Connecting Some Dots

shallows…or maybe not connecting some dots…  Thinking about two blog posts this morning how they weave into thoughts about online teaching and learning.

The first was by Debbie Morrison – “What the Internet is Doing to Our Education Culture: Book Review of The Shallows“.  Debbie reviewed the book by Nicholas CarrThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  She finds that Carr does not make a compelling argument that the internet makes our thinking more shallow, but she does find that the book suggests that we in education have turned to the internet for “efficiencies.”  Debbie stated:

“…the theme of efficiency as it relates to the Internet extends to our education culture—institution leaders, politicians and administrators seeking efficiency in practices and methods (automated grading, online courses with great numbers of students, etc.) Efficiency is not a ‘bad’ outcome to strive for, yet the idea of efficiency in education is frequently referenced in terms of increasing or maintaining education outcomes, with fewer resources…”

Now let me juxtaposition this with the other blog I read, from Gardner Campbell (…and in full disclosure, Gardner is my Vice Provost for Learning Innovation…and we in the CTE work for him).

Gardner has a thought-provoking post in “Understanding and Learning Outcomes.”  He discusses the historical shift from a teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm, and then adds:

“…Yet something is deeply amiss, in my view. As we seek to perfect the language and institutionalization of a culture of “learning outcomes,” it seems we are necessarily moving toward a strictly behaviorist paradigm of learning, away from what Jerome Bruner refers to as the “cognitive turn” in learning theory and ever more deliberately toward a stimulus-response paradigm of learning. This behaviorist turn can be very sophisticated and refined. The behaviors specified, measured, and tracked can be cognitively demanding “smart human tricks.” There can even be qualitatively measured learning outcomes, though it appears these are less frequent than quantitative metrics, for reasons I think are obvious. Yet these are still behaviors, specified with a set of what I can only describe as jawohl! statements, all rewarding the bon eleves and marching toward compliance and away from more elusive and disruptive concepts like curiosity or wonder…”

Gardner noted that no matter the taxonomy used, they all suggest that learning outcomes should use specific language and should clearly indicate expectations of student performance (…and I would add – “measurable” expectations of student performance).  Gardner pushed my thinking by asking how we get from
“students will…” to a valuing of our “students’ will”.


Gardner goes into further detail about learning objectives and how a focus on rigid taxonomies assumes a linear approach to learning, avoiding concepts such as “understanding” and “appreciation”…concepts at the core of what makes us human.  He asks “…does a learning paradigm that avoids “understanding” and “appreciation” reduce symbolic behavior to indexicality alone?”

I would add…does it devalue learning in favor of efficiency?

Gardner links to Chapter 6 in the 1974 Jerome Bruner book Towards a Theory of Instruction, in which Bruner discusses the “will to learn.”  In this digital age, this could be expanded to:

  • the will to create
  • the will to remix
  • the will to connect
  • the will to share

The question for me is how we provide open experiences for our students to co-construct knowledge (and wisdom) with us?  Is our teaching and learning “do to…” or “do with…”?


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