Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Legos, Maps, DIY & Not-Yetness


Reading Time: 3 minutes

Simplification and an over-pursuit of accountability run counter to our view that education is complex, messy, creative, unpredictable, multi-faceted, social, and part of larger systems.
Amy Collier

I had a conversation with my colleague Sherif (one of the most interesting educators to talk to) last week about how he used a Lego-like activity in a workshop and class. And then yesterday I built a small piece of Ikea furniture (this was part 2 of a piece I had initially built with my daughter awake and distracting me; this one I did while she was asleep – much more efficient).

Sherif had used the blocks in a course design workshop. Once asking faculty to build things without instructions, and once with pictures and/or instructions. He used it as an analogy for course design – that it isn’t enough to throw course components at students and assume you will get learning outcomes. Your syllabus or course design should give some direction as to what outcomes should be.

I, of course, had to share with him what many of my online peers and I were saying about Legos – as Amy Collier’s Not-Yetness videos with her son show, learning can be richer and much more engaging when we give components without giving particular instructions.

Sherif mentioned a similar discussion that occurred in the workshop. His response was that when a washing machine at home gets broken, we probably just want a manual on how to fix it, and not to be expected to play around to figure out what to do.

Right. Reminded me of how Dave Cormier refers to the Cynefin framework. Some problems are simple, or complicated but have specific solutions. There is no good reason to work on these rhizomatically. Direct instruction for the first, and scaffolding for the second works well. It’s complex problems that we need to have a more emergent learning approach for.

But here is the thing. Is education about preparing people for simple/complicated problems that have answers, or preparing them to meet unprecedented ones and figure out wjat to do? Both, I guess, but hopefully more of the latter.

So Ikea furniture. The other day I tried to put together Ikea furniture (it’s in two separate parts) with my daughter awake. I told her they were adult Legos. She thought that meant she could play. Took me a long time to finish but it was fun. I’m not great at following instructions but I managed 🙂

Yesterday I put together the rest of it while she was asleep. Much easier and quicker.

Would I have wanted to be given the pieces of Ikea furniture and told go figure out how to put it together without instructions? Of course not.

But what did I learn? I learned how to put together this particular piece of Ikea furniture. I learned a little bit about how they put stuff together so that my second piece was easier to build than the first and I made fewer mistakes.

But can I now build my own furniture from scratch? No. Do I want to? Not necessarily, but what if I could? What if Ikea furniture was made more like Lego blocks and we were given different options for how to put it together?

The box of blocks Sherif had been using had different pictures on the cover – different ways of putting the blocks together to create different outcomes. I totally understand that sometimes in education we want a specific outcome. A slightly better idea is to offer a variety of outcomes using similar inputs and allow learners choices. And it would be so cool if our components were flexible enough to allow learners to build their own outcomes. Something Michael Weller is writing about these days.

I am thinking of maps. I use maps because I don’t have a great sense of direction. If someone gave me directions to get from point A to point B, they will have taught me just that: how to get from point A to point B. They usually will not have given me options for detours in case of a traffic jam or construction work. But maps give me that. And what about GPS/GIS? If you ever spent time with someone using GPS who isn’t very map literate, you will occasionally see why map literacy is important despite the existence of GPS.

So of course part of education is to ensure learners are able to follow instructions for straightforward things and use automated helpers like GPS. But I think the core of education should be more about helping learners figure their own paths when they get maps – and build their own thing when they get blocks. The possibilities become much bigger that way, don’t you think?

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