Teacher, Teach Thyself Or Something Else Maybe

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I’ve been teaching “stuff” at universities for a while now, for over four years now if you can believe that. I’ve taught experimental game design, prototyping in two languages, human-computer interaction and part of other courses too. More recently, as I suppose I’ve gotten “used to” the basic act of being in a room doing the teaching thing, I’ve found myself wondering, quite often, what it is that I think I’m doing, and how I think I’m supposed to be doing it.

Students of mine, past and present, might want to avert their eyes, I can imagine this being disillusioning. Everyone else might want to avert their eyes, too, because I can imagine this being kind of pathetic and flailing, anyway. But I had to write something tonight, and this is it.

To me, teaching feels incredibly complicated one minute, and simple the next, and it oscillates to every intermediate value all the time. Maybe it occupies every position simultaneously. I don’t know. I do know that I’m generally filled with vaguely conflicting and definitely confusing impulses and leanings when I try to think about what my objectives are with my teaching. There’s definitely a “big two” “points of teaching” that I’m always agonizing about:

Make students be more like me. On the one hand, I believe in my “world view” of game design (or at least my view that there’s no privileged view or… something), and I want to communicate that to students and to get them to at least try out my own approach to things. On the other hand, this also feels like a “safer” stance, because honestly I don’t know what else I’d be able to teach them – at this point it feels like “being me” is the only thing I actually know how to try to teach. The only thing I’m a passable expert on.

Teach the collected wisdom of the ages. This is a thing I fear. I have a PhD and so I often fall prey to feeling, pretty deeply, like I should be leveraging vast knowledge of previous academic work on design and game studies and all that amazing research that people have done. The problem with that is that I don’t know that stuff. I spend a truly impressive amount of the time I spend thinking about teaching feeling browbeaten by “knowledge” and my “not having it”. Of course, I do know things, and I even know a portion of “the literature” in my areas, but it decidedly doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m cursed (though of course much more so blessed) by highly knowledgeable, deeply read colleagues. Including my wife, Rilla.

_So in the end I’m always left feeling super uncomfortable about teaching what amounts to my “world view”, because I know it’s just one of many and doesn’t have some special validity (and I strongly suspect doesn’t have any special utility), but then also uncomfortable teaching any other world view, because those, too, feel utterly contingent. But then it seems like a mistake to just teach by having students go through some process of “self discovery”, because that doesn’t necessarily feel like a very _efficient use of their time or the money they pay to come to class.

And yes it’s probably a good thing that I’m consciously worrying about these things and about epistemology and the value of knowledge in general, but it doesn’t feel that good and it doesn’t ever resolve into anything especially practical for me to bring to my actual, going into a room for four hours, teaching. It makes for hard sledding, if we’re being honest with each other (and I like to think that we are).

All that said, I’m still relatively new to teaching, still finding exercises that I think are helpful in helping young designers to see things about their practice or about the medium or about platforms, etc. Still trying to locate bits and pieces of literature that aren’t about world views but rather are about looking at world views themselves, I guess. Still uneasy with anything that ever sounds like a solution. Still trying, perhaps, at base, to lead by example through that uneasiness itself. Maybe the uneasiness is the shaky, shaky bedrock from which to “teach”.

And in the end, teaching’s just hard, I suspect, and won’t get any easier. And I’ll just have to live with that.


28 March 2014
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