“Play can be defined as the tension between rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules. But when play happens within a medium for learning – much like a culture in a petri dish – it creates a context in which information, ideas, and passions grow.”
As I read through the first chapter of A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, I kept thinking about the “old” culture of learning that defined my educational experiences. As a young educator, this may be blasphemous to say (and perhaps even self-sabotaging for future career prospects), but I shall be honest and forthcoming – I do not enjoy schoolwork. I enjoy many things about school itself: friends, clubs, community, comradery, organizing for a cause, exploring new ideas, introspection, etc. All that stuff I loved as an undergrad at UCLA. I just wish that studying – the very thing that I needed to do to stay as a student – wasn’t so boring and dreary and isolating. Essentially, studying was the exact opposite of the very things I loved about being an undergrad. I only came so far through school because my parents drilled into me the value of hard work and how school is the singular thing that provides the greatest advantages in life. Without the guidance (and pressure) of my parents to do well in school, I could have easily dropped out and moved onto do other things in life.
Traditional schooling as delivered by higher education is the very antithesis of what it means to learn for me. Of all the things I learned from UCLA, the lingering lessons I derived came not from the lecture hall or from overpriced unbound (and unreturnable) textbooks, but from working and collaborating with fellow undergrads outside the classroom. In the end, I still had to follow the rules of being a student which means I had to study. But I found a certain freedom between the books and lectures to pursue learning that was invisible to the tracking of GPA and test scores. I created this space for myself which allowed me to survive long enough to graduate with a degree.
So why do I want to teach despite admitting to ‘not liking schoolwork’?
To be clear, I do love education. I love and believe in education’s ability to transform and empower people to explore and change themselves and their world. It’s just that the traditional schoolwork scheme (i.e. teachers lecturing to students while students passively receive and remember information to be spit out on a test or essay) just happens to get in way of what I love about education.
Chapter 2: A Tale of Two Cultures
“From this perspective, therefore, the primary difference between the teaching-based approach to education and the learning-based approach is that in the first case the culture is the environment, while in the second case, the culture emerges from the environment – and grows along with it.”
I have a clear vision of the kind of teacher I want to be. I want to foster and facilitate student-lead inquiry which empowers students to guide and direct their own learning within a collaborative environment that harnesses and utilizes the vast network of information available via technology.
But how do I create this?
This chapter helped provide a bit of clarity on one aspect of that vision. As an educator, I must create an environment which has the proper conditions to foster a new culture of learning. This is why the first the few weeks of a new classroom are so crucial in establishing a collaborative learning community. Those days spent getting to know each other and establishing community is just for fun – it is an investment in helping to create a culture of learning.
Chapter 3: Embracing Change
“Embracing change and seeing information as a resource can help us stop thinking of learning as an isolated process of information absorption and start thinking of it as a cultural and social process of engaging with the constantly changing world around us. Once again, the experience of children can show the way.”
Yes and yes to playing with the world around us. The authors made a compelling argument for the value of play in an ever-changing world. Children use play to process the massive influx of new information. As they get older, their worlds become more stable and the need for play diminishes. In today’s modern world, the internet is a giant playground overflowing with information and new experiences that adults must learn to “play” through in order to access and process that information in a useful way.
I always believed in the power of play, but the authors here really helped me conceptualize and articulate why play isn’t just for kids. Even so, I am still wondering how, as a young teacher, do I foster and reignite this sense of play in my own students?
Thomas, Douglas, and John Seely Brown. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace?, 2011. Print.