M4-Duke–Can a self teach itself something it does not know?

I have long been troubled by the notion of being self-taught which is expressed  in terms like autodidacticism and, more recently,  heutagogy (which was new to me and I never would have or could have taught it to myself, wherein lies essence of one of my concerns about heutagogy, itself.)  While I can’t retrieve the source from memory, I recall hearing a critic of self taught artists being quoted as saying, “Self-taught painters learn to paint from a person who does not know how to paint.”  This represents for me a quiet, gnawing worry that we have come to believe that self-determination of learning is a good thing–an apotheosis of a dimension that begins with pedagogy (teaching children) and passes through androgogy (adult learning which is less passive and more autodidactic) on the way to the ultimate goal of self-determination in heutagogy.  My worry here is this: if learners are to learn what they  must in order to deal with the exigencies and vicissitudes of life, even if these cannot be anticipated with specificity, there must be someone who has already learned something about doing this who can guide them in developing the capability to do so.  Had Leah not provided us with a reading on heutagogy, it would have remained far off my radar for..well..forever.  Yet, now that she has directed us toward it, we can think about it and decide, as in my case, that I am not so comfy with it!

So what is my sense of learner self-determination in my online course?  I am very much OK with directing students to topics that I feel they must master and having them teach themselves in any way or at any pace they choose so long as they fulfill the assessment rubrics that I develop for them.  I am not OK with their deciding what is important or not for them to know.  There will, I believe, always be a need for someone to be, at minimum, a “guide on the side” but a guide there must be.  As I think about how the notions of self-directed learning can be blended with traditional F2F classes, I do see great potential.  As I consider things now with admittedly a small amount of online knowledge and experience, I can see how my own way of thinking about education can be reconciled with modern approaches to distance learning.

I have always felt that the good teacher does not have to know what he or she knows in order to teach, but the good teacher must know what students know or do not know.  This allows for the overlay of an invisible rubric over the entire class (as well as individuals in it ) which represents where the learners are at the beginning and where the teacher hopes they will be at the end.  All of the activities in the course are then directed at transporting learners  (in rubric-ese) from level 1 achievement to level 4.

In my online course, I believe I will still need to get a sense of where the students are at the start and I will want to define clearly for them where they need to be at the end (course goals).   I will also want to include formative and summative assessments so I can monitor and evaluate their progress.  However, the BIG difference is that I will be widening the range of ways in which they travel to the goals which I as the teacher (ped-agogically) have set. If they wish to heutagogically travel outside of the content set forth and explore ideas in a more self-determined way, I am sure that they will gain much from their experience.  In fact, I will want to encourage and reward in some way such “expeditions.”


What would a blended course in abnormal psychology look like?  At this point, I feel that it would need to be text-book based since there is much to learn in terms of history, language, theory, and modes of treatment.  While many students will just be “stopping in” for the semester, others will ultimately become professionals whose goal it will be to help people.  There are  many things that these people who may become clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers simply must know!  There is no place for pure heutagogy or self-determination here.   A self-taught potter’s off-round, leaking coffee cup might be cute in its own primitive way, but would any of us agree to a procedure performed by a “self-taught” cardiovascular surgeon?  I use hyperbole here to heighten the contrast, but at a less extreme level, I think what I am saying is that within each online course, there needs to be a all three sorts of learning–pedagogic, androgogic and heutogogic.  The traditional classroom, admittedly,  leans much too heavily on the first of these and, I believe, creates students who are passive and does not help them grow confident in their own capabilities.  The heutagogic extreme, while good for some, would create highly confident people who are dangerously unaware of what they don’t know. (Is there a presidential candidate out there who might fit this description?)  The balance among all three would seem to me an ideal place to aim for in online learning.

From the assessment perspective, I will need to include rubrics and assessment methods that address all three modes of learning.  Traditional quizzes and exams will help with the specific content that I consider critical to know.  This is early in Bloom’s hierarchy.  I would also want to provide assignments that would require application and integration such as studying case histories or looking at and analyzing films or literary works.  This would also afford opportunities for writing which we know is the one major activity that makes people smarter overall.   Finally, I would add an assignment which would be the greatest challenge and which would require autodidacticism and, yes, heutagogic behavior.  This would be a project in which, individually or as teams, students attempt to create an entirely new method of classifying abnormal behavior,  This is possible because, as a discipline, we are still not sure whether our current approach is adequate.  This is reflected in the continuing revisions of our diagnostic system (six since 1952) and in a recent decision by insurance companies to move away from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic system and move toward use of the ICD-10, which is an international classification system for various diseases and disorders.  (I know that most of my class-mates may not be familiar with all this and I apologize for placing it here, but we are all androgogic!)

4 thoughts on “M4-Duke–Can a self teach itself something it does not know?

  1. In my discipline, I agree with your thoughts about the self directed learning and having the students determine what they need to learn. We have very strict competencies in nursing and students often over estimate their knowledge and really struggle to work through higher level activities.

  2. Marshall, what a brave new world that of your teaching! I was particularly taken by your last paragraph, and the move to the ICD-10. I think of the difficulty of my teaching periodization and traditional literature, art, and architecture history (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and so on) with the cascade od -isms (Impressionism, Expressionism, Punctillism, Cubism, and so on) and final rupture of the bag with the blur of the lines in contemporary art (Abstract, Video, Body, Earth, Installation, Performance, and so on), and I totaly relate. How can we help students become independent, self-motivated learners of the un-grasp-able (an Orgástula, a Mendieta, a Tropicana), the ab-normal, when they may or may not know tue ‘normal’ (whatever in the world that is). Love the international take of the ICD-10.

    1. I’m sorry but in a way also pleased from a commiserative perspective to know that in other disciplines, things are getting murkier rather than clearer as we move into the more “sophisticated” thought of recent times. I am surely not a Luddite (despite wishing that we could go back to a time when people used the term Luddite a lot more), but I think that in the rush to establish careers and shake off the dust of 20th century thinking, many modern scholars have abandoned some fundamental that we ought to have carried with us into this 21st Century. Maria describes some -isms that are totally new to me, despite my considering myself to be more than average in my knowledge of art. Relevant to our enterprise here in online learning, I would imagine that there would need to be a lot of teaching presence in our COI! When ideas are very foreign, few people will be able to learn them on their own–in asynchronous work. This, I believe will add appreciably to the time we will need to spend in synchronous sessions. And for the ungraspables!! Orgastula? Lo siento, no comprendo!!

      1. Marshall, the -isms came and went fast and furious, and rhe performance art component of my course tries to grapple with that uncertainty. I need to sit down more times (it’s been perhaps a dozen, to no avail) in order to understand tye meaning of Ludite. That (blissful?) ognorance of mine, and your asking about Orgástula, are two inquiries that add depth to ‘foreignness’ and, in turn, to our work as professors, as guides in this brave not-so-new world if uncertainty. Question for us is how to ride the up-and-down of new technologies, and not miss steps or the way altogether as we focus on this juggling. Good thing: we’re in great company in this group, and this course is not only giving us new tools for our professorial box (thanks, Leah!), it is also allowing us to come together out of the silos, and into a university-wide exchange.

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