Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Nouns and Verbs

I've spoken and written many times about how puzzled I am that massive, open collaboration on lessons is so rare in the age of Wikipedia and open source software development. Hundreds of people have helped build the Wikipedia articles on Marvel Comics and the planet Mars, and hundreds more have helped build things like the Django web programming framework; why then are teachers still writing all their own slides and handouts?

As is frequently the case, the answer might be that I've been asking the wrong question. When I brought this up last week in an online call organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Phil Barker said:

"One difference between Wikipedia and OER [open educational resources] is that editing Wikipedia is about moving to consensus on facts, [but] editing teaching material is about tailoring it to specific local requirements (different teaching styles, different students, different curriculum standards)."

In other words (and this is my paraphrase, not Phil's) what matters most in teaching is the act itself—the verb. Lessons, lesson plans, exercises, and the like are "just" the nouns, and focusing on them is like focusing on the teacup rather than the tea. This is more or less the point of Elizabeth Green's Building a Better Teacher (which we discussed in the autumn), and is why I was so excited to finally get the second edition of Doug Lemov's book Teach Like a Champion. It doesn't just describe 62 teaching techniques that make a difference: it comes with video clips that show how teachers use them in real classrooms. Unfortunately, only a handful of those videos are freely available, but I hope they will be enough to motivate everyone interested in being a better teacher to borrow or buy a copy of the book.

Dialogue & Discussion

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