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Thoughts on Emergent Pedagogy

Brie Stark's picture

Thoughts on Emergent Pedagogy
Analysis of “Emergent pedagogy: learning to enjoy the uncontrollable—and make it productive,”
authors: Anna Dalke, Kim Cassidy, Paul Grobstein, Doug Blank

    The concept of emergent pedagogy is not only an interesting concept, but also a very applicable education method that can easily find its roots in the organization of our brain.  At the foundational level, our brain does not uphold the ‘hierarchical’ concept that much of the world believes its social interactions and subsequent results revolve around and depend upon.  It has been implied, through research on neurons and behavioral outputs, that the brain does not have a certain dictator or central figure in its system.  It is comparable to the emergent pedagogy idea of education because, if we are on the right track to discovering how our brain produces behavior, we may also find that learning is influenced in a similar way: by using many systems that coordinate with each other over time to produce a synchronized or common thought.  In the emergent pedagogy paper by Dalke, Grobstein, Cassidy and Blank of Bryn Mawr College, the common thought is emphasized in particular: it is not essential that the common thought be the ‘correct’ answer to a problem, but rather, it is the developmental journey to producing this thought that is most important.

    I have found from personal experience that I do crave individual advancement and commentary, and that when placed in a group environment, it is hard to have those needs satisfied.  However, having been a part of an emergent atmosphere last semester, I found that the production of ideas and the culmination of many diverse thoughts (from many genetically and experientially diverse people) lead to very interesting results that I may have never found in my own conscious thought process.  Realizing this small factor opened my eyes and I began to value the differing interpretations of my peers in a different manor.  We were all genetically diverse, with environmentally different backgrounds, and therefore had much more to offer—the discussion became multi-faceted and took many turns, but lead to a result that was somewhat tangible to each member of the discussion.  While at each turn most of the discussion members were blind to what followed, the learning process of taking those turns helped to facilitate and encourage further discussion in order to reach a new idea that embraced a part of each member.

    It is the learning process that is the fundamental building block of emergent pedagogy.  In a lecture-style classroom with a plan that is concrete, both the teacher and the student learn only what has been set out for them: the teacher learns nothing more and the student learns only what the teacher already knows.  While this seems adequate in a standardized testing environment, in the real world, this scheme seems ill equipped to foster new ideas.  A previous teacher of mine once posed this question: is there ever an original idea anymore?   I think she had a point, when looking through the lens of emergent pedagogy.  When teaching what has already been discovered and not allowing for the supplementation of diverse outlooks and ideas, no original idea can be formed.  However, when opening the classroom to a discussion environment based on the culmination of diverse ideas from diverse people, original ideas are much more apt to be produced because they are the result of pre-formulated ideas being adapted when new, diverse information is received.  To answer my teacher’s question, I would say that, in today’s educational environment, the concept of an original idea seems far-fetched; through the lens of emergent pedagogy, the original idea seems to be a result of a path of development.

    I recognize emergent pedagogy in my daily life.  Look at the Nobel Prize Winners for the past few years—there has rarely ever been a single nomination for an original discovery.  There is almost always a group of people working toward a common goal and discovering a novel idea.  Another applicable situation to emergence is national law—our ruling bodies and our people often have debates over personal experiences that lead to a change in a national law or expectation.  Without these personal experiences melding with other diverse outlooks, no new law could ever come to be.  For example, growing up, a girl was brutally murdered down my street.  Before that murder, there had been no law requiring sex-offenders to register with a bureau before living in a neighborhood.  Following the murder, many people came together to have discussions revolving around the prospect of registering sex offenders, which, over time, lead to the creation of a law requiring any person convicted of a violent crime to register with a specific bureau about his or her whereabouts. 

    It seems, then, that emergence is not a novel concept in the realm of everyday life, but rather, an original idea in regards to education.  The arguments for its success in education are strong, and I believe that, over time, emergence will become an adequate source of learning and information-gathering, if not a better source.  As I stated before, there is an argument that the creation of original ideas seems much better suited for an emergent atmosphere than a structured one.  However, therein lies a problem.  Today, we rely on standardized testing to test the aptitude of individuals K-12 and for college and graduate school entrance exams.  How, then, do we move forward to embrace the concept of emergence in the classroom and test aptitude?  Or, do we test aptitude at all?  Do we rely simply on the recommendation of many teachers about a student’s learning process?  Can we create some kind of test to delve into the developmental process of learning that one has experienced through emergence?  I think these are all valid questions that should be addressed in terms of emergent pedagogy.

    In all, emergence will not be easy to adapt to in the classroom because of the long history of structured education.  However, teachers and students must learn to embrace both their pre-designed ideas about education while incorporating an emergent aspect—just as emergent pedagogy states, the emphasis is on the learning process, and thus teachers and students must partake in such a learning process to incorporate emergent education into their plans.