Teach Like a Dandelion Not a Mammal

(cc) http://www.flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/434872938/

Teach like this.

I was still thinking about Connectivism when I read “Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity,” Chris Anderson’s article in Wired magazine. The article is an excellent interpretation of how the increasing ubiquitousness of technology has changed our relationship to it. The central metaphor here is how two very different organisms, dandelions and mammals, reproduce.

Dandelions reproduce by scattering as many seeds as possible, a tiny fraction of which will take root and grow. Fish, and many other kinds of animals, reproduce this way too. By contrast, mammals in general, and humans in particular, typically produce far fewer offspring and work much harder to ensure each one survives. Technology has become so cheap that it, too, can be scattered everywhere. This has the potential to change everything from business to education.

One example from Anderson’s article is the medium of video. Broadcast television, the traditional way video is viewed, operates like a mammal. Each television show is research, cast, scripted, piloted and refined before it airs because media companies need to be certain their shows will be watched millions of viewers in order to attract advertisers. But YouTube, which is free, behaves like a dandelion. Countless videos are posted, the best of which are viewed millions of times, while others may never be viewed at all.

Anderson inludes lots of other examples, but I really got to thinking about how to teach like a dandelion. This brought me back to Connectivism. One issue that I think Connectivism addresses nicely is that students can make connections to knowledge that are appropriate for their own individual learning style. For example, listening to two people talking on a YouTube video may be very useful for auditory learners, while visual learners might prefer to see a chart outlining a topic or idea.

I often use a course management system (CMS) with my classes and post links to a variety of resources for my students. For example, when teaching grammar, I often post copies of my presentation materials, notes I make in class, practice quizzes, YouTube videos, and other resources. But what if I posted more? And what if I encouraged my students to post more? Maybe we could break out of the CMS by devising a common tag based on the course number, and we could all tag resources using a social bookmarking tool like Delicious.

Another important aspect of Connectivism is that the teacher should teach students how to evaluate resources. In a dandelion-like world, where countless resources come floating at you on the wind, this will prove to be an essential skill. The technology that will enable this shift in teaching already exists. But will teachers and students, most of whom are mammals, be ready for it?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Teach Like a Dandelion Not a Mammal

  1. Fantastic post! I’ve gotta let my backbrain stew on this a bit. I am ALL IN FAVOR of this. That said, the more dandelions you strew about, the more some folks (parents, students, other teachers) will be dazed and confused…

    • I agree that the process can become confusing. Another issue is that some students are uncomfortable with the idea that the teacher is not the only source of information. As we encourage them to seek out their own resources, suddenly we are not perceived as teaching.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Robertito

    The thing with dandelions is that the plant doesn’t put too much time and effort into each individual seed. When creating engaging resources becomes less like pushing out an 8 pound baby, and more like scattering seed, I think the dandelion approach will work.

    The key is resource creation tools that are reliable but don’t produce resources that feel formulaic.

    • Great point, Robertito. I was thinking in terms of directing students to pre-existing materials (an idea from this Connectivism video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwM4ieFOotA). Applying the same idea to materials creation is something I hadn’t considered. But perhaps in some ways materials can be crowdsourced.

      For example, as a review exercise in my grammar classes, I often have my students create practice quiz questions focusing on key aspects of structures we’ve been studying in a given chapter. By having a dozen students produce 3 questions each, I get about 36 new questions each quarter. After making any necessary corrections, I can add them to a question pool from which Moodle (or any CMS, I suppose) can randomly pull 10 questions from an ever-expanding pool to create practice quizzes for students.

      The time and energy it would take me to create a dozen quiz questions is akin to a mammal raising a small litter. But technology enables many students to take on this task, producing a dandelion-like volume of questions. And, after a year, I can easily have a question pool of over 100 questions.

      Perhaps there are other ways that technology can make materials creation more dandelion-like too? Thanks for your comment.

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