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[PT] Pseudoteaching FAQ

February 22, 2011

Even though pseudoteching is less than a day old, I thought I’d try to put together a short FAQ.

  • What is Pseudoteaching again?
  • I’m sure this definition will evolve with time, but here’s what we’ve got so far:

    Pseudoteaching is something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning.

    I think a key point here is that you make this realization. It’s highly unlikely that anyone else is going to be able to point this out for you, for reasons I’ll explain later in the FAQ.

  • Is PT just bad teaching?
  • Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s bad teaching disguised as great teaching. It’s not bad teaching because the teacher isn’t knowledgeable, isn’t engaging, or any of the myriad of other easy-to-spot clues that you can look when watching an example of teaching. Take some of Lewin’s videos for example. They are awesome—well beyond anything I could ever hope to do, and the number of downloads he gets is astronomical. But if you check out Frank’s post, you’ll see that inevitably, attendance to these lectures tanked, and even a school chock full of the brightest math and science minds anywhere in the world, 14% of students couldn’t pass the intro physics course. Feynman had the same experience 30 years earlier at Caltech (he’s got 1.5 million copies of FLS in circulation). By the time Feynman was done with his lectures, the story goes that his classroom was filled with other professors and grad students who just came in to see what he was doing. And if none of them had the courage or insight to realize that his lectures weren’t leading to great student understanding, what’s the likelihood that the non-expert visiting your class will be able to catch moments of pseudoteaching in your classroom?

  • Is this just a rant against lectures?
  • No. Not at all. There are people who learned from Feynman’s lectures, and who are able to learn from Lewin and MIT’s OCW resources. Most of these people turn out to be highly motivated students and adult learners who have learned how to learn long before they ever take on Feynman or Lewin. There isn’t a ton of evidence out there that people new to physics are able to learn from these methods. But pseduoteaching is about much more than just lecturing—there are thousands of ways to teach that look simply phenomenal, but don’t actually lead to learning. Unfortunately, you have to discover this mostly for yourself, by trying it, measuring student learning, and seeing the failure. But hopefully, by sharing examples, we can at least help you to see a few dead ends and potholes that you might want to avoid. Jerrid Kruse has a great example of how demos can be pseudoteaching.

  • What makes PT so bad?
  • Mylene at Shifting Phases made a great realization that “Psuedoteaching causes teachers and students to become alienated from learning… because it hides failure and distorts our sense of whether we’ve learned.” I added that it leaves learners with the feeling of learning skills, but at the same time, sets them up for failure when they try to apply those skills. This is very similar to how pseudocontext alineates students from math, and makes them feel like they should be using real world skills, but punishes them for doing so with failure.

  • So how can I avoid Pseudoteaching?
  • I think the key is to focus on recognizing it, and to do that, you need ways to quickly assess student learning. One of the best ideas I’ve found for doing this taking a break 20 minutes into class and posing a question to they class that everyone needs to write a response to, such as “what I am learning now is…” or “one question I have is…” Then collect these responses, redistribute them randomly, and see how well what the students think they are learning correlates with what you’re trying to teach. I’ve often found I need to change the whole course of my lesson based on the feedback I’ve gotten in these exercises. This should be the subject of a future blog post.

  • Can I share my own story of pseudoteaching?
  • Absolutely. If you’ve got a blog, post it and submit a link to Frank Noschese, who will add it to his pseudoteaching page. If you don’t have a blog, and don’t want to dive in just yet, either Frank or I would love to have you submit a guest post.

  • Are you guys going to point out pseudoteaching you sees in other teachers around the internets?
  • Absolutely not. We think pseduoteaching is something best discovered by oneself. And there’s something about glass houses and stones. My house is made mostly of glass.

  • Do you have a hastag?
  • Thanks to the awesome suggestion of Joss Ives, we’ll use #pseudeoed, which can cover all things pesudo-educational: pseudocontext, pseduoteaching, pseduolearning, and pseudostudying. Feel free to stake a claim and flesh our any of these terms for yourself.

Read more at Frank’s Pseudoteaching Page.


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