Today’s inspiration comes via Shimon Schocken, a computer science professor and dedicated educator. From a long and inspirational line of “life-long, tenacious self-learners”, the Schocken family’s back story could well be the basis of the NZC. They achieved remarkable results driven by a sheer passion for learning and knowledge despite being unable to access a formal education. His parents and grandparents instilled in the young Shimon the importance of learning for learning’s sake.
Shimon spent five years deconstructing a computer to create the tools and infrastructure that would enable his students to build a computer in one semester. Why? Because along with his colleague Noam Nisan, he was concerned that as computers became more complex, students were unable to see the forest for the trees i.e. they were losing the ability to think for themselves. Schocken then made the building blocks freely available in open source on the web. This allowed others with what he calls a “hacker mentality” to set up their own courses. Not surprisingly, educators who were similarly motivated by instilling a passion to learn used those resources to create a raft of programmes and projects of their own. I don’t pretend to understand his building blocks, nor would I envisage using them myself BUT I do like his thinking.
Schocken’s talk gets to the heart of an ongoing challenge for anyone responsible for guiding Gen Y in the learning process. Motivation. I’ve been reading up on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and I reckon that if young people aren’t extrinsically motivated, they will struggle to take the step up to being intrinsically motivated to learn. Why are they lacking basic motivation? Sometimes I feel it’s because they have had too much done for them over the years. And based on Schocken’s observations, if the mechanism for learning itself takes away some of the inquiring process, then a lot of young people will stop wondering at all! So break it down and let them build it up from scratch. It seems like a huge leap of faith especially for new teachers but if we can create the environment, provide them with the resources and some guidance, maybe they will learn.
More importantly, we have to let them fail.
Schocken abhors the college grading system. He believes it takes the fun out of failing which is a “huge part of education”. This must strike a chord with anyone working in the tertiary sector (not to mention secondary and oh, hang on a minute, now our primary colleagues). Schocken bemoans a system that worships grades, doesn’t tolerate mistakes and where eventually “grading becomes degrading”. Sound familiar anyone?!
Anyone I’ve probably given far too much away again so enjoy for yourself when you can.