Rock Band Academy

Rock Band
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The more I teach… and the more I see and use technology within education… the more I get anti-teaching.

This technology business and all my active involvement with Web 2.0 and education stuff have taught me a few things, I believe. In a few words, I’m thinking and thinking these days that education done the way we do it is doomed. Really. Not really, because there is a big establishment which just wants the status quo and keeps pretending all is fine with our education system. But again, observation tells me the **only** systems which seem to work are the elementary school system (someplace), and the doctoral, phd style systems. Why? Because the are essentially based on **doing** things.

Check the Rock Band game of our sons and daughters. There’s a nice tutorial which teaches how to “play” the guitar. It’s divided in parts, and each segment gives you the chance to try things out. You get feedback, too! If at the end of a segment, you haven’t shown much mastery of the craft, you get a polite suggestion to repeat it. It’s damn good, and effective. What’s mind-boggling is that it is 100% behaviorist. Why, you say. Well, people would argue that learning to “play” RockBand-guitar is not really learning to play guitar, and more importantly, that it is “just” a skill which is being learned.

Game designers have known it all along, and they make instructional tools which work and which kids actually want to believe in. Now, elementary school research has produced a lot of results in both behavioral and cognitive science. Are these results being used or discussed in the higher education environment?

It seems they are not. The only environment in college-level education in which this research and our best educational practices are **systematically** employed is at the phd level. Why? Because phd’s are based on the apprenticeship model, the lab, the doing-and-learn model.

Would I like to sit down and listen to my lessons for 1:20? Once in a while, sure! But twice a week? NO-WAY!!! I’d fall to the ground.

So, what am I doing? Well, little by little, I’m starting to change my focus at school, and I see myself **doing** classes, more that teaching them. In fact, I advise my students that learning is almost certainly **not** going to “happen” in this circumstance…! And I’m trying to shift my attention from explaining things to telling things and stories; from communication of knowledge to activities that allow me to learn. Yes: I’m beginning to believe there’s no happiness in teaching unless the teacher learns as well.

Going back to the Rock Band Academy, what’s going on isn’t actually 100% behaviorist. There is a big component based on the idea (as old as writing itself) that **simple repetion** of a simple task triggers some pattern recognition in the learner’s mind, which some dare label as learning! This means that by recognizing a pattern, one’s mind is able to build an **abstraction** (knowingly or not) of some concept. This **is** learning. An English teacher of mine (he was Scottish!) used to give me a couple of examples on the usage of a certain expression. Then we went through a series (repetition) of exercises. He corrected me when needed. At some pont, the abstraction **emerged**, naturally, without any need to study a grammar rule. I learned the concept. Something in my mind was different. I could even see the “effects” of this learning in the world.

Thus, a skill-learning activity, is really higher-level, “true” learning. Consider what happens when you learn to plat the “real” guitar. Same as before, you will need a lot of skill-learning, and you need a lot of non-higher-level learning, and lots of practice of these skills. Now, magically, you get to interpret Mozart. Would anyone say this is still not higher-level learning?

Now, distance education has taught us that the classical conference, when taped or filmed does not work at a distance. Thanks to DE and the new Web-based education movement, we are now asking ourselves: does it really and always work in a classic environment? Do we have hints it does not, and perhaps keep on doing it because it is easier and already built in the system?

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About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
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