, but also because Iain told us that this was the only part of the book that he had no difficulty writing. He got up one morning and it just flowed out of him.

The Divided Brain. Implications for Education

Another question put to Iain was what were his thoughts about the implications of his work for theories of learning and pedagogies in use. He did not want to talk about theory, but instead talked about the need to trust teachers to know. We can’t have a fail/safe system, so we should make it easier to get rid of poor teachers and allow good teachers the freedom to get on with the job.

In terms of the curriculum he thinks that in the past it has been either too broad or too narrow. We should be teaching ways of thinking and being. This is what the curriculum should focus on. Students should experience a demanding curriculum (and students usually do rise to expectations), through which they learn how to think. Subjects which can be experienced and learned outside the education system should be removed from the curriculum. The focus should be on subjects that teach us how to think and ‘be’. Subjects such as philosophy, languages, music and the arts are important.

Having had a long career in teaching, all this makes sense to me.

My final thoughts

I have found the writing up of these notes in a series of blog posts, extremely helpful. The notes are almost exactly as I wrote them during the four day course. Additions have been made where I have had to go and look something up that I have not understood either because my notes were insufficient, or simply because it was new to me. But I have not added much of my own interpretation. I am not ready to do that yet. I am still processing the enormous breadth of information and ideas I was introduced to over the four days. As one of the course participants said, it is rare to have the opportunity to enter into in-depth discussion with such a knowledgeable and wise man as Iain MacGilchrist.

My concern about these notes/blog posts is that they are necessarily my selection. What was it that I did not ‘hear’, how much did I miss, how much was I simply not ready for? I would not like anyone reading these blog posts to think that they are a record of what Iain McGilchrist said. Rather they are what I think he said.

I think it would be fair to say that this is the best course I have been on for many years. For me a measure of a good course is what I come away with. While I was there I enjoyed the beautiful location in the Cotswolds, UK, the excellent accommodation and food, the warm and friendly course participants and the way in which the course leaders were open to allowing us, the participants, to determine what we wanted to discuss and how we wanted to spend our time. But I have come away with so much more, not least a very long reading list!

I have already signed up to go on the course again next year. It will run in the same location between the 19th and 22nd August 2016. See the Field & Field website – and of course it is open to anyone who can get to the UK. We had one participant from Amsterdam and Iain himself had to drive 11 hours from the Isle of Skye to be with us.

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