What Great Instructors know about Instructions and Irritation

by | May 20, 2020 | Change, ICT4D |

It was likely a good quality, colour picture when it was taken. But after being imported to a Word file, printed in greyscale, put in plastic bag with screws and sat out in the sun, the quality was quite poor. There were three pictures in the file, each with various labels attached (A, B, C) to indicate what pieces of wood to use where.

The photos were likely meaningful for the person who took them. Likely the person who had put hundreds of benches together before. Likely by the person who forgot what it is to ‘not know’. And then someone else or perhaps the same person, decided to make low quality prints or photocopies to save money.

It left me, the customer, scratching my head as I sat outside looking at the blurred images trying to work out where I went wrong. In the end, gave the paper to the kids to colour on while I started again. It reminded me that this why IKEA doesn’t use photos.

Templates, maps, and instructions work if they are very clear and the ‘follower’ suspends their thinking and follows them meticulously. However, when the templates, maps, and instructions fail, so does the follower. We’ve all heard stories of some driver following google maps and ended up driving into a river or ocean.

Many people want templates and maps, but don’t want to be told what to do. They want a template, but they want to do it their way. Often this is about wanting someone to blame if it doesn’t go well (templates fault) and to take credit if it succeed. (Just reread my story above for an example of this.)

The flipside is that the creator, the teacher, the ‘person in the know’ wants his/her students to ‘think for themselves’. They don’t want to give out step by step instructions. Sometimes this is due to the challenge of remembering all the details of ‘not knowing’. Other times this is because they don’t want to take on the responsibility of it ‘going wrong’ and being blamed. And frankly other times, it is because they only want their ‘students’ to think for themselves as long as the students think like them!

Finding the balance, the sweet spot between enough instruction to get the other moving and enough space to allow ‘free thinking’ is the great skill of great teachers.

This is true in primary school, in university, in our home life and our work life. This is true in putting together flat packed, self-assembly benches, but it is also true in technology, in digital, in talking about consent and responsible data.

And remember, we often do our best ‘figuring it out’ with others, with other ‘students’, apart from the teacher. This is the other great skill of great teachers – they enable this to happen.

Photo by Nick Fewings

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