Go with the (knowledge) flow…

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11 June, 2011 by ehauke

teach v.
1) Impart knowledge to or instruct (someone) in how to do something, especially in a school or as part of a recognised programme; give instruction in (a subject or skill); cause to learn by example or experience.
2) advocate as a practice or principle
[ORIGIN – Old English – teacan – ‘show, present, point out’, of Germanic origin]

Over the last ten years, I have been involved in many different types of knowledge development. Teaching, training, tutoring, facilitating, mentoring, moderating. Lots of words. And lots of experiences. Medical students. Science communication students. Scientists. Researchers. Health professionals. And I guess, maybe ten years ago, I thought that teaching was teaching. It didn’t really matter what the subject was, or who the learners were, teaching was just teaching. But it’s not, is it?

I’ve been thinking through all my different experiences to try to work out the differences. And I think it comes down to a few basic tenets:

  • Are both teacher and learner working from the same knowledge base*?
  • Is the aim to increase or transform the knowledge**?
  • Is the teaching simply a skills transfer*** to allow the learner to do new things with their knowledge?
  • Is the teaching about creating new knowledge****?

For the purposes of this thinking (which has already become quite convoluted), I consider that knowledge is not the sum total of information that we know, but that we are capable of holding many different knowledge bases – which may contain discrete information, or may contain non-discrete information that is held in a different context.

So without further ado. Some examples.

Working as a doctor, teaching medical students

In this scenario, both teacher and learner definitely share the same knowledge base(s). There is book learning, and clinical experience. So two sources of information. The teacher holds more of both. And teaching is a matter of increasing the volume of both for the learner.

It might look a bit like this:

Of course, all the time, the teacher is also learning and extending their own knowledge. For the learner, this is really a facilitated extension of an existing knowledge base. I guess, this would probably be the case in most apprenticeship professions.

Skills Tutor

In this case, there is a simple addition of skills to individuals with different knowledge bases. The knowledge bases are not shared between teacher and leaner, or even between different learners. The transfer of skills (in this case ‘location radio’ skills), just furnishes the learners with new methods of expression for their knowledge base.

It might look something like this:

Everyone involved has a different (science) knowledge, but the skills transfer boosts the ‘skill tool set’ of the pupils. This is a transfer of skills only, but it allows greater expression of the (science) knowledge.

Engagement Facilitator

Although this involves skills transfer, it is a different kettle of fish altogether compared to the last example. Here there is also a transformation of the knowledge base. There is no new, or additional, knowledge. But the existing knowledge is given new meaning. New narratives are added to make the knowledge more accessible to a wider audience. With ‘science knowledge’ this might mean finding ‘every-day-meaning’ in abstract scientific concepts.

It might look like this:

Each individual comes away with the same amount and type of knowledge, but it has been given new shapes and contexts. The learners have found new meaning in their existing knowledge. This has been additionally facilitated by some skills training.

Cross-Paradigm Workshop Facilitation

This has been my most complex teaching experience. In this example the teacher and the learner both have knowledge about the same subject. But both have gained this knowledge by learning and working within different ‘paradigms’. Consideration has to be given to respecting the knowledge of all parties, whilst sharing and developing new ways of thinking that share elements from both paradigms.

It might look something like this:

Here, both the teacher and learner gain from the experiences and knowledge of the other. Through discussion and group activity, both parties adopt elements of each others’ experiences and knowledge to form a new common way of thinking that is appropriate and helpful to all involved.

My thinking on this topic is not complete, but this is as far as I’ve got. I may have been clumsy in my expression, or inaccurate in my observations, but this is purely based on my experiences and awareness. Let me know if you have anything to add, and I’ll update/adjust this post to reflect that!

* by ‘knowledge base’ I mean the basic factual information about a topic – so for a knowledge base to be shared, both parties are working from the same basic information; in teaching from the same knowledge base, the teacher has more of the information than the pupil, but both share the same basic information – and that information is formulated by considering the same information in the same way.

** by ‘transforming knowledge’ I mean that basic factual information is manipulated to reveal new narratives and meaning

*** by ‘skills transfer’ I mean that the knowledge remains unchanged, and may not even be shared by teacher and pupil, but the teaching interaction is about transferring new skills to the pupil to allow them to manage and express their existing knowledge differently

**** by creating ‘new knowledge’ I mean that as a result of sharing two or more different knowledge bases, new meaning and information can be generated that creates a novel knowledge base to be shared by all participants

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