Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blessed are the beginners

I found this by Lion Kimbro buried deep in a discussion on a Wikiversity talk page: Thoughts from some random guy. It asks, "Who should be authoring the text books?" and makes a compelling case that it should be the learner:

The idea is that people who are less knowledgeable about a subject very much should be a primary actor in the authoring of the text. Not the sole actor- you need experienced people to perform correction, offer up alternative explanations, to make sure that it's not wrong. But I think that beginners have unique advantages in teaching other beginners. Reasons: They understand their own misunderstandings. They have strong empathy with other learners, because they are at the same place, or just a single step beyond. The beginner is motivated by the need to make their understanding more concrete. (As different than the bored expert, (this is not a criticism, just noting a fact,) who has already covered the subject material a million times over.) It is conceivable that a vast lattice or network of beginners can, if properly made to understand what they are doing and why and how, and that there are people who will correct them if they mis-state a thing, that they could make far better artifacts for teaching, than the teachers themselves.

One example I like to point people to is the "Hippo Family Club" series of books, including the amazing "Who is Fourier?" (Read the reviews!) The book teaches Fourier, from the beginning, assuming only that the reader knows what a triangle is. It's a fantastic book, people swear by it, and it's written by students who were learning Fourier. Lots of diagrams, lots of plain language explanations, etc., etc.,.; By-beginners, for-beginners, supervised by experts. No doubt the kids made mistakes as they were learning & authoring, and they were corrected by experts, to keep the text in course.

Brilliant! This is all about respecting learners. Being open to the idea that everyone has something to contribute.

You know what is best about this model? It flat scales. There are no boundaries to what can be accomplished when you turn people loose.

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