Sunday, 19 April 2015

Hello from Baker Lake

I'm a man on a mission. My mission is to demystify knowledge, technical and practical knowledge. This is deliberately a quiet mission for me.

This is something of a paradoxical thing for me as I am someone who is easily swept up by passion and enthusiasm for all things intellectual and abstract. However, having been caught up in minutiae as much as the over-arching themes many times in my life, I feel that I have an excellent vantage point—perpetually-optimistic sunshine of a "beginner's mind" encased in an "old soul".

I'm on a two-month assignment here in Baker Lake to teach introductory courses in Interpreting/Translating. I don't know how the rest of the stay here will pan out but the first part of assignment is done (syllabics typing) and we now await the results of the upcoming final exam. I have no doubt that the students will do well; they all have the drive and enthusiasm of self-learners.

They came in having some idea of where they wanted to go with the course material. They did the work, they learned something. And I was there to watch them struggle with assimilating a new keyboard layout, saw in their eyes the magical a-ha moments as the muscle memory of their fingers began to take hold, and the new self-confidence they acquired as they learned (all in the course of two weeks).

At no time did we physically impose anything on the keyboard. One student was dismayed at first that we wouldn't be putting on those syllabics stickies on the keys. But we persevered in building a mental map of the syllabics keyboard without bothering much with contrived (formalized) techniques and artificial benchmarks of "learning" (distractions to actual learning, I say). And it worked!

I tried to make it a point not to answer questions they hadn't asked yet. There was no such "program". Technical and practical questions arose naturally by themselves as they learned and advanced in the subject. I believe knowledge only takes hold when the learner is allowed to explore and navigate their way through the landscape themselves.

Yet nothing in this approach is without structure or purpose. The ideology is vocational in nature. We present a model; the learner is challenged to try their hand in replicating that model. Technical and practical issues crop up and the learner is forced by the process to address them in practical terms. After a solution(s) is found, the moments of reflection then become productive. The process itself is generative and calls upon the individual's creativity as its engine.

For anyone who's thought about and learned a song or created art or built something with their own hands, this process is familiar. I would liken the process to constructing a scaffold, a Rube Goldberg machine in the head: whatever the complexity and convolution and indirectness of the triggers happened in Newton's head, the process itself was to pare down to the essence of things. A switch turned on and he saw that a reflecting telescope would do away with all the issues of refraction and magnification. This is knowledge acquisition and advancement. It is an interior process.


1 comment:

  1. Wow. These lines are a masterpiece of knowledge, modesty, subtlety and wisdom. Pedagogy in its essence. How priviledged these lives are, individually touched by your teaching, forever.