Collaborative Learning

October 1, 2012

Today I took a class, who are usually glued to their computer screen, into a room without computers. I got them to form groups of four, each with complementary skills and launched them on developing ideas for a project with paper and pencils.

I am really impressed by the change in dynamic this brings about: they are all absorbed and productive. Usually they are isolated before their screens: caught between the work in hand and Facebook and Utube and online games. Here they are engaged. Collaborative learning really works!

Learning is not linear

July 5, 2012

There are three simple and central truths at the centre of learning:

“We have to shake off the ancient tyranny of two misconceptions about education; that what is taught is learned, and what is not taught is not learned.”

Daniel Federman

“Learning is not linear.”

Neil Postman

 You cannot teach something that a student does not want to learn and that the moment that a subject becomes necessary or interesting, or both, we learn amazingly fast. Being interested; understanding, means finding a connection; a spark, a link between our own notion of what the world is and what we are experiencing. If we do not find that link we have no motivation and become bored.  It is a simple truth: education means to lead out, not to stuff in.

Phillip Pulfrey

The fact that these realities are not taken into account by the educational system lead to the conclusion that, like the economic system, it is not about human good, but the control of resources by a limited minority that sell slavery as freedom and a specific vision as the only workable paradigm.

To the CM 410

April 26, 2012

The idea of my courses is to render you free; so you work for yourselves, not the teacher or the grade. So that you do not rest passive before the system but become independent, questioning and creative.

This requires a lot of work: more engagement and discipline. You have to be exigent with yourself. You have to be organized., rigorous and target your own aims, that will send you further and higher than those of the school system.

Always have an eye on yourself: look at your habits; where you are efficient and where you waste time or are not precise in your work or thinking. What you have mastered and what you need to learn.

I always have the impression that you are good, motivated and engaged, but that there is a lack of discipline and efficiency in many of you.

To be really good, and satisfied, you have to work on this level.

Go for it: fly!

Learning to be free

February 12, 2012

As I have already explained to you, I don’t teach but try to help you to learn. That is, work with your motivation and interests,

This requires the development of certain skills on your part: application, rigour, self-discipline, the capacity for “deliberate practice” and self-evaluation.

I have observed that you have enthusiasm and engagement in your studies but sometimes lack that rigour required by companies: respect for deadlines, attention to detail and a professional level of presentation and overall quality. A few members of the class that have already worked do have these capacities.

So I am faced with a dialectic: I can be more strict and directing, giving you a sequence of specific tasks with short deadlines and grade them strictly. Some parents and teachers might say that this is my job and how you learn the rigour of which I speak.

However, the research show that such an approach renders you dependent, not independent and encourages you to give up responsibility for your own studies. To be truly free you have to develop your own discipline.

This is not easy in our modern world: I have one image of the contemporary classroom that is so strong that I dream about it: a student with headphones, a game, Facebook and Vimeo open on the computer and an iPhone by his hand – absorbed and distracted! A researcher at the university of Zurich has found that such behaviour is fundamentally handicapping the ability to learn.

You need to be able to control these tools/toys and not let them control you, otherwise you are being manipulated and not in control of your own life: your ideas and habits directed by the interest of business, power systems such as school and advertising. I want you to be free.

I wish to help you develop this self-discipline and, on your advice, the first thing I am going to do is make my deadlines and requirement more clear!


November 11, 2011

In class with a well prepared lesson and well thought out ideas, but that is not what it is about: my ideas are complicated and arise out of a lifetime of reflection on design. To learn we have to engage a subject and turn it into our own language. The problem of teaching is how to create the interest and engagement and keep the students focused on the subject in hand. To allow freedom while creating  discipline and direction. Our media give enormous potential for freedom and learning, yet without the tools of discipline, concentration and focus students simply fall into distraction.

To enter into the thoughts and viewpoint of someone else: to share and communicate. To  have openness and imagination and respect for the other. To move from self to a more global and balanced view of reality. This is education.

Communication or isolation?

September 29, 2011

We speak of a communication revolution; a growing communication network through digital technology yet my masters degree research showed that people feel more isolated in the classroom while working with computers. I am in class: I look out on a room full of students wearing headphones and absorbed in their screens: they are working – they have a project to hand in tomorrow, yet there s no sharing or communication. I see this situation more and more frequently. The computer does not seem to encourage collaboration: it takes constant effort to master it as a tool and not become its slave!


September 19, 2011

The traditional school system is based on a model of external control: fixed subject hours, presence sheets, evaluation, and assessment which maintains a teacher-imposed, performance-based structure held in place by the extrinsic motivation of reward and punishment. It imposes how, when and what a student learns: limited and controlled content is delivered from a teacher to a captive audience. Yet, there is an enormous amount of  research that show that learning is neither linear nor sequential and the paradigm we apply hinders, rather than helps, learning:

“Student development is multidimensional rather than sequential, and prerequisite leanings cannot be conceptualized as neatly packaged units of skills or knowledge”. (Sadler, 1989)

As DK Holland (2011) writes “The goal of any prison is to maintain control”; school is not about education as I understand it: that is to develop autonomous free-thinking, questioning individuals, but rather about a Foucauldian process of normalization (Foucault, 1979) brought about through power and control mechanisms. The aim is to socialize individuals to accept their place within an existing system and to uphold the status quo. It is for this reason the unequivocal finding of research done over the last hundred years including 900 studies (Johnson and Johnson, 2000) has never been truly instigated within the school system.

I come back to my painting of Icarus: my Icarus is not allowed to fly; the wings of his imagination and possibility are firmly tethered to a system of power and control. As a teacher I watch what well-intentioned systems can do to the fledgling potentials before me; enthusiasm and originality dampened to acceptance and conformity. This image is about my frustration.

I want to help students become autonomous, creative and freethinking. I seek their active involvement, not their passive acceptance and yet I find that we put in place more and more systems of control and limitation: the focus is not on efficient learning but on controlled presence and grades. Given the right environment these things become irrelevant: one of my classes spent two weeks of their holiday finishing a project, after all the grades had been handed in, because they wanted to.

Instead of spending our time trying to fix content and the order of learning we should be thinking about setting up dynamic, cooperative environments that tap in to the students’ own motivation and learning patterns.

As John Dewey wrote, there is no game without rules and removal of control does not mean removal of structure. Freedom is the freedom to think, not to fall into another form of external manipulation and control because of a lack of intellectual tools to order and judge information. The rules arise out of mutual respect of a group working together and the structure comes from the providing tools and methods of working and dealing with information.


 Foucault, M.: (1979) Discipline and Punish, Penguin

HOLLAND, D.K. (2011) Blow Up the Design School!, Communication Arts May/June issue

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., Stanne, M.B.: (2000) Cooperative Learning Methods: A Meta-Analysis, University of Minnesota

Sadler, D.R. (1989). ‘Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems’, Instructional Science 18(2), 119-141.