Friday, October 15, 2010

Herzogian Pedagogy: A New Order in Education

I was meditating on the pedagogy of online learning and personal learning networks, and I could not get Werner Herzog's Rogue Film School out of my mind.  I love the spirit of this, and I can't believe that I have not written on this before. Reading about his idea of the film school has the potential to totally transform ideas about professional development. The goal of our education workshops can be to push the participants to their utter-most physical and emotional limits so that they realize Ecstatic Truth (or they are eaten by a bear, which can also happen).
Seriously though, I have been skirting around the edges of this course on personal learning networks and the nature of learning in classrooms and online. There is a big difference between what happens in a learning management system and in a personal learning network. I like the idea of seminars over formal classes. I have learned a lot on my own and I think I have created some courses that allow for the participation of the odd autodidact (my learning style). In a Health Information Management course that I co-designed with the brilliant and plucky Char Gore, we took the 23 Things model which is like a Web 2.0 version of Abbey Hoffman's "Steal This Book." We utilized a learning management system only has a content repository of training materials for communication, connectivity tools, and collaboration. And whether you position yourself as a constructivist or connectivist, one still has to account for the solitary act of thinking critically and deeply.
The pedagogy implied by his film school creates a useful guide for any kind of creating and learning. I weeded out things that are only important to iconoclastic ego maniacs and when you take out the celebrity factor, one is left with a surprisingly lucid template. Here are 12 of the things I learned from Werner Herzog:
  1.  Seminars are held at infrequent intervals in varying locations. Learning has its own rhythm and the "typical" student may work or have other scheduling issues. Does learning really happen EVERY morning at 8:00 AM? Why can't courses be flexible with a multimodal delivery? One day a student should be able to participate online or go to a class.
  2. The number of participants will be limited to a maximum of 65. This a an artificial restriction. I have been in courses where there were 300 students - massive open courses - where the teacher eventually became irrelevant. Teachers often suffer from the "sage-on-the-stage" syndrome. Even in open courses. But there comes a point where one has to ask as an instructional designer, what is the effective learning space for this class? For whatever arbitrary number is chosen, how does this course accommodate the engagement and interactivity needed for successful learning?
  3. "Locations and dates will be announced on this website..." The seminar uses a central hub of communication. This is not a restriction, but an organizational issue. Classes, organizations, and seminars flounder when there are too many places to get information and no central space to retrieve it. It is a classic way to keep people in the dark if you are not interested in sharing power or information btw.
  4. Do not teach anything technical. What this says to me is that the discussion of how your work reveals truth in the everyday world will be more important than discussions about the theories that led to a truth. An example might be critical thinking. There are a lot of technical and neurological discussions about what thinking might be but nothing replaces a demonstration of critical thinking using the day's news.
  5. Learning is not about a subject but about a way of life; it is about creating a climate that makes learning possibleWe have to teach students how to learn. But it is more than that; there has to be some point to their learning. Kenneth Rexroth said this best in Classics Revisited: "He [Plato] defined education as we would: as training of personality to absorb the greatest possible scope and intensity of meaning and value from experience."
  6. The focus of the seminars will be about a dialog in which the participants will have their voice in their projects, questions, and aspirations. This was where Herzog placed himself at the center of the seminars. What I find is that the students learn as much or more from their interactions with one another as they do from the information you provide as a teacher. Facilitating this interaction becomes vitally important.
  7. Student work will be presented. Depending on the materials, the attention will revolve around essential questions:...How do you create illumination and an ecstasy of truth? The most important phrase here is "essential questions." What are the essential questions for work in your discipline? Are they already decided? What would happen if you and your students negotiated and argued for those essential questions? Maybe the work of education is to look for those questions.
  8. Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully. The athletic side of filmmaking. The creation of your own shooting permits. The neutralization of bureaucracy. Guerrilla tactics. Self reliance." This one needed to remain whole as a quote. In an atmosphere of open research and open textbooks, there has never been a better climate for rogue scholars. All of the great ideas started out on the fringe and the institutions of education are designed to keep them there for as long as possible.
  9. "Censorship will be enforced. There will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your Boundaries, and Inner Growth." Again, I think classes have to decide what the focus of the class will be and what is appropriate or not. I find "censorship" a little fascistic but I have also been in classes that became therapy sessions instead of literature courses.
  10. Related, but more reflective, will be a reading list. Required reading: Virgil’s “Georgics”...The Warren Commission Report...Bernal Diaz del Castillo “True History of the Conquest of New Spain." At first I thought this was a bit a a joke. And then I began to think about the works listed. Reading the books he requires take patience, reflection, attention, and focus. This is something we do not teach anymore - sustained attention.
  11. "Required film viewing list.." One should always use a wide variety of media; this accounts for different learning modalities but also provides a fresh perspective on old problems. Again, this list should be negotiated but the seminar respects solitary focused learning and the social dimension of a shared experience which can provide a shared language and critical tools.
  12.  "Follow your vision. Form secretive Rogue Cells everywhere. At the same time, be not afraid of solitude." And this last one needs no comment.
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