A long time ago, just after being awarded a teaching position but before beginning it, I started to look at teenagers - I mean really look at them. And they positively freaked me out. They came in all varieties - sporty, artsy, skateboard-y, stinky, pretty, pimply, sweaty, giggly, haughty, nerdy, small, medium, and large. Regardless of their motley physical traits, they were interchangeably consistent in pubescence, awkwardness, and moodiness. How was I going to relate this audience? No, audience assumes they might actually listen to me; I remembered myself as a teenager and really started to regret my career decision.
Oddly enough, I think that was the last time I really gave a lot of thought to the unique appearances of this young generation. Once I started teaching, I didn’t really differentiate too much by appearance, unless it was to learn their names. And once I got to know these kids, I no longer viewed them as a separate species, but really more as children. Even the dyed, pierced, and tattooed girl with the F*** off belt buckle became one of my favorite personalities.
Now that I spend my days in an office far, far away, I can honestly say I miss those little stinkers. Once you crack the code of their existence, they are really not so hard to manage. My belief is that all teenagers want to be treated like adults, but held accountable like children. That is, they crave choice and control but when faced with the consequences will throw a classically-toddler tantrum.
Did I say I missed that?
I am no longer Old Lady Hanifin in front of the classroom, chalk and spittle flying. Because I am building a learning video game for industrial workers (from mining to oil refineries) my learners now seem even more foreign to me. To be sure, I’m designing a video game for 50-year olds that may not even know how to start a computer. During one beta test, a player was told to move the mouse “up” and actually lifted it in the air.
It’s certainly a new adventure in teaching and learning. Not only are these workers unfamiliar to me, I’ll no longer even be in front of them as they go through the lessons I’ve created. Unfortunately, I don’t have a test classroom full of miners ready to play “Just Like Me!” at the beginning of the year.
As learning continues to evolve into virtual spaces that are no longer run by teachers, but rather designed by them, it seems more important than ever to understand the learner. In the absence of a cognitive scientist, we might want to ask our students, “Who are you and why are you here?”
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