Learning, gurus, and BSOS

In a comment on Jen’s post about web 2.0 not necessarily being the future of education, Rob Wall talks about B.S.O.S. — Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.

Many educational technologists have a slightly geeky personality and become attracted to cool new technology toys. I myself have been guilty of over-using nifty new technologies because I find them  bright and shiny? rather than picking tools that suit what my students need to learn….

There are many good tools that can be put to good use helping students learn. Some of the technologies are, by our thinking, old ones like the printing press or paper. Some of the new ones and upcoming ones will also be useful. I think mobile devices like the iPhone/iPod touch hold some exciting possibilities. But I need to remind myself to pick the tools to fit the job, not to pick the jobs that fit the newest tools.

I followed Rob back to his Open Monologue and his recent post, No Gurus. He talks about many smart, funny, articulate people he’s learned from. He appreciates what they’ve shared but doesn’t see them as gurus, a term he equates with sitting on a mountaintop in a state of blissful enlightment.

I like the term guru, myself, as a way of describing someone with in-depth knowledge or insight. Informally, I think we use the term as a synonym for expert, with a twist: a guru helps you move toward the expertise and insight you seek.

(Or, sometimes, helps you make the decision to choose another path.)

Speaking of sects and cults, David Lane said that the bigger the claim a guru makes, the bigger the chance is that the guru is unreliable. That makes sense in the world of learning as well.  I often refer to Joe Harless as my guru because of what I learned from him.  Joe would no more claim to have all the answers than he would claim to know all the questions.  Even after much professional success, he’d revisit what he thought he knew and question it, rework it.

“Rely on the teachings to evaluate a guru,” says the Dalai Lama.  “Do not have blind faith, but also no blind criticism.”

This applies to your personal learning as well: if you’re guiding yourself, you need to think every so often about how good the guide is.

Photo of Bright Shiny Object by Sidereal / Jack Lyons.