“Fun” Education and Wagging the Dog

Edudive has a run-down on 6 offbeat MOOCs that merge education with fun. I don’t mean to come off as Buzz Killington swaddled in a big, cold, wet blanket but…

Come on. Seriously? A course based on The Walking Dead that “calls for examining the role of public health in a pandemic and the science of hope?”  Would I take that class? Heck, yeah. I love that show. Does that mean that it’s a good idea to offer college credit for this froth?

There’s a very simple test that we can apply to any educational experience described as “fun.” Come to think of it, it’s a valid test to apply to any educational experience, period. It’s a two-parter:

  1. What are we trying to teach?
  2. Would this knowledge / skillset be worth pursuing independent of this exercise? 

For most people, the role of public health in a pandemic is, at best, an interesting magazine article or TV news piece. Everybody who signs up for a class based on The Walking Dead who would have had no use for a class called “The Role of Public Health in a Pandemic” is probably wasting his or her time. Likewise, how much useful science or cooking knowledge is really going to be conveyed in a class that visits the kitchens of great chefs to examine “how their recipes work?”

I’ve got nothing against exploring the artistic or literary merits of comic books, teaching students to write commercial science fiction and fantasy, coming at linguistics from the standpoint of swear words, or teaching what we can about music by studying the works of the Beatles. These all kind of sound like fun. But if I want to have fun, geeking out and reading comic books is more fun than listening to somebody tell me how “important” they are. Ditto listening to the Beatles.

Likewise, if I want to learn something, you don’t have to patronize me. I don’t have to pretend that I’m watching my favorite TV show in order to force myself to learn something that I’m genuinely interested in. Just recently we looked at how much fun there is to be had in doing basic science. Learning something new, demonstrating the knowledge, accomplishing something — these are all highly pleasurable experiences in and of themselves.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with juicing up course content with material that is likely to attract the learner’s attention. But creating a “fun” experience that brings along a little learning for the ride — especially when the learning is of questionable value — is the tail wagging the dog.

The real fun should come from what’s being learned. And what’s being learned should be worth learning.

junglerun Photo by Barry Lewis

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