Risk And Danger In Play? In Learning?

Should play always be safe?  Does risky/dangerous play offer opportunities that our helicopter-parent/granny society play doesn’t?

Mathias Poulsen got me thinking about this on Twitter.  The related educational question is: does safe learning lead to limited chances to improve your knowledge and skill?  Are there advantages to risky and dangerous learning?

In most circumstances learning is a risky proposition.  A friend of ours, Heather Durnin, said how her farmer husband was a sink or swim kind of teacher when he said he wasn’t a teacher at all.  He expected your attention and then threw you into the work directly, expecting you to get a handle on it.  Most jobs I’ve had are the same way.  For that matter teaching itself is pretty much a sink or swim proposition.  Most of the world makes hard demands on learners.  Ironically, it’s only in education that learner engagement is so tenuous, dare I say optional?

I was struck a couple of years ago with how rigorous and unapologetic my introduction to motorcycle training was.  Students who could not manage the physical, mental or emotional requirements were failed, students who slept in on Sunday morning were cut.  It seemed a stark contrast to the fifty-is-a-pass/attendance optional approach that drives learning in school classrooms.  You can’t have stringent, risky experiential learning when you’re more focused on anything other than that learning.

The implication of risk is failure.  If we remove failure from learning we end up with what we have in Ontario education today: students lacking in resiliency with a poor metacognitive idea of what they are capable of.  The grades they earn reflect the political will of the current government rather than what the student is capable of.

Risk taking shows us where the edges of our skills are.  We risk failure when we overreach, but this isn’t a bad thing.  Fear of failure creates a false sense of our limitations which is why overly coddled students have no idea of what they are capable of.  Students who never have the opportunity to take real risks turn into self-oblivious narcissists who think they know everything but can do nothing.  One of the reasons I enjoy teaching tech is because my subject matter doesn’t coddle students.  If it doesn’t work you need to buck up and figure it out; opinions matter little to reality.

The only time in life you’ll find the padded learning/guaranteed success formula is in today’s classroom.  The rest of the world isn’t geared to make you feel good about whether you feel like trying or not.  Fortunately, for those of us who want to learn in a more realistic way, the world is full of risk and danger, and reward.


A Possible Computer Technology Project?

It’s basically a how-to guide for online hacking

At the moment Anonymous is counter trolling some of the biggest trolls on the internet.  This feels like an opportunity for students to exercise their skills and take action based on real world issues.  But I’ve always had doubts about directing student political action, it feels a bit too much like indoctrination when someone in a position of institutionalized power tells the people beholden to them what they should believe and do about it.

Internet activism aside, the Noob Guide offers insight into the various tools needed to hack online.  From a purely technical point of view this offers students a chance to comprehend the nature of online communication by looking at the frailties of its architecture.

It’s happening right now in the real world.  It’s potentially risky.  Sounds like a real world learning opportunity.