Teaching and Unlearning

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I had the opportunity to visit the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore to conduct a workshop on exploring the possibilities with technologies as a part of my work at Arduino India. I was very excited, and a little apprehensive at the same time. What would teaching them be like ? The little information I had about the students was that they come from a diverse background and have different skill sets and expertises, and that we have kits (the contents of which were unknown to me, hah). With that little information I had in mind, I had to tailor my presentations and teaching to make the maximum impact. Like jumping into a pool ? Pretty much.

The conversations that I had with the faculty there before the workshop however put me at ease, especially when there are words like “no pressure”, “keep it open” and “go with the flow” thrown around. So here I am, walking into a classroom with a bunch of cool budding designers, a couple of presentations lined up and trying to let serendipity happen. Even with an opening line of “When you have is a hammer, all you see is a nail”, I was in a for a bigger surprise than I expected.

While teaching them, I realized / learnt quite a lot of things, and I am going to talk about some of them. The most important one ? Assumptions SUCK. The place assumptions belong to are outside the window. For example, having taught what a component looks like, I asked the students to find it in their kit as we were going to use it. I ended up with a couple of people holding a diode instead of a resistor. Why ? Because I had assumed that the difference between the appearance and functions of a diode and resistor were clear to all (even though I hadn’t talked about the diode previously). Or when I asked people to connect the brown wire to ground, and I was told that they did not have a brown colored wire, they only had blue. This wasn’t silliness, no indeed. Such small things are assumptions we make, that make us stumble, the same way that a badly designed product is of limited use to the end-user.

After working with a few different sensors and talking a little about actuators, we got into a chat about things around that we could use as input stimuli. What amazed me next was the quick list of 37 (non-exhaustive) list of ways in which we could use something to trigger a reaction in an object or environment that made itself materialize rapidly. People learn, they learn fast, and they learn even faster if they are invited to tie in what they already know to something knew.

This week, I hear people coming back after the workshop with their ideas, discussing what they are doing / what they want to do, and how they can use Arduino and other technologies in their installations. I am doing all I can to unlearn the “rules” that I was once taught, and I am enjoying it. Teaching is fun, unlearning is amazing.

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