Education vs/and Entertainment

Post by Ruth Moeller
Image by: Lost Albatross

I can not believe I am saying this but I am inspired to learn computer programming! As someone with a love/hate relationship with technology (love it when it works/hate it when it doesn’t), you should wonder what has brought this on? I have been cruising Youtube, looking for ideas and resources for my education students (of which there are many, resources that is, but that is a post for another day) when I came across Richard Buckland, and was inspired.

Richard teaching teaches computer programming at UNSW and has posted his lectures online as part of an access project. By the student comments on each lecture, I can see I am not the only one impressed.

When you look at the lectures, and I encourage you to do so, you feel that he is talking to you, or at least a small group of students, not a full lecture theatre. Besides having a t-shirt collection worthy of Sheldon Cooper (see The Big Bang Theory), he exudes a passion for his subject, and sharing that with his students. Importantly from my perspective, he uses good teaching strategies to engage the students.

Watch the first lecture in the subject, and see how he starts to learn student names, cleverly deals with a lighting problem using a 20th century teaching icon, and links his subject to the previous one, even commenting on the students’ assessment from this subject. Can I say, that as a potential student, I would be hooked – he has passion that he wants me to share and is interested in ME, and this is all within the first 20 minutes of the lecture.

I am sure that this will cause many to say “that’s OK for him, but I’m not entertaining and my subject is boring”. Now we have the age old conundrum, entertainment vs education. I understand it would be wonderful if we all had a natural gift for entertainment but for most, teaching is a craft, a series of strategies and techniques held together by practice rather than an art for which we have a gift.

Richard is entertaining but he also uses a range of teaching strategies to engage his students with the content. In my opinion, entertainment can be a trap, you go to a lecture or presentation and it is fun, the presenter is amusing and sharp, has great technology and there is a buzz in the room. But what happens once you leave; what did you learn? Are you just left with a “feel good” factor – not content – sizzle without the sausage?

The trap is being teacher centred, making classes “all about me”, with student laughter being the ultimate reward. On the other hand, good teaching is student focussed, with the learning based on what the students are doing and the aim is to ensure they have achieved the outcomes of the subject. I think this view can be liberating for it values learning over entertainment, student achievement over the feel good factor. Don’t get me wrong, enjoyment and fun with learning is to be desired, not aimed for. For me realistically as an educator, if I can provide good learning by what I do and the strategies I use, I have met my contract with my students.

Having said all that, have a look at Richard, see what you think – consider not only what he is doing but how he does it. Are you as inspired as I am to take up computer programming? If so, I will see you at the lecture.