Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Experience and Education




Recently I read John Dewey's "Experience and Education". It is a great book on the nature of education. His central thesis is all teaching must relate back to human experience, and from that premise he explores(quite abstractly) how education should work.   As I read the book I considered how it would apply to my current task of creating and running a MOOC. I found that much of what I am doing aligned perfectly with his recommendations. I believe any good teacher would find that they agree and already practice with much of what Mr. Dewey sets forth in the book. What follows here is a set of notes I came up with while reading the book.


An experience may be immediately enjoyable and yet promote the formation of a slack and careless attitude; this attitude then operates to modify the quality of subsequent experiences so as to prevent a person from getting out of them what they have to give.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 208-209). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
Both aspects of experience must be addressed in education. The experience of learning must be agreeable, and it must have an impact on future student activities. The first is accomplished by the performance of teaching and the relationship of material to environment. The second is harder, but the same thing that makes the material agreeable, relationship to the student’s life, also makes it influence the future life experiences.




the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 231-233). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 


Instead of “teaching” the teacher is to create an experience for the student that relates to their life and brings them to discover a way to proceed through future experiences positively. What is the experience of taking a MOOC? It can be overwhelming and intimidating. So much going on at once, so many things to think about. To make it a positive experience I must guide the student through the environment smoothly. Structures must be in place to meet their questions and support their needs. I think I should lessen the assignment in the first week. There is so much new to learn already, possibly waiting on the tutorial assignments till the second week would be a good move. Introduce the complexity slowly. Give the students success first, so they have a positive experience, then move toward the harder tasks.





It is reduced to a form of words which may be emotionally stirring but for which any other set of words might equally well be substituted unless they indicate operations to be initiated and executed.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 239-240). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Mr. Dewey is referring to a lecture based class where a stirring teacher talks wonderfully, and at the time the students may enjoy the experience, but the material doesn't stay with the students. The student's lack of a true experience limits what they retain and limits the usefulness of this type of teaching.

I believe I fall into this routine often. The truth is I am good at the “performance” of teaching that is being described here. I can talk for hours giving a great lecture and transmitting great information. But, is it becoming kowledge in the student mind? Is the information being received? How important, really, is the quality of the discourse? This book argues that the orator is much less important than the student activity. As a teacher I should stop focusing on the lecture, on the performance. Instead I must focus on the student activity, the student experience. 


I admit gladly that the new education is simpler in principle than the old. It is in harmony with principles of growth, while there is very much which is artificial in the old selection and arrangement of subjects and methods, and artificiality always leads to unnecessary complexity. But the easy and the simple are not identical. To discover what is really simple and to act upon the discovery is an exceedingly difficult task.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 260-263). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

We must question even the foundation of our educational system. It seems he is trying to find a single point to start from: a kernel of truth to build a system of education. His kernel is experience, which makes sense since it is the only thing we all share. If we are to transmit symbolic knowledge(communicate) it must symbolize something we all share, experience. Then the educational system should be built on the social structures we naturally form. Family being an important one, but dictatorships are another structure we also find humans falling into. As he describes “progressive” schools, I find myself thinking of a family model and as he describes traditional school it is more dictatorship related.

The mature person, to put it in moral terms, has no right to withhold from the young on given occasions whatever capacity for sympathetic understanding his own experience has given him.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 358-359). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Make all teaching personal. The teacher must be personally invested in what he/she is teaching. John rarely resorts to "moral terms" in the book. I think this is unfortunate because speaking to the rights and responsibilities of a teacher is valid. I believe establishing a set of "moral responsibilities" for teachers raises their role and importance within society. 


It is, among other things, the need for these abilities on the part of the parent and teacher which makes a system of education based upon living experience a more difficult affair to conduct successfully than it is to follow the patterns of traditional education.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 364-366). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This is a shift in the attitude and needs of a teacher. In this section we are describing a teacher that is actively focused on the dynamic needs of the students. This job is more difficult than reciting the same lecture over and over.  This goes hand in hand with the previous point of being personally invested in the material and in the students. How can this be accomplished when a teacher is already burdened? To focus on the shifting needs of the students is time intensive. Technological solutions and leveraging the power of a large class can help to solve the issue.

