Twisted Pair / Blimage Challenge – Learning Transformation or Chindogu?

Today’s post is in response to a challenge put forth to me by Steve Wheeler. 


It is a combination of the #blimage challenge and the  #twistedpair challenge. Clearly I like challenges. My question for today: Is it learning transformation or is it chindogu?

SOME CONTEXT: The #twistedpair blogging challenge asks you to put together an unlikely pairing of characters – these can be historical, contemporary or fictional – and write about the connection they have (however tenuous) and how it relates to teaching and learning. Here is the original challenge. 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.]

My twisted pairing for the day comes from a conversation with my colleague Tom Woodward. The original question we framed is this: Is it real work or chindogu?  Since that fateful day when the question became a reality, I have not only mulled it over myself, but I have challenged faculty at multiple universities to do the same. Let’s just say that it has got a lot of intellectual traction. Here is more on chindōgu, but the gist of it is that you create things for novelty sake or your invent things that seemingly solve one problem, but in the process create many more. The featured image is of a man jogging with a robot monkey on his back feeding him tomatoes. Hmmmm???

So, what does this have to do with teaching and learning? It’s an issue of perspective.

tug of war

One one side, the instructor (me) desires to cultivate particular skills, dispositions, attitudes or insights for every activity and assignment I create. For example, when I want students to critically read an article, I’m looking for them to enter into a dialogue with the author and ask that author questions that explores her purposes, agendas, assumptions, conceptual choices, claims, evidence, conclusions, contexts and contrast that with alternative interpretations and perspectives (not all at the same time of course, particularly for undergrads). HOWEVER, students often come at it from different perspectives and agendas. They might think: “How can I read this as quickly as possible?” This is the other side: how students see the work.

When student goals are not in line with the instructor’s goals, then neither is going to be accomplished with any significant degree of satisfaction. Moreover, it can become a terrible tug-of-war.

As instructors, we have to think through the structures of the content, pedagogical structures and the logic of student thinking (their assumptions, preconceptions, expectations, prior knowledge, skills and agendas). As instructors, I have to help students understand my goals and dreams for their intellectual development; otherwise, I run the risk of students seeing the work that I assign as chindogu: aka busy work.

What I see as significant, students may see as chindogu. What I see as a necessary step in developing a skill, students may see as chindogu. What I see as necessary for developing insight, students may see as chindogu. How do I minimize the risk of chindogu?

Well, one way is to surface those assumptions that characterize student expectations of what their responsibility to learning is and compare it with their expectations of what the instructor is “supposed” to do. Then disrupt it.

Here is one example, and its complement.

Is it easy? No. Is it important? Yes.