Simone Dennis

Against Maieutic Teaching and Learning

Professor Simone Dennis, School of Archaeology and Anthropology

Even in the thick of research led teaching, it is very easy to retain a maieutic relationship between teacher and student.  Even here, teachers can be reduced to bringing known ideas to consciousness, something that Roslyn Diprose once described as paradigmatic of education in Australian universities (2000:124). What this really means is that I, as expert, but can never be affected by the emergent ideas of others, students. Taking in the unfamiliar ideas of others is utterly key to learning. It does not mean a person has to accept the ideas of others as fully formed and equivalent with long standing scholarly expertise. But the unfamiliar ideas of others CAN be admitted by using a two-part approach. First, undergraduate students reveal the processes by which came to understand and apply (in my case anthropological) knowledge.  I pin down those processes and make them available to all, alongside my own processes for learning things. In this we are equivalent  — and can challenge one another. Second, I showcase what the students produce resultant of those processes. Who better than undergraduate students who have just made key realisations about what anthropology is to tell those who want to learn about it? Who better to say how and to what they applied their newly acquired anthropological knowledge? Sharing this is, actually, sharing a bone fide research product or outcome. The approach is unique: it conceptualises knowledge acquisition that acknowledges students as experts in the making. It is also scalable and applicable to other fields where intellectual imperialism masquerading as caring and interested in another’s work—but which can never admit their unfamiliar ideas – survives. Gender and Indigenous fields spring immediately to mind, as they did for my own students, and about which they published in discipline journals – as undergrads. What does this approach mean for assessments?

speaker bio

Simone Dennis

Simone is the head of school for the School of Archaeology and Anthropology. Her research interests coalesce around phenomenologically informed anthropological theories of embodiment, the sense, and power. These interests are presently explored in ethnographic work on Christmas Island, which is framed by the politics of nationhood in contemporary Australia and the ways in which they have played out for Christmas Island’s multi-ethnic population;  in work among Persian women migrants, who have fled Iran in the past two decades; in research conducted in the technoscientific spaces of major Australian research laboratories in which mice and rats feature as animal models for human disease research; and in my fourth monograph, which looks at smoking practice in Australian urban spaces to look closely at the ways in which smoking entails and occasions social and corporeal relationships with others under increasingly legislated conditions governing space and behaviour and comportment within it.

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