How should we teach in the wild? (Infrastructure and Swiss Wanderwegs)

2 minute read

So, for the last week or so I was in Switzerland. I had a conference to attend in Filzbach, but coming from Australia, you are braver than me if you don’t try to arrive at least a couple of days before you have to deal with sitting in a room all day.. jetlag means that I almost inevitably end up falling asleep after lunch if I don’t arrive a bit earlier. What does one do? Well, there is a lot of climbing in Switzerland.. but I only had a few days free before the conference, so instead of trying to meet up with friends, I just headed down to the alps to go walking in the mountains by myself for a couple of days. As a climber, the Eiger has a certain facination for me, so I went to Grindelwald and then wandered up into the mountains (on a Wanderweg - surprise, surprise ;) Now, what is awesome about the Wanderwegs of Switzerland? Infrastructure. But it is not an infrastructure that is just devoted to trying to keep you safe, not too many rails and boardwalked tracks there… and you can still get into an enourmous amount of trouble if you don’t prepare well… but you are scaffolded in your wandering (more or less as you choose). You can judge your ability and choose your route accordingly, which means that you can also have an amazing time. A choose your own type of personalised amazing time. I started musing about the wanderwegs as a metaphor for education while I was wandering around from hut to hut…

How should we structure our educational system? Should it be safe and well curated?

Safe walking

Or should it be wild and a little bit scary?

Wild and scary

I think that it probably needs to be a little bit of both.

Safe and scary

Perhaps we should stop “looking after” our learners at all… we could just point them in the direction that they need to go and let them wander off to succeed or fail…

Wanderweg sign

I think that it might be more effective if we lightly show them the way every now and again, when they need it.

Lighter approach to showing the way

The awesome thing about the Swiss mountains is that the infrastructure lets you do things that would normally be considered very wild in an incredibly safe manner… Thus you can catch a train up to Jungfraujoch and then walk across a glacier! This is not a normal “safe” experience. You are “in the wild” but you are there in a very safe way.

A safe glacier

They also do an impressive job of making the “boring bits” (i.e. the ones that are not essential to the journey) easy… you can persevere if you want, but it is not all that necessary.

You can make the boring bits easy

And you pretty much always get to celebrate your accomplishments at the end of your journey.

Celebrate 1

Celebrate 2

Now why can’t our learning systems be set up more like that?