Teaching the Unteachable, Learning the Unlearnable

Richard Noss is co-director of the London Knowledge Lab, an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Institute of Education andBirkbeck, two colleges of the University of London. He is Professor of Mathematics Education at the IOE, holding a Masters degree in pure mathematics and a PhD in mathematical education. He was co-founder and deputy scientific manager of Kaleidoscope, the† European network of excellence for technology enhanced learning, and is currently the director of the UK’s Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme.

Richard was invited to give a lecture, as part of the Dean’s Lecture Series, at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne on Feb 22, which I attended.

Richard started with a quote from Gandhi. Gandhi was asked ‘what do you think of western civilization?’ and he responded with ‘I think it would be a good idea’. Richard said that the same response is applicable to the question ‘what do you think of technology in education?’

His focus is on the role of technology in gaining knowledge.

There were echoes of David Perkins when he talked about our past and mostly present mode of teaching the teachable and learning the learnable. Despite the technologies we have available to us, our mode of constructing knowledge in terms of the way we teach it, is still grounded in the step by step way we had to do it when we only had pen and paper, rather than a more organic way. In this way, we have become stuck and some ideas are unlearnable because of the way they are represented in the construction of knowledge.

I particularly liked his description of a knowledge system as ‘read only’ and that implication of transmission learning versus active learning and how we should be aiming for a more ‘read-write’ system. Hence the learner is more empowered and they are not merely passive consumers of opaque and mysterious technology.

He said that the limitations did not lie with the technologies but in how we use them.

And how important it was we found new ways to create knowledge.

And how we, as curriculum specialists, need to review the methodology and the way the concepts are approached. Are we teaching them in the same old order unnecessarily, given the technology we have to maybe do things differently, start at a different point? (reminded me of what I have been saying for a while with mathematics….that we should now start with the application and let that lead to the unfolding of the underlying ideas…the playing of the whole game first….)

I also thought of the way some view the IPad. He used the analogy of the first car with indicators…and how they were those little sticky things that poked out from the car to simulate the arm that people used to employ to indicate a turn.

Ie that we recreate what we did before with the new tool.

We shouldn’t be trying to recreate what we do on a laptop with the iPad.

An interesting talk that made me think of different things in different ways…and that is always good.

 

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About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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