24 March 2010

On not making it simpler

Sometimes things just come together...
  • I was checking out Phil Race's site today and in one of his presentations he refers to Einstein's dictum; ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible,but not simpler’ (I'm assuming a legitimate provenance.)
  • Yet again today someone complained about the "jargon" of the module outcomes--"can't you make them easier to understand?" As if we deliberately set about making them more difficult to understand. (OK, it's not unknown in academe, I admit.)
  • And at the last programme-wide Study Day, one of the invited participants in the concluding summary claimed he couldn't "see what all the fuss is about. We teach, the students learn, they go away happy. That's all there is to it."
Just for the record, I (and I'm pretty sure I speak for colleagues) have no interest in making anything needlessly complicated. But sometimes things are difficult. For Real.

I'm reading Michael Foley's (2010) The Age of Absurdity; why modern life makes it hard to be happy London; Simon and Schuster, at the moment. I haven't yet decided whether it is "merely" an entertaining if erudite cheap rant--well, yes it is, but that's what it sets out to be, so no shame there. But chapter 8 "The Rejection of Difficulty and Understanding" hits this nail on the head.

And chapter 7 rubbished "reflection" fairly effectively, too.

1 comment:

  1. Jim King11:35 pm

    Amen, brother. I have been ranting about this since I started my teacher training, hating the fact that some tricky physics concepts are simplified so far that the explanations become wrong.

    If it's not possible to simplify electromagnetic waves, for example, to a level that a fourteen-year-old can grasp without making the explanation wrong, then don't. I know there's a case for explanations that are just a little bit wrong so that the child can understand the accurate explanation later (a.k.a. Lies-to-children), but if the simplification makes it _harder_ for me later to teach the accurate model, there's something wrong.


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