Every genuine experience has an active side which changes in some degree the objective conditions under which experiences are had.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 368-369). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Class experiences, to be true experiences, must have an impact beyond the individual, and beyond the classroom. It is a mistake to cloister the classroom. In the MOOC we give the students the ability to change their environment, to build something together (wiki's). 



A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of actual experience by environing conditions, but that they also recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that lead to growth. Above all, they should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worth while.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 379-383). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Teachers must be aware of and even embrace the contemporary social and technological environment. To connect with the experience of the student means having a real knowledge of their life experience. Again, like many recommendations in this book, numerous tasks are placed on the educator. It is difficult to keep abreast of the changing social and technological climate. I feel with the MOOC that I am setting up an experiment for other educators to learn from. It is my hope that my hard work here will be a benefit to future educators. I must take this role seriously and attempt to answer some clear questions. The nature of these questions is the next task I put forth. What am I trying to prove. What can I extract from my teaching experience that can be of clear benefit to future educators?



The principle of interaction makes it clear that failure of adaptation of material to needs and capacities of individuals may cause an experience to be non-educative quite as much as failure of an individual to adapt himself to the material.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 470-472). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The education environment must be adjusted for each individual. Each person has different needs based on his or her live/surroundings/situation etc.. In a mooc with thousands of students how can the educational environment be adjusted on a person to person basis. At first this seems impossible, there is no way for a single teacher to guide thousands of students. The teacher must supply an environment that has all the objective elements that every student would need. Then the teacher must teach the student how to choose what serves them best. Supply videos, text, competition, social interaction, and sound. Then show the student how to pick the best method for them to learn.




What, then, is the true meaning of preparation in the educational scheme? In the first place, it means that a person, young or old, gets out of his present experience all that there is in it for him at the time in which he has it.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 501-502). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Learning needs immediate value. Education can not simply prepare for future lessons. Education must be connected to a practical immediate need in the students current environment.




it is not the will or desire of any one person which establishes order but the moving spirit of the whole group. The control is social, but individuals are parts of a community, not outside of it.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 557-558). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The school was not a group or community held together by participation in common activities. Consequently, the normal, proper conditions of control were lacking. Their absence was made up for, and to a considerable extent had to be made up for, by the direct intervention of the teacher, who, as the saying went, “kept order.” He kept it because order was in the teacher’s keeping, instead of residing in the shared work being done.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 576-579). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Control should not be from above but from the whole. Social systems naturally form structures that support the group. Forcing a top-down order from above will fail. Instead foster the community and create situations which allow leaders to emerge. Teachers have been forced into positions of “dictatorship” by our current system. By removing the teacher entirely and focusing on supporting the community the group will have social experience and will self regulate.





A genuine community life has its ground in this natural sociability. But community life does not organize itself in an enduring way purely spontaneously. It requires thought and planning ahead. The educator is responsible for a knowledge of individuals and for a knowledge of subject-matter that will enable activities to be selected which lend themselves to social organization, an organization in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute something, and in which the activities in which all participate are the chief carrier of control.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 582-585). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This speaks to my previous point. The educator must become a designer of a self supporting educational environment.





But it is certain that the general principle of social control cannot be predicated upon such cases. It is also true that no general rule can be laid down for dealing with such cases. The teacher has to deal with them individually.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 589-590). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

An additional role of the teacher is to support those students that have pre-conditions that make them unfit for the social/experiental learning environment. I am unsure how to provide this in a MOOC. Self exclusion will naturally occur, but that is not ideal. There should be a way to identify struggling students and support them. This deserves more thought.



