Education is Sharing

"BRAIN HUE Collection by Emilio Garcia" from Lapolab on Flickr

This is my response to the first assignment for the Openness in Education MOOC (more info)

The assignment: Think back to a time when you learned something you really value from someone. Write a blog post in which you tell the story of that learning experience using the language of sharing instead of the language of education. What did the other person share with you? What did you share back with them? How many times did you iterate through this cycle of sharing? How was your relationship with the other person transformed (if at all) as you shared with them?

One of my favourite sharing experiences was a Cognitive Neuropsychology module towards the end of my university degree course in Cognitive Science.  I learned about cutting edge research in different aspects of cognitive neuropsychology, such as attempts to build up models of neural processing at different levels working towards a full model of consciousness, memory and attention. In many ways this course was a culmination of the disparate threads that had made up our course up to that point – elements of psychology, artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind.

What was it that made this a memorable sharing experience for me? I think there were a few things:

  • The course was well structured, with interesting learning materials, and a knowledgable and inspiring facilitator who was skilled in managing discussions.
  • We had time to study alone – go off and read, and work on our essays – which suits me. I need individual time to absorb material at my own pace.
  • The seminars were focused and structured around sharing from all participants, and the small size of this group allowed us to have a say.
  • Being assigned different readings to report on made sure that everybody had something valuable of their own to contribute.
  • Pretty much everybody in the group was highly motivated. We had all made it this two and a half years into a tricky and unusual degree. There was a high rate of attrition of people switching to one of the three specialisms that made up the subject, so those that made it this far tended to have a deep and genuine interest .
  • I got a lot out of the course because I felt confident enough to share. It was a subject I have a passion for, with a group of people that I already knew well. Nearly all the group seemed to feel similarly comfortable in this way.

The structure was simple – we would read around the topics in our own time, and get together for a tutorial to hear input from the course leader and share our own thoughts and understanding. We also shared summaries of research papers that had been assigned to us, as well as our own theories on the wider implications of the findings. The course leader, an inspiring psychologist, also shared some fascinating titbits from his own specialist field – abnormal sexual behaviour (he specialised in research into of the psychology of abnormal sexual behaviour, not in carrying it out…).

We met weekly for twelve weeks. The initial sessions were more based on sharing from the course leader, with our input mainly being to show understanding, but as the weeks progressed our own ideas and responses became more and more important. For many of us, the sharing of ideas would often continue past the allotted time over coffee or a pint in the union bar after the seminars.

I think this course strengthened many relationships within our group. By this point in our degree course the small group of cognitive scientists were working on dissertations in different departments and taking many different modules, so this chance to come together as a smaller group and discuss some of the most fascinating implications of our studies kept us connected, which in turn facilitated sharing in other areas.

A final reflection – I realised when thinking about my response to this question, and beginning to think about learning as sharing, that I don’t share unless I feel pretty confident that what I am sharing is good enough. I don’t think that I am along in this.

Perhaps along with the inner two year old that David mentions in his TEDx talk , many of us also have an inner heckler. Our inner heckler tells us that we don’t have anything worthwhile to add. I think this is a key thing to keep in mind when designing open, sharing based education experiences – how do we reduce the fear of judgement and make people feel comfortable enough to contribute?

Photo by Lapolab on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Licence

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