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|| News Item: Posted 2011-12-12

What Mistakes Have You Made Lately?
By Brad Shirakawa

Recent events have made me oddly wonder: How do I ‘teach’ students to make mistakes, so they can learn more on their own?

I just started teaching again at San Jose State, my old stomping grounds. It’s where I got my Bachelors in Photojournalism and my Masters in Mass Comm. My class is Mass Comm 63.

Photo by Brad Shirakawa

Photo by Brad Shirakawa

Students at work in the lab at SJSU.
63 is quite a new challenge. It’s a hybrid of Mass Comm-Journalism-PR-Advertising, job skills and software. As in; I teach them Photoshop, InDesign, Audacity (audio editing), iWeb, iMovie and WordPress…in one freakin’ semester!

Students pick a topic, like skateboarding, or cheap eats for college students, and then blog about it all semester. Their photos, movies, podcasts, brochures, etc, all go onto their blog. So by semester’s end, they have a pretty snappy online resume and presence that looks awfully good come job search time.

What I’ve noticed most is while the students are generally great, they tend to lack the willingness to try something new. Some won’t try the software on their own, unless I show it to them first. When I told them they should just push some buttons (in the software) and see what happens, they looked at me like I was crazy.

Like many of you, I learned most of my software skills either on my own, or on the job. It’s disheartening to see that ‘learning from mistakes’ has been sort of beaten out of them.

Students are so conditioned now to do all they can to pass the test or exit exam, they’re afraid to make a mistake. Even if there is an ‘undo’ button.

Ok, I have to grade them based on how well they do on their projects, but most of us would admit we often learn the most from our mistakes. It makes me wonder where education is really taking us.

Any thoughts? And what mistakes have you made lately?

(Brad Shirakawa has been teaching since 1998 and this is his second stint at SJSU as an instructor. He worked as a shooter for a small paper in Hollister, Calif., and later as an assistant for a San Jose, photo studio and as a second cam/editor for a local video production company. As a kid, he sang in the church choir with a certain Mr. Hanashiro. The Doors first record would be on his desert island record player.)

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