JohnCage_teaching rules

Avant-garde composer John Cage started out as a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg. He greatly looked up to the exiled Austrian as a model of how a true artist ought to live. Cage, in turn, inspired generations of artists and composers both through his work – which incorporated elements of chance into his music – and through his teaching.

One of those whom he inspired was Sister Corita Kent. An unlikely fixture in the Los Angeles art scene, the nun was an instructor at Immaculate Heart College and a celebrated artist who considered Saul BassBuckminster Fuller and Cage to be personal friends.

In 1968, she crafted the lovely, touching Ten Rules for Students and Teachers for a class project. While Cage was quoted directly in Rule 10, he didn’t come up with the list, as many website sites claim. By all accounts, though, he was delighted with it and did everything he could to popularize the list. Cage’s lover and life partner Merce Cunningham reportedly kept a copy of it posted in his studio until his dying days. You can check the list out below:

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.


Taken from



One of the realities of current education models is that sessional staff and tutors are regularly required to whip together new subject and course material, sadly sometimes within days. As I’m currently enjoying full time employment as a senior lecturer, this situation is one I no longer suffer from, but having operated as a sessional lecturer for several years, its a panicy scramble I’m all too familiar with.

While I’m loath to support this system as it stands, I’m also sympathetic to those who’s income depends upon being able to throw together a course ASAP, and who have the integrity to keep it academically rigorous, student focused and flexibly delivered. I recently game some advice to a friend who now finds herself in this situation. Here’s what I offered:

You have to have a subject template and outline. Whoever is asking you to create the courseware will have this, or the course won’t have been approved. Once you have this document, you will have a helicopter view of what the course is about, how it is being assessed and what the outcomes should be. Its still pretty scary how little you have to work with, but this freak-out moment is a great opportunity to brainstorm and jot down some ideas for the course themes and delivery. Break it down into what you need to teach by working back from the intended outcomes. Also look at what the related opportunities could be: guest speakers, related events, etc.

Now you need to develop some assessable tasks and collate the content.

While I don’t condone and certainly don’t recommend cutting and pasting a course from another uni, seeing what else is around at some of the high rankers and ivy leagues is pretty useful and inspiring.

For the areas I teach, my first port of call is typically the MIT open courseware material.

here you can search the key words to best describe the subject/course you are about to run and you usually get pretty solid syllabus structure and readings. Most of what I teach is practice-focused, so MIT works for me, but more theory related stuff is available at Yale’s open courses. There’s a full list of universities with freely available course content here. You might find some sweet lecture ideas, tute plans, and course trajectories, but it will need to be heavily customised and remixed for your own purposes.

You will need to forge out your own distinctive offering.

To do this, Google Scholar is a great resource for searching recent texts for reading material and it can handle stacks of key words to really specify the content. Depending on your subject, you might also find some interesting and relevant support material a places like the Khan Academy, and by searching though videos, podcasts and even games.

These can really help you flesh out class plans and structure weeks, themes and subjects. This all comes together in a word doc.


Once I have put together a week-to-week breakdown of the lectures and tutorials, I put it into a spreadsheet, and then drop it all in a blog. This not only plans everything out, but also provides access to all of the lectures, tutorials, assessable material, readings, terