Sunday, March 29, 2020

Zen Martial Arts Maxims for Online Teaching

To those working hard to move courses online, due to the  COVID-19 Coronavirus, remember there is no need to replace every lecture with a video, every tutorial with a webinar, or every paper examination with an online test. I recommend the Zen martial arts maxims: Economy of effort, Realism, and Switching smoothly between techniques.

In 2014, as a student of online teaching I was required to write a personal Theory of Practice. I decided to apply Zen martial arts maxims:

1. Economy of effort

Meditation, Created by Jens Tärning from the Noun Project, CC-BY 3.0, 2014
Meditation, by Jens Tärning
from the Noun Project,
CC-BY 3.0, 2014

Martial arts emphasize maximum results from minimum effort. Similarly, learning is a means to an end and so should be done efficiently: using just enough resources to get the job done. However, most theories of education ignore the cost of an activity. There tends to be an inappropriate emphasis on trying in education, rather than succeeding.

2. Realism

Education needs to provide the student with useful skills. Students will need to start with simplified exercises, but need to be exposed to increasingly realistic problems. My students either have jobs or are training for a specific role as a professional, their studies are therefore focused on obtaining skills for that job. By providing student exercises which are based on their own workplace, or a reasonable simulation of the workplace, the students are motivated and learn useful skills.

3. Switching smoothly between techniques

Educational literature is full of explanations of why one principle, theory or technique is superior to another. But one approach will rarely do for all situations. Educators need to move smoothly from one technique to another. Students will need times when they learn alone and then others in a group. They can learn the basics using a simple drill and practice computer program (based on behaviorism theory) and then explore advanced topics with other students.

From the chapter "Theory of Practice", of the book Digital Teaching In Higher Education by Tom Worthington, 2017.

The Zen maxims are from Bruce Lee's Tao Of Jeet Kune Do
(Lee, 1975).

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