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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the tiny oases in the valley of doubt

This is roughly week 4 of my experiment with Trevor on coaching students through a junior-level, largely self-directed learning experience. The course is organized around a single project for improvement on a biomedical device and represents 50% of students course-load, meeting 12 hours per week, and 100% of their materials engineering education for this quarter. There was an institutional conflict this quarter, so that we are only meeting 9 hours per week, 3 hours are "on their own."

We almost entirely stopped lecturing. We do take course time to collectively check in, explain procedures or points of confusion. For the most part, 12 teams of 4-5 students are autonomously pursuing design improvement projects of their own interest. Each individual has the responsibility of learning the posted foundational content on non-crystalline materials and structural materials.

This is the point in the quarter where I usually fear that students are not learning enough.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I am wondering about the metaphor of your teaching. What is the fundamental frame or metaphor of your teaching? Thinking this way is based on a split in linguistics from the syntactic model in Chomsky to a semantic model developed by Lakoff and others.

As an example Lakoff analyzes the fundamental metaphors of the 'conservative' and 'progressive' political landscape. In this he distinguishes between a 'strict father' model (conservative) and a 'family nurturing' model (progressive). He has written a couple of books on this (that include reflection on the deeper structures of brain activity involved in animating such metaphors). There is also an historian and sinologist (Edward Slingerland) who has used this sort of method to explore non-action. He does an analysis of the basic metaphors of self when considering action and non-action.

The method of 'public humiliation' seems to me an expression of some particular frame. Certainly it seems to involve not only an assertion of objective reference to 'right' and 'wrong', but also how to procedurally go about teaching that. So I am wondering, what is your basic frame or metaphor for teaching?