He must survey the capacities and needs of the particular set of individuals with whom he is dealing and must at the same time arrange the conditions which provide the subject-matter or content for experiences that satisfy these needs and develop these capacities. The planning must be flexible enough to permit free play for individuality of experience and yet firm enough to give direction towards continuous development of power.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 610-613). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

For my MOOC this is particularly difficult. The skill range will be wide, but will largely be on the inexperienced side. The material should assume no prior knowledge so the videos can support the beginner. The advanced student will be supported in the forums and by sufficiently flexible assignments. The assignments and forums must be structured to permit and encourage free play and individuality.

I may have structured my assignments too much, I will reassess the assignments and consider more flexibility and more chances to create music in their creation.





The principle that development of experience comes about through interaction means that education is essentially a social process.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 614-615). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
It is absurd to exclude the teacher from membership in the group. As the most mature member of the group he has a peculiar responsibility for the conduct of the interactions and intercommunications which are the very life of the group as a community.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 615-617). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
I and the TA’s need to be an active part of the MOOC community. Additionally, it is our responsibility to go to the environments where the students already connect. In this instance that would be social media. Creating a facebook page, twitter account, google plus and hangouts will show the student that I am active and involved. It is not enough that they are a part of my community, I must become part of theirs.



The teacher loses the position of external boss or dictator but takes on that of leader of group activities.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Location 622). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This clearly states my role within the MOOC, a leader of group activities.



The particular form a convention takes has nothing fixed and absolute about it. But the existence of some form of convention is not itself a convention. It is a uniform attendant of all social relationships. At the very least, it is the oil which prevents or reduces friction.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 627-629). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The establishing of “politeness” within the MOOC is another responsibility of me as a teacher. I have tried to set an example of professional attitude in the videos. Even more so in the assignments I require they end by thanking the person that will be assessing them. What other ways can I create a peaceful and respectful environment when all these cultures will be interacting? 



There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active co-operation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 699-702). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

I think the purpose and desire of the student is self evident in a MOOC. The student has decided to partake and the continued activity is completely voluntary. I am not sure though this is what is meant by “formation of purposes.” 



The crucial educational problem is that of procuring the postponement of immediate action upon desire until observation and judgment have intervened.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 725-726). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Purpose and the creation of purpose is essential for an effective education. I have striven to give the student the bare facts. In the assignment they are required to consider the implications and devise an example that demonstrates the effective usage of those facts. They, in the assignments, develop a purpose for the knowledge they have been given. The assignment is the postponment of desire. Without the assignment they might move right to experimenting with their own music, while this would be one way to approach the knowledge, it would not support them and their peers nearly as well. This is a major part that divides the active participant from the inactive participant. The inactive participant may get the knowledge, the facts, but will likely be missing the purpose.


It is possible of course to abuse the office, and to force the activity of the young into channels which express the teacher’s purpose rather than that of the pupils. 
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 757-758). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
I need to watch out for this. It would be very easy to consider my exposure and the possibilities of that above the needs of the group. I must make sure that with every decision I make I consider the group, not my desires.


The plan, in other words, is a co-operative enterprise, not a dictation. The teacher’s suggestion is not a mold for a cast-iron result but is a starting point to be developed into a plan through contributions from the experience of all engaged in the learning process. The development occurs through reciprocal give-and-take, the teacher taking but not being afraid also to give. The essential point is that the purpose grow and take shape through the process of social intelligence.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 761-764). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Online education can be very rigid and can rigidly adhere to previous teaching methods. Using videos and a predetermined syllabus can reduce the change of give and take being described here. Much of the flexibility of a classroom is removed. In this way I think we should keep the structured portion of the class as minimal as possible. Reduce the videos to the bare essentials and focus on the community. In this aspect I believe I have mis-stepped with my course. When I started the material I was thinking of a traditional classroom and my previous highly structured online teaching practices. Hopefully the video content will not be overwhelming to the students and will give them time to really take part in the course. Too many videos and too much information is possibly my biggest fear with running this course.


It thus becomes the office of the educator to select those things within the range of existing experience that have the promise and potentiality of presenting new problems which by stimulating new ways of observation and judgment will expand the area of further experience.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 789-791). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

In choosing subjects to teach the teacher must first make a connection with the student’s life experiences. In teaching music this would mean starting with music the student already knows and possibly loves, then developing a language of sound based on those previous experiences. This is an area I may have failed at in my MOOC. There are distinct limitations on what I can use. Ideally I would play professional popular music, but there are copyright issues. How can this deficiency be solved? I will attempt to create listening rooms in the forums. Places where students can play music and analyze it based on the knowledge they just acquired. 


The educator by the very nature of his work is obliged to see his present work in terms of what it accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, for a future whose objects are linked with those of the present.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 798-799). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

What do I hope to achieve with this course? I hope to empower people to make music and to educate each other. I see the future of 101 classes like this one to be self supporting communal structures. The basic knowledge in any field is already shared by all. With a quality structure the class will be self supporting. What are the needs of this structure? That is a question I will be examining in detail as the next month goes on, and beyond!


There is nothing in the inherent nature of habit that prevents intelligent method from becoming itself habitual; and there is nothing in the nature of emotion to prevent the development of intense emotional allegiance to the method.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 872-874). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 


I completely agree with this. Logical thinking and scientific method is a habit. And if we were all to adopt this habit the world would function in a much better way. This book is largely focused on teaching youth, and I support the methods he is espousing. In my case I attempt, particularly in the effect sections, to apply a scientific method. I break the devices down to their bare essentials, and expose their inner workings. From their musical usage becomes possible and perhaps apparent. Beyond the material I hope this encourages the student to take a scientific approach to working with new pieces of gear. It is my hope that they see the scientific approach I took in learning and teaching this material and they begin to apply it in their own life, even beyond music technology.



Activity that is not checked by observation of what follows from it may be temporarily enjoyed. But intellectually it leads nowhere. It does not provide knowledge about the situations in which action occurs nor does it lead to clarification and expansion of ideas.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 946-948). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

I may have fallen into this trap. In formulating the MOOC I have chosen to introduce a very wide range of topics. Particularly in the first few weeks the topics come quickly and  I may be presenting them from a point of authority: “this is a fact, remember it”. This runs in accordance with traditional practices, but contrary to what is being suggested here. I should formulate a hypothesis “I believe this is true” then test it experimentally as a demonstration before stating it as fact. It is my hope that some of this experimental learning will happen in the assignments. I must make it obvious that I want to be challenged. That the student should be constantly skeptical about what I say. The student should challenge my “facts” and devise experiments to prove me wrong. If I am proved wrong, wonderful, the teacher and the student body is all the better for it! If I am proved right, in developing the challenging experiment the student has gained real experimental and experiential knowledge.


scientific method is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live. It means that scientific method provides a working pattern of the way in which and the conditions under which experiences are used to lead ever onward and outward.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 958-960). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Couldn’t agree more, apply scientific method to all we do. This is becoming more an more the way. Contemporary “lean startup” models of business development emphasize testing and experimenting. Technology has made the experimental model more possible, surveying and computers make information retrieval and digestion easier than ever. This approach must be applied within the class for the students and on the class as well. The success of the course must be analyzed with the scientific method and reviewed and adapted from that point on. We must take time to establish the parameters of this experiment, the metrics of success, the methods of data acquisition and analysis, and the mechanism of adapting the course for future terms.




IN WHAT I HAVE SAID I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based upon experience— which is always the actual life-experience of some individual. I have not argued for the acceptance of this principle nor attempted to justify it.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 968-971). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The entire book is based on this premise. Everything he says follows logically from this beginning. To accept what he says throughout the book you must first accept this premise. I agree with it. All we can possibly know is known through an experience of ourself or is a recounted experience of someone else. To take his premise means that all we teach we must relate back to a human experience because human experience is all that we have in common, that is the common ground between humans. There is a chance of building up too many layers of theoretical abstraction which distances the material from the experience.

There is a practicalness to this method that is appealing and for the vast majority of disciplines it seems entirely appropriate. I wonder if this sort of practical approach will lead to those huge paradigm shifting moments, the eureka moments. Does a theoritical/conceptual mode of teaching and learning help us to conceive beyond experience?




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