Blimage Challenge – Bow Tie as Content

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[This is the blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

I have taken a few days to think about this one. Admittedly, I am trying to interpret this image through the lenses of education, but  that is just too broad. I could focus on an individual vehicle arguing that we are all just trying to get somewhere in a larger system that dictates our direction. This interpretation might betray the 10,000 foot view, not to mention the clear overtones of critique. Rather, I am going to use this image as a metaphor for CONTENT.

How many times have we said and heard other instructors say something like: “I have too much content to cover and not enough time!” Although I have not only heard this sentiment, I have said it and felt it deeply. Nonetheless, it is a misconception of what content is and what it means to “cover” it.

If I may take license to generalize, humans are excellent at compartmentalizing. We chunk information to best suit specific tasks. It is a very efficient way of thinking….for short term gains. For numerous reasons, many of which can be contributed to a beautiful combination between human nature and subsequent educational systems, students often fail to see (organize, conceptualize and visualize) the purposes, key questions, point(s) of view, assumptions, methods and key insights of a given course. In other words, if I wanted my students to address a single question at the end of a course, what would it be? If students cannot organize their thinking in this manner, can they see alternative constructions?

I want students to see my course as a product of my reasoning. Just like any article, book, blog, or television program to name a few constructs. Moreover, I want them to see their work in the course as a product of their reasoning.

A former colleague of mine, Gerald Nosich, argued in his book, Learning to Think Things Through, that content is a system of interconnected meanings informed by claims, information and methods that help us reason through problems and issues unique to the discipline. When we teach students content, we are introducing them to the reasoning that makes the thing what it is. Like Adler and Van Doren argued in How to Read a Book, when we read critically we are engaging in a dialogue with the author: we explore her assumptions, her lines of inquiry, her conclusions, her concepts, her choices, we ask her questions, etc. Ultimately, we begin to construct the 10,000 ft view. Gardner Campbell explores this idea for education as a whole here.

Another way to metaphorically express this concept is found in David Perkins’ book Making Learning Whole.  When it comes to intellectual engaging in the construction of content understanding, we can ask: What do searchlights and lasers have to do with student intelligence?

What’s the alternative? Well, we can cover material, data and even information. That’s easy, but if we want students to see the relationships between the information and the conclusions and interpretations that it informs, then something more than passive exposure is necessary.

I see the bow tie highway intersections as a strong metaphor for what content is. If we tell students what it is, they will not necessarily experience the logic that informs the what and the why. They might be able to passively follow a path, but they will not be able to understand what is going on around them. Moreover, only by thinking through the content as a system will they be able to explore options: those exits and side roads that illustrate new lines of inquiry and contribution.

It’s a move from passenger to driver, or from user to designer.

One thought on “Blimage Challenge – Bow Tie as Content

  1. Another thoughtful post! “They might be able to passively follow a path, but they will not be able to understand what is going on around them.” Or said another way, they might be so focused on the road that they miss the landscape around them.

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