The How vs. The Why

Towards the end of last year I received a request from a teaching colleague about providing a bit of technical assistance for one of her students with a video project. The student, whom I will simply refer to as Joanna, was studying the HSC Extension 2 English course and had set herself a fairly grandiose goal for a movie project. Ext2 English is a very demanding course, and Joanna had elected to create an elaborate video as part of the package of material she was submitting for assessment.

Joanna’s goals for the movie were considerable. She had a number of special effects in mind to help tell the story she wanted to tell, but she had very little actual experience in movie making. Some of the effects she was proposing were very sophisticated, with visions of a very dreamlike sequence and some unusual effects… effects that were far beyond those available in entry level video editing software. She came to me to ask for some advice about the best tools to use and how she could learn to use them, and I quickly worked out that Joanna would not be prepared to compromise or “dumb it down” to make it easier on herself. After a bit of discussion about what she was trying to create I recommended she think about using Sony Vegas. Vegas is a sophisticated non-linear video editing application with a fairly steep learning curve. Joanna took the task very seriously however, and was not daunted by the enormous job in front of her. She obtained a copy of the software, enrolled in a 2 day course in Sony Vegas, watched a couple of training DVDs, and asked me lots of questions. During the project she had numerous technical hurdles to overcome including a couple of major project rebuilds due to lost resource files, not to mention dealing with the logistical nightmare of a final working file of over 30 Gigabytes! After all the tears, sweat and love, the result of her work, a video piece called The Sounds of the Silent, earned her one of the highest marks in the state for the subject and contributed to an outstanding HSC result.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

What I find most fascinating about all of this is that Joanna’s desire to produce this video far outweighed her own technical knowledge about how to do it, as well as her teacher’s technical knowledge, and it certainly stretched my own technical knowledge as I tried to assist her through the hard parts of the project. The important lesson from this is that if you want something bad enough then you will figure out how to make it happen. Once you have the “want to” you eventually work out the “how to”.

That’s an important lesson for us as educators. We sometimes feel our students need to know all the information before they can proceed, or that acquiring the facts is the important part of learning. Not always true. Sometimes the acquisition of knowledge or facts is the least important factor in success… the really important factor is something much simpler – just a desire to create, to learn, to express oneself.

Perhaps we should be thinking about how best to create in our students this desire to find out the “how” by igniting their sense of “why”. If we continue to give our students a strong sense of why they need to learn things by giving them real-world tasks that they genuinely care about, the mechanics of how they learn would almost take care of themselves.

CC BY-SA 4.0 The How vs. The Why by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

5 Replies to “The How vs. The Why”

  1. Hi Chris,
    Inspiring story here about learning. I heard a quote one time that I can’t attribute to a source, but it sums up your post on this creative project. If you need people to build an ark, don’t teach them about nails and wood, give them a reason to go to sea.

  2. It sounds as if you are talking about Independent Learners. These are the students that I am not worried about. It is the Dependent Learners that concern me… The students that need a teacher to tell them what to do and how to do it. I fear this is what some are creating in their classrooms.
    Your last sentence sums it up. Thanks for the post

  3. If we continue to give our students a strong sense of why they need to learn things by giving them real-world tasks that they genuinely care about, the mechanics of how they learn would almost take care of themselves.

    Absolutely. I’ve had similar experiences with my kids–and with myself, for that matter. I’ve learned tons of things outside a formal setting just because I had a driving desire to learn them. And oddly enough, one of those things was use of video editing software, which can be daunting no matter what your age. Kudos to Joanna for tackling this, and kudos to you for supporting her.

  4. Hi Mr. Becther!

    I’m glad to see that there are teachers out there who genuinely search for bettering students learning. Whether a student is dependent or independent the ‘why’ will always spark a drive to learn ‘how’ and that is from a students point of view.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?