Teaching talk, let’s talk teaching…

It’s degree show time…a time of year I remember very well from my Loughborough University experience ten years ago – it’s actually the ten-year reunion this summer (I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going yet). In part, I wish I could go back in time to experience it again, yet at the same time, I’m enjoying acknowledging the shift in generations as I teach, educating the next generations of artists and creatives, whilst seeing a change in educational institutions and infrastructures as they finally realise we live and negotiate a local-global-glocal-globalised generation.

As you readers know, I am in a world of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) alongside the completion of my PhD, which includes two courses ‘Supervising Undergraduate Research’ and ‘Supervising Master’s Degree Research’ run by the Centre for Enhancement and Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Birmingham City University in association with the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA). These two courses will go on to contribute to a Masters in Education and Academic Practice that I will complete this Autumn where I am going to focus on internationalising the curriculum and international student cultural assimilation as I feel institutions don’t yet see, develop or utilise the international student community and it’s value that is ever-growing here in the UK. Also, there is nowhere near enough time spent on assisting international students to assimilate to a UK education culture. So much needs to change.

In the last week, I’ve come across a few perspectives that have started to build contexts into this area of research…resonating inside…making me reflect on my teaching practice and future.

RSA ANIMATE – Changing Paradigms

RSA Animate is created from a speech given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education expert and recipient of the RSA Benjamin Franklin award. See the full presentation here. I’ve spoken about Ken before as he is a little bit of a teaching idol to me.

In RSA ANIMATE – Changing Paradigms Ken questions how do we educate our children to take place in the economies of the 21st Century? The second is cultural – every county on earth is trying to figure out how do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities in the process of globalisation. How do you square that circle? They are trying to meet the future by trying to do what they did in the pass. It used to be that if you worked hard and did well you’d get a job…which doesn’t apply anymore. The current system is conceived in a different age of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. Driven by economics at the time and running through it was the enlightenment model of intelligence…what we know as academic ability deep in the gene pool of education…academic and non-academic…smart people and non-smart people. These twin pillars of economic and intellectual model has caused chaos, the modern (fictitious) epidemic…the plague of ADHD. Children are living in the mostly intensely stimulated period of the history of the earth…they are penalised for being distracted. The arts are the victim of this mentality…they address the aesthetic of experience…when your sense are fully awake and alive. We educate children by batches, by age group, by process, by standardisation. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity…it is an essential capacity for creativity, the possibility to see answers to a questions, not just to think in linear ways, to see multiple answers not just one. We all have this capacity and for many it deteriorates as students are told there is only one answer. It is in the gene pool of education…

  1. We need to think differently about human capacity, get over the old conception academic/non-academic/vocational/abstract/theoretical and see it for what it is as a myth;
  2. We have to recognise that most great learning happens in groups and that collaboration is the stuff of growth;
  3. Crucially it is about the culture, habits and habitats of the institutions they occupy.

Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate 1

Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate 2

Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate 3

Yong Zhao talks of the unemployed youth and businesses’ talent shortage…the need to seek a new educational quality and how students face the 21st century…how we redefine the value of talents in the 21st century. A time to redefine the values of talents and knowledge…as machines have taken away many jobs and globalisation taken jobs to other countries. He speaks of the creation of a new middle class…rethink education as a process to create a middle class. Education traditionally is there to create employees…we continue to today this today but we need to do more. The creative class is not the traditional employee class…the rise of the creative class. Creativity in the past was for a few great people…now you have to be creative and create your own job. It is now about the entrepreneurial class. The next generation has to become the job creators…create new opportunities. Don’t think about the jobs lost…we have to rethinking the jobs we can create. The entrepreneur is a spirit…it is about solving our own problems, not others solving them for us. We have arrived in a new age where we are consuming new talents and the undervalued talents now have value. Personalisation…we have so many choices in life, and want this choice therefore need people to create and offer these choices. Art is more accessible and has more value. Can we help our schools to make students more creative and enhance the strength of every child? We need define personal education experiences into product orientated learning – making things – and understand how to market these products. They are within a global market…students need to know how to communicate with these markets and understand other people’s needs. Schools need to become opens stores…geography or locality should not define education anymore, it should be a globalised campus.  He states three ways to create ‘World Class Learners’:

  1. Student autonomy, personalised learning, as the curriculum;
  2. Product orientated learning as the pedagogy;
  3. Globalised campus as the context of learning.

Yong Zhao

I also came across a great article by Yong on his blog – A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners – that I am looking forward to critiquing.

Dr. Yong Zhao is an internationally known scholar, author, and speaker. His works focus on the implications of globalisation and technology on education. He has designed schools that cultivate global competence, developed computer games for language learning, and founded research and development institutions to explore innovative education models.

Noam Chomsky – ‘On Being Truly Educated’

He answers the question of what it means to be truly educated…the core principle and require of a fulfilled human being is the ability to enquire and create constructively and independently…it’s not important what we cover in a class but what you discover…it is creating a student who is in the position to enquire with the resources available…the ability to know where to look, to formulate questions, to find your own way, to shape questions that are worth pursuing and to creating the path to answer them. Where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is an eminent American theoretical linguist, cognitive scientist and philosopher, who radically changed the arena of linguistics by assuming language as a uniquely human, biologically based cognitive capacity. He suggested that innate traits in the human brain give birth to both language and grammar. The most important figure in “cognitive revolution” and “analytic philosophy”, Chomsky’s wide-ranging influence also extends to computer science and mathematics.


I have followed the work of Seth Godin for many years now…including his regular emails of inspiration from his blog that often save my state of mind. In this TED talk he asks the question – what is school for? I don’t think we are answering that question, I don’t think we’re asking that question. We must all agree about how we got here and where we are going. We first have to understand what school used to be for. It used to be about obedience…standardisation. You’ve been taught to hold back. We are products of the industrial age where productivity was brought to the table. It was to train people to behave, to comply, to fit in, to buy stuff, to become consumers. We built a system about interchangeable people. We built school. If it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less…when it’s art, they try to figure out how to do more. We’re at a crossroads in culture…the only thing that is interesting is art, the things that touch us, the things that are valuable. We are up against technology that can teach us everything and stop us from interacting. Seth’s ideas include:

  • Homework in the day with teachers and others…face-to-face, lecturers at night;
  • Open book, open note all the time…not point memorising as we can look it up;
  • Access to any course, anytime in the world, anytime you want to take it;
  • Precise focussed education instead of mass-batch education;
  • No multiple choice exams;
  • Measure experience instead of tests scores;
  • End of compliance as an outcome;
  • Cooperation instead of isolation;
  • Teachers role transforms into coach;
  • Lifelong learning with work happening earlier in life;
  • The death of the famous college.

Myth one: Great performance in school leads to happiness and success. Myth two: Great parents produce kids who produce great performance in schools. Are we asking kids to collect dots or connect dots? We are good as measuring how many they collect…but we teach nothing about how to connect those dots. You cannot teach this is a manual or textbook, you can only do it by putting them in a situation where they can fail. Grades are an illusion. Passion and insight are reality. Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is priceless. Standing out is a long-term strategy, it take guts and produces results. If you care about your work enough and are willing to be criticised for it, it’s a good days work. Ask the question – what is school for? Until we agree what school is for we are not going to get what we agreed.

The fact that this blog post finished on Seth’s quote of connecting dots is purely coincidental yet somehow part of my life ethos of “serendipitous synchronicity”…as my strap-line, catchphrase, way of life is “connecting the dots that people can’t see” so this reinforcement from Seth gives me confidence that I am doing what I do for the right reasons…so keep going wordgirl. It’s all worth it.

Seth Godin


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