When Ideology meets Practicality

As I go through instructional objectives, professional development ideas, and learning theories, I often wonder about the application of the materials presented.  When does the “rubber meet the road?”  I think that there are a few of us out there that thrive on the idea that it is our job to problem solve those practical application dilemmas.  

I think back to my early teaching days and try to remember what it was like.  I remember being introduced to a ton of learning theories, ideas and scaffolds.  However, I really don’t remember being taught how to practically apply those theories (for example, Project-based Learning).  I thought I understood that PBL was about students learning from doing projects.  What I didn’t fully realize until after 10 years of teaching Fine Arts was that PBL is not about doing an occasional project.  It is about adapting the learning through application of the material in relevant exercises consistently. 

We are humans.  As humans, we crave consistency.  We look for patterns in everything we see, hear, or do.  As a designer, I learned that beauty is not “in the eye of the beholder” so much as it is about balance and relevance.  We look at super models or movie stars that we associate with and think they are beautiful because their bodies and faces are symmetrical.  That symmetry is about equal consistency.  We learn through repetition of actions and thoughts, otherwise there would never be a need to practice anything.  So that being said, when we create a standalone project for a class, we cannot expect it to meet the criteria for project-based learning, because we are not being consistent in the style or manner of teaching.  Why would we expect students to miraculously extrapolate information from a project unless we have scaffolded and taught those learning techniques?  I mean, students don’t instantly know how to take notes in a class.  We have to teach them.  So why would a student need to learn how to learn from projects unless we teach them how?

Sometimes it is difficult to speculate about what “cog” is missing from a system to help it function properly.  However, I think my generation is more prone to the level of problem solving necessary because we didn’t have computers everywhere when we were students.  If we were interested in computers, we had to learn the basics of programming, why things work, and always create flowcharts.  When you map out how and why a system works, it is easier to see that point at which (in this case) the learning transitions from theoretical ideology to practical application.  Flowcharting has now sort of morphed into mind-mapping.  However when that happens it is primarily seen as a planning pre-project stage and not a reflective analytical tool.

Ideology is the bedrock and foundation for instructional application.  However, without a strong plan of action like a blueprint, that application cannot occur.  Want to know the difference between Artists and Designers?  Artists create art.  Designers intentionally create a pre-planned idea and then reflect upon it to see if it is worthy or not to be called art.

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