One of my most powerful learning experiences resulted from a textbook that contained a considerable number of errors. Back in the 1970’s, I took a Digital Electronics class and the disciplines in this field were fairly new, at the time. Our instructor, Mr. Dennis Winter was initially very disappointed that the text he had chosen for our class was saturated with errors. I did not know this at the time, but Mr. Winter recognized that his students had already purchased the text and he was not going to request his students to purchase another book. Mr. Winter decided to challenge us to find the mistakes throughout the text, and he provided various incentives when we did. We really ripped into the text, we were inspired by the thought of being the person that found the most mistakes. It was amazing to see how much and how fast we were learning while looking for mistakes. I do not even remember when we realized that in order for us to find the mistakes, we had to figure out what was correct, meaning that we really had to critically think through the material that we had. I learned several powerful lessons from this experience: 1) You can really make something good out of a bad situation. Mr. Winter chose to see the possibilities of how his students could better absorb the material using a text riddled with errors rather than simply buying into the limitations of a book with mistakes. 2) Just because something is in a book doesn’t make it true. My K-12 education in the 60’s and 70’s occurred during a culture, that I believe, comforted students with the assumption that ‘if it was in the book, the magazine, or the newspaper, it had to be true!’ Mr. Winter’s strategy gave me the courage to challenge many of the assumptions like this that I grew up with and I recognize this class as a ‘Tipping Point’ for my learned ability to challenge more assumptions. I also attribute much of my career and personal success in this world of accelerating technological change and discovery, to Mr. Winter’s creative approach to a bad text book. These lessons also serve me well in this newer Cyber World where practically anyone can publish almost anything. 3) I also learned how to approach suspect information to the extent that I had to challenge my assumptions at almost every level. This really helped the material take up residence in my long term memory. Bottom line is that I knew Digital Electronics better than any of my peers as a Printed Circuit Board Technician on radar systems at Westinghouse Defense Electronics, and as a Data Systems Support Customer Engineer working on mainframes at IBM. We have to find more ways to inspire students towards possibilities and not allow them to be consumed with PERCEIVED limitations.

Share