The learning tightrope

Over the last several years, I’ve taught university students, high school students, and working professionals. One of the remarkable things is seeing how creative software is being taught to younger and younger audiences. The same programs and techniques I taught to university first years in the Communication Design degree a few years ago are now going to kids in high school. Not just iMovie, either: they also learn Final Cut Pro, or maybe Premiere. Here’s the part that’ll make your head spin — there are Grade 6 kids being taught ProTools. Hell, I don’t know ProTools.

University clearly teaches more theory than app usage, and that’s as it should be. Universities should teach students how to think, rather than how to do. If you just want to know how to do something, I can teach you more practical skills in a two-day intensive course than you’d get in a semester of a university degree (really!).

Still, it’s a little unnerving to wonder just what they’ll be teaching at universities in just a few years time, when half the class knows multimedia upside down and sideways already. More theory? Not if they want to appeal to half their audience. It’s a tricky path to follow: claiming to teach work skills while appeasing academics’ need to publish. Teaching people how to think when all they want is a bit of paper that will get them a job. Dealing with the fact that most of them work, many full time, when you’re expecting them to devote 40 hours a week to study.

Here’s the truth. If every university student simply read what their lecturers wanted, read all the notes, spent the amount of time they’re meant to on study, and crafted assignments to satisfy assessment criteria, they’d all get perfect 7s. HDs. Or nearly. If you’re thinking of studying — do it. Very worthwhile. Just don’t think of it as a way to get a piece of paper, it’s a way to expand your brain and make you a more interesting, employable person. Just ask your lecturers what they want, and you’ll do well.