Teaching What We Know

Improving teaching: Enhancing ways of 

being university teachers

Gloria Dall’Alba*

University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

As Iain Thomson notes, with reference to Martin Heidegger’s work: Our very ‘being-in-the-world’ is shaped by the knowledge we pursue, uncover, and embody. [There is] a troubling sense in which it seems that we cannot help practicing what we know, since we are ‘always already’ implicitly shaped by our guiding metaphysical presuppositions. (2001, p. 250)

This quote stuck out like a sore thumb for me as this is what I’m extremely guilty of. Not that I want to send out into the world graduating art students who create slightly differing versions of Janette Parris artworks – although I probably have. The question is how do we teach what we don’t know? – is this called winging it? – I know many teachers and myself included who have admittedly at short notice done this – after reading this quote maybe I can tell them that it’s a good thing. 

Group teaching or collaboration gets quite a few mentions.  When teaching a class of creative practice students. The concept of a group or collaborative project teaching is often met with a large groan and often accompanied by “I just wanna do my own work”. I suppose the artist who works alone in their garret still exists to a large extent in the minds and understanding of many students. How do we break this cycle of thinking and does successful teaching have to or find ways around this? 

Another quote that grabbed my attention:

It can be noted, however, that attempts to innovate may not succeed and can meet with resistance, especially if students have not been adequately prepared for the changes.

This quote brings to mind 2 versions of the same workshop that I ran with 2 completely different results. Being totally honest the first workshop flopped totally, primarily because students were given the choice to sign up and therefore very few students did. In hindsight in order for it to be successful it needed a large participation although the one student who steadfastly remained till the end apparently loved it – although they may have just been polite.  The second group signed up to experience a workshop and welcomed the non-theoretical and group participatory nature of the class. It could have been cultural as the second group were a summer school group of overseas students from China. The students had apparently for the previous 3 days been subjected to long talk filled lectures so possibly jumped at the chance to collaborate in small groups to perform and write songs based of their favourite songs. The large attendance and collaborative process probably allowed for less self-consciousness about performing or singing. It allowed the process of play to take centre stage where in the world of a child self-consciousness doesn’t exist, it all becomes about taking part. Well this is what I think might have happened. Another question arose for me when looking back at the 1st response was – Was the workshop sufficiently explained? I pondered after I read the advertising blurb that maybe I wouldn’t have chosen to attend my own workshop either.

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