Pseudoteaching and TV-Learning.

I was re-reading Michael Rees’ great post on Being Pseudo-taught, and a few of his comments really rang true. His first-hand account of being pseudo-taught is akin to what I have termed TV Learning – that is, a certainty that something makes sense while watching a TV program, but no knowledge of what to do with it later, other than “oh ya, I saw a show about that”. Ironically, the more engaging or flashy the show, it seems, the more superficial the resultant learning. (Actually, in retrospect, this also describes my experience with Organic Chemistry in university…). TV Learning is Pseudolearning.*

And yet, this is distinctly different from Michael’s elaboration in the comments:

But I still must say that, when I’m stuck in a class where I absolutely have to watch a demo, I believe that I really do understand it and could apply it. Then, over a very small time period, this understanding leaves me.

This is not pseudolearning. This is incomplete incorporation of deep understanding to long-term memory. This is, in fact, quite normal. Particularly in the life of a student who is being asked to try to fully absorb eight disparate subjects a day, every day. Talk about multitasking! For things to really sink in, they need to be repeated, tested, tried, reviewed, played with, and taught to others. Virtually no one can be expected to really “get it” the first time through. And realizing that the information is not firmly absorbed means that, metacognitively, there is recognition that review and practice is required.

There is another aspect to the idea of TV Learning, and that could perhaps be termed “TV Liking”. More and more, I have students in my class who are superficially interested in the topics under discussion, but have no real hunger for it. When I hear parents say “but they like science!” I am reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s anecdote in The Element. He mentions talking with a professional musician, a keyboard player, and saying that he would love to play the keyboard that well. To which the musician replied, “No, you just love the idea of playing keyboards. If you’d really love to play them, you’d be doing it.” I think the same holds for academic subjects. You can like the idea of them – enjoy TV shows about them – but actually diving in head first is a completely different matter.


*This is NOT to say that one cannot learn from video sources. It is a recognition that being entertained by science is not the same as deep understanding.

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