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Instructional dialogues

Posted in all posts, education, stories by coleman yee on September 26, 2007

Professor Zo: I’d like to talk about this interesting way of teaching. The best thing about it is that it can work in a lecture or classroom setting, and it can work online as well. You don’t even need to be a computer nerd to do it online…

Alice: Use a story?

Prof Zo: Hmm you’re right actually. But I was thinking of something else, which is somewhat related to stories. In fact, you might say it’s a type of story. Anyone?

Bob: You’re gonna have to give us a hint – we still haven’t mastered the art of mindreading.

Prof: Okay here’s a huge hint. Plato used this technique frequently. While I’m not sure if he was the first, he’s probably the most well-known…

Cindy: Dialogues. He’s known for his Socratic dialogues.

Prof: Do tell us more…

Cindy: Well, Plato wrote a great number of works in the form of dialogues – usually two or three people discussing about a matter. They’re called “Socratic” because the main character of the dialogues is usually Socrates.

Alice: So by “listening in” to their dialogue or conversation, we actually learn something?

Prof: You got it. If you’re interested, you can check out Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a very well-known dialogue between Socrates and someone else. It’s one of his easier ones too.

Bob: Prof, any modern examples to show us?

Prof: Certainly. How many of you have read or heard of Hofstadter’s book, Gödel, Escher, Bach?

Prof: Nobody? What a shame. Anyway, it covers philosophy, mathematics, music, art.

Bob: Philosophy again!

Prof: It’s fascinating! Anyway, every chapter of the book starts off with an entertaining dialogue, usually between Achilles and Tortoise.

Achilles: What is that strange flag down at the other end of the track? It reminds me somehow of a print by my favorite artist, M.C. Escher.

Tortoise: That is Zeno’s flag.

Achilles: Could it be that the hole in it resembles the holes in a Möbius strip Escher once drew? Something is wrong about that flag, I can tell.

Tortoise: The ring which has been cut from it has the shape of the numeral for zero, which is Zeno’s favorite number.

Achilles: But zero hasn’t been invented yet! It will only be invented by a Hindu mathematician some millennia hence. And thus, Mr. T, my argument proves that such a flag is impossible.

Cindy: I’m not sure if I get it…

Prof: That’s only an excerpt – too short to be very comprehensible, but long enough to give you an idea of what a dialogue could be like.

Alice: Okaaay… but can we have one more example, please? And something that I can understand?

Bob: And not on philosophy?

Prof: Hah! I was expecting this. You’re in luck – just the other day, I was surfing around and found this blog on typography. It’s called “I love typography“.

Bob: Typography? You mean about fonts and all that? Maybe we shoulda stuck with philosophy…

Prof: Believe me, typography is not just about fonts. It’s a fascinating subject. In fact, I know of this book on typography and some philosophy as well…

Bob: It’s okay Prof!

Prof: But do let me know if you’re interested in the book. Anyway, I read this post in I love typography where the author used a dialogue in the form of an interview to teach about serifs.

Cindy: Serifs are just little hooks at the ends of some letters. You don’t need a dialogue to learn about serifs!

Prof: Perhaps not. But it certainly helps if you want to learn about adnate or abrupt serifs. Or the difference between Egyptian and Humanist serifs. Or…

Cindy: Okay I get the point. Show us that post already!

Prof: The post is The Return of the Serif. Type Terminology. That blog is worth reading – the blogger John D Boardley uses many interesting techniques to teach the reader about typography.

Alice: Prof, could we have just one last example of an instructional dialogue?

Prof: Alice, we’ve just been participating in one.

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