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We are not always very careful about the words we use. We forget that words have a life of their own. They have a way of amply (almost magically) filling out the place we give them so that they seem self-evident. But they have fuzzy boundaries and bring with them many other meanings and images that can twist or divert what we want to say. Take the word "fun" for example, as applied to education.

What "fun" for education?

Several speakers in a workshop on pedagogy at the annual eTwinning conference in Linz argued in favour of "fun" in education. The idea of fun had all those present enthusiastically aligned in its support. The word, however, leaves me uneasy. It harbours ideas and attitudes that need careful consideration. I appreciate the need to take a stand against the almost crippling seriousness of school, especially at secondary level. I agree that a lighter touch, and some joy and laughter would do a world of good. And then there is the need for pleasure in learning that the word seeks to imply. But “fun” also smacks of frivolousness and pointless pleasure. The belief is that fun would naturally lead to learning, just as some have latched onto the idea of playing as a guaranteed strategy for learning. You can easily have fun without learning anything at all and game playing can readily encourage mindlessness.
The people talking about "fun" were trying to point to something that others in the room were clearly able to recognise and identify with despite the fuziness of the word used. Some indication of the meaning implied was provided by a number of other words that accompanied the word "fun" in the talks: challenging; motivating; a meaningful experience; authentic learning;

Authentic learning and flow …

"Authentic" is a revealing word, when it comes to education. Its use points to the artificialness of much of school as a context with respect to what is being taught. Like practicing a foreign language with other beginners like yourself in a classroom - it bears little resemblance to real life exchange in that language. Talking of authentic learning undermines one of the major tenets of school education: learning best takes places on neutral ground "outside of life". But probably the most significant word used when talking about fun in education was "flow": a state of being where you might say the person is at one with what he or she is doing, where time recedes, the person is inspired and ability is greatly enhanced. Maybe the reason for likening fun with flow lies in the fact that in both there is a momentary loss of self, being absorbed in what we are doing. But beyond this possible likeness, fun has nothing to do with flow.

Alan McCluskey, Linz

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: January 16th, 2006 - Last up-dated: January 16th, 2006