Learning to Learn

For quite some time, I’ve held the view that the most important thing I can teach my students is the ability to teach themselves things.  Whether they learn a particular lesson I spout out in class is one thing.  However, if they can take a topic for which they have little background, research said topic, and synthesize that information into their “problem solving toolbox” is far more valuable than any one specific topic that I will teach them.

A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Note to Faculty:  Don’t be Such a Know-It-All” (Jan 17, 2012 by Dan Berrett) discusses one faculty member’s “Stump the Chump” teaching method.  The big idea here is that his students pose questions that he specifically doesn’t know the answer to, and he solves the problem in front of them.  This takes a great deal of confidence to be able to risk “not knowing the answer” to a question in class and being embarrassed in front of a group of students.  But I think this is one thing that students need to be exposed to more often.

We don’t know everything.  Do I know more than my students?  I hope so.   However, I don’t think it is possible to know everything about even the relatively narrowly-scoped classes that I teach.  Technology changes so fast; advances are made at a staggering rate.  But what I do know how to do is figure things out.  This doesn’t apply to just computer science or engineering classes.  This is applicable across the board in my opinion.  Academics are always learning.  Students should see this happening in real time.