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Neutral Pedagogy – Revisited

April 13, 2013

Reverting to an earlier activity, I want to look again at the concept of “Neutral Pedagogy” for, despite the very good work done by Brian Smith et. al., it seems to me, that the concept of neutral pedagogy”, has a limited application in the world of education relying, as it does, on a high level of self-motivation by the student.

I guess that my experience teaching the 11 – 16 age group in the State System, would be mirrored by many other such teachers who know from personal experience that learning is enhanced by their active involvement (leadership) in the classroom . . . always there is a perceived difference between teacher and taught . . . the teacher teaches and the pupils learn.

In the 1960s and 70s in the UK, efforts were made to ‘liberalise’ the curriculum in both the 6th Form and Further Education Colleges. Some of the tutors teaching “Liberal” or “General” Studies sought to identify themselves with their students in dress, speech and manner – ‘to become one of them’ and adopt a form of “neutral pedagogy. No matter in what way tutors sought to disguise themselves and their role, there was a perceptual difference between tutor and student. As I understand it, this initiative was eventually abandoned.

On the other hand studies from New Zealand “Effective Pedagogy in Pāngarau/Mathematics: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES)” stresses the importance of a deeply involved and active pedagogical practice; that the “locus of control” remains with the pedagogue whose task is to both generate and foster learning.

Furthermore, pupils/students often need to learn something despite their personal preferences . . . this is certainly true of practised skills, e.g. a pupil learning to play the piano needs to acquire a brain–eye–finger co-ordinated skill through the rehearsing and repeating of scales and arpeggios until these skills become habituated. Usually the teacher needs to be present at least in the initial stages of the learning process. There are many other examples that could be used to illustrate this point.

Whilst it appears from the literature, that there has been a degree of success with open learning involving “neutral pedagogy in some areas of higher education, i.e. post-graduate studies, these areas appear to be a relatively minor when education is viewed as a whole. Student led study seems to need a higher level of self-motivation than is common.
Additionally. there needs to be a perceived level of parity between student and tutor whose role is no longer clearly defined.


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  1. I’m definitely with you on that. In the interview Weller had with Cormier and Siemens, Siemens mentioned that the first MOOCs just used the same tools as online conferences they’d be running. Why did I laugh? Because a month previously I’d come to the conclusion that a cMOOC wasn’t a “course”, but rather a “conference”. No-one’s ever modelled a university course on a conference because it’s the wrong model. Conferences are meetings of peers, where people at the top of their game bang heads and swap ideas. Try doing that with a primary schooler, and what do you get? Beef-flavoured ice cream so that every bit of the meal is desert. Creative, yes; learning experience, no.

    • Hi Nial

      You’re so right. A course that is not tutor led will soon run off-course and founder in the morass of uninformed opinion.

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