Learning through a narrative

Future of education

I just finished reading “The Future of Education – re-imagining our schools from the ground up” by Kieran Egan. It describes the idea of “Imaginative Education” (IE) and gives an example of a timeline in which this superior form of education could be the norm by 2050. I’m unsure of my opinion about most of IE and will spend a lot more time looking into it before I draw firm conclusion.

The one thing that really struck me about IE was the concentration on narratives. In the book students are given an arbitrary topic when they start school (for example “leaves” or “wind”) and work on a portfolio around that subject for their entire school school career). They are then guided by portfolio mentors to apply everything they learn to this topic. So for instance, when learning about metaphors, they are asked to find metaphors in literature involving leaves. When learning about area, they can find the best way to estimate the area of different kinds of leaves. This way of teaching serves the duel purpose of not only making students an expert in their topic, but also
gives them something tangible to relate their learning in all areas to. It forces them to develop a habit of applying the things they learn.

Now, I haven’t figured out how I feel about the idea of an “arbitrary” topic (I think students should at least have some influence in the choice of their topics). However, at a university level students like myself should have the power to choose their own topic and follow it through. I chose my topic of improving education (both in method and in distribution) a long time ago but can see many points in my education where I have failed to relate my learning back to that. For instance), why was I bored stiff in my databases class when I could have been finding ways to relate it to my passion? Boring as SQL may be, it can be seen as a powerful upgrade to parts of human language due to its exceptional clarity. The questions I should have been asking myself could have been as follows:

Should everyone learn how database queries work simply in order for them to understand the pure logic that it creates?

Is this type of logic necessary?

Does that kind of thinking make innovation more or less likely to happen?

So many questions could be formed from something as boring as SQL queries. I know that the ones above are very surface level, but that is precisely because I was not thinking deeply about this while they were being taught databases in depth. I have this feeling that I would have been able to draw many deep and meaningful connections.

From now on I intend to try my damnedest to relate everything I learn in school to my central topic and in order to test how powerful this way of thinking can be.

3 thoughts on “Learning through a narrative

  1. The book reminds of discussions in Arts about having optional interdisciplinary capstone courses.

    The idea that we’ve come to suggest is to have several courses that focus on specific issues and students register for the one they want to “solve”. It will be open to students from other faculties as well in order to have a wider pool of knowledge to draw on. Instructors will be there to facilitate and guide but the students are suppose to define the problem, draw/share their expertise, design a project and actually make it into reality.

    Of course, I don’t know if it will actually happen. It was discussed just before the last term of the last Dean.

  2. Imagine if every student chose a central topic before they chose a major/degree program – and then had a mentor (grad student/staff/faculty/alum/industry professional) that they met with to discuss how their curriculum relates to their topic. It could provide students in the larger majors (Biology, Psychology, etc) with a little more direction as they go through their degree.
    Nice find Andre – you’ve peaked my interest!

  3. With my students, I have used the narrative method only for assessment so far – I have asked them to tell me a story, to build the storyline of what they learned and their personal journey throughout the course. Most of them found it really helpful. In one particular case, it helped me connect with the student on a personal level and I was able to help him with career choices, etc. He found out in writing his narrative that he was, in fact, able to connect with me on a personal level and that I was genuinely interested in his well being and future (as I am in every single student of mine).

    Now, the use of a narrative and central theme for learning throughout a full degree, I find that EXTREMELY interesting. Thanks Andre for sparking my thoughts around this topic.

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