Give them a fish, or teach them to fish?

Andrew’s main worry is indicative of one of my concerns with both courses I’m currently teaching. Both courses throw the participants in at the deep-end with a few new (to almost all) technologies that the courses draw heavily on. There is varying levels of scaffolding to help, but it stops well short of being involving very detailed and specific instructions.

There are a few reasons for that, including

  1. The importance to both courses of students developing the skills to solve their own technical problems.
  2. The desire for students to explore the specific technologies that suit them and not be limited to what I recommend.

But learning “how to fish” in this context is not a easy process. Which is both another plus, but also a minus.

So if you are (or have been) a student in EDC3100 or EDU8117, let me know what you think. How did the approach work (or not) for you?

I wonder if there’s anyone doing this well that I can gain some insights into how to do it better. Perhaps that something to add to my list of tasks around participating in NGL/EDU8117.

3 thoughts on “Give them a fish, or teach them to fish?

  1. Annelise Mitchell

    Hi David,

    Every since reading this post I have been intrigued. One of my fundamental beliefs is that it is wise to “teach a man to fish” rather than to “give him fish.” I believe that this is what learning should be about and also leads to the most sustained form of learning.

    What I wanted to comment on is the importance of providing tasks, which you have done, that people will apply in the student’s real-world. After many years of teaching, both in the high school and university setting, I realised that if what is being learned does not require the learner to actively apply the learning to their real-world context, they are less likely to retain the knowledge and skills. This is the major reason why I chose this course. I wanted something that focused on preparing individuals to become active contributors to the world rather than passive recipients.

    There are challenges but without those we would not grow. If there is anything I have learnt, getting uncomfortable leads to further growth and change.

    Thanks for being so forward thinking and propelling your learners into learning for themselves.

  2. There is no equality!

    Students aren’t equal.
    Methods aren’t equal.
    Fish aren’t equal.
    Outcomes aren’t equal.

    I agree that ‘teaching them to fish’ is ultimately the most useful approach, however the teaching approach is probably dependent upon the foundation of knowledge a student has.

    For the ‘newbie’ consider that a step-by-step approach for catching a ‘blog’ fish might be helpful before then extrapolating that experience to catching other types of fish (ie diigo, mendeley or feedly fish). After all, if you send them out after four types of fish at once, how will they know what is most important to catch first? For example, one of the fish types might be used as bait for another.

    It is important to consider that the beginner hasn’t tasted any of the fish and so doesn’t necessarily know what to do with the fish once it is caught. After all, it’s not the fish that’s important, rather it’s what the fish is used for (ie. feeding the family, managing information).

    Immersion is only helpful if there are mechanisms to prevent drowning.

    1. Hi Tracey,

      I’m glad to see that you took the time to respond and with such conviction. Awesome!

      What I found interesting was how you began your post by stating that “There is no equality!” I am wondering how you construed teaching someone to fish rather than giving them fish as an argument about equality. I agree that many things are not equal but I cannot see how that relates to a teacher who chooses to encourage their student to learn a skill for themself rather than being provided with information and merely only knowing what to do.

      I think what this course illustrates is the inherent messiness of learning, which reflects life in my opinion. In life you learn as you go along, and all learning is directed toward helping you achieve your goals. I am wondering whether you are putting too much pressure on yourself to know everything perfectly before progressing. I once did this as an undergraduate but realised that it was essential to use the tools to achieve my desired outcome. If I were you I would focus on your goal and use the tools to help you get there. You don’t need to be perfect.

      Another thing that you have written is “Immersion is only helpful if there are mechanisms to prevent drowning.” I’m not so sure mechanisms to prevent drowning would be a good idea because it would hinder innovation, in other words, other ways of doing things. If you were provided with strictly confined instructions, such as a step-by-step process, it would encourage passivity rather than productivity and most of all, innovation.

      Thanks for responding.


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