Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. Everything has been figured out, except how to live. One always dies too soon or too late. And yet, life is there, finished. The line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life. There is only one day left, always starting over. It is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk. We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are, that is the fact. When you live alone you no longer know what it is to tell a story: the plausible disappears at the same time as the friends. You let events flow by too.Suddenly you see people appear who speak and then go away; you plunge into stories of which you can't make head or tail. You'd make a terrible witness. It is true that people who live in society have learned how to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends. Luckily, I only have a few...

Dr Shaw is a lecturer in Further Education at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. She also offers philosophy courses at the School of Continuing Education, Lifelong learning, at the University of Liverpool. In 2015, she has completed her Doctorate in philosophy with a focus on existentialism, the equilibrium doctrine and narrative. She has worked as a teacher of English and Comparative literature and Philosophy at The American University in Cairo, Egypt where she also obtained her BA (Hons). Dr Shaw has an MA in Philosophy and Literature from the University of East Anglia where she also taught on a number of humanities subjects. Whilst working in North Wales in Further education, she gained a PGCE aimed at teaching in FE and HE sectors. Dr Shaw moved to Liverpool in 2010 where she now resides.

Interests: Existentialism, Narrative, Comparative Literature, Feminist Thought, Public Speaking, Arab Existentialism, Philosophy of Education, Art, Music, Film and Theatre, Greek Mythology, Existential counsellor and psychotherapist.


Sunday, 6 March 2011

Philosophy in the WRONG hands

A teacher once told me this Chinese proverb that I can never forget: 

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

There are two methods of public engagement in philosophy. Each has its merits and flaws. One is talking at the audience and the other is talking with them.

At first glance, talking at the audience is deemed to be inappropriate, yet widely used and accepted as the norm. It is strange how people know that it is the most boring monotonic method that someone could ever use to deliver a talk and yet still do it.

Many philosophers give papers in conferences voluntarily or upon invitation from specific departments where they are expected to talk at the audience by reading out a paper that they wrote which demonstrates a line of thought or an argument. However, this does not mean that all papers follow this structure. Some lecturers/philosophers opt for talking with the audience by presenting their paper in an interactive manner using a variety of learning aids, i.e. projector, interactive white board, flip-charts or even handouts.

This is a more successful option yet not widely used and encouraged. Some departments, because of their limited facility /funds expect the speaker to stand, talk at the audience, and have a follow up with questions and answers session- which normally lasts 20-35 minutes max.

So why do philosophy lecturers/speakers do not use this successful method and opt for the boring quick option?

There are many reasons for this. One is because as experts they would like to think themselves to be, they lack the most essential ingredient to make their talk successful, which is the "public engagement skills". Whether we like to admit to this or not, it is almost like a stage performer or an entertainer of some sort.

They (speakers who follow the monotonic speedy talk style) have no teaching skills to prepare them to tailor their talk to suit all learning styles among the audience, hence they fail to deliver what they are saying and consequently making it understandable. Besides, they may have no idea how to operate the most simple teaching aid available that would have made a huge difference to bridge the gap between the content of their paper and the audiences' comprehension of what is said.

This, however, does not mean that all those who use teaching aids are successful either. Some speakers use it in excess which affects badly the content of their presentation and irritates the audience. I.e. a phrase used in this case is "death by power-point". 

So a good lesson from this is: 
For a philosophy talk to be successful, the ingredients must be balanced...
as many people say it must be "spot on".

Another reason why people opt for the boring option is simply following the departments' low morale  towards teaching advancements, change and technology in general- in addition to lacking the facilities of course. The traditionalist teaching method of giving a talk followed by 20 minutes questions and answers is very likely to be monotonic and the attention span of the audience drops tremendously after the first 30 mins through the talk- and possibly stays down till the talks ends (accompanied by a massive sigh of relief).

A dangerous reason that many speakers are victims of is an egotistic one, or loving one's own voice. This is fatal in every way and is a direct cause of irritation to those who actually manage to bear sitting to the end of the talk (probably because they are sitting far away from the door, feel trapped and will be embarrassed to be the cause of disturbance whilst all eyes will be on them).

Although those who follow talking at the audience believe that they are keeping their talk simple, friendly and relaxed, this is not the case. Talking at the audience is an invitation to drift to wonderland where one delves into his/her own thoughts and dreams blocking out what is said. I personally cannot help starring at the speakers shoes, facial expressions, the walls, celing, other people and other irrelevant objects. It is an uncomfortable confusing approach as the audience cannot see what the speaker is referring to in the paper- i.e. a quote, an image or even a phrase. Lacking visual imaging on a power-point presentation or a handout can be very difficult for the audience to feel the can relate and understand what the speaker is saying/referring to. 

As a result, the speaker is in his own bubble from start to the end of his/her talk unable to make the connection with the audience. And hence when the talk ends, the audience would have minimal/no recollection of the talk's content or even the valuable points mentioned throughout. The voice becomes like a bad radio show that one would rather "nod off" till it ends. Such a shame that the content suffers in return. 

The meaning is lost, slaughtered by a monotonic speaker...and the ideas are in the wrong hands...
                                                                                          - Shereen Shaw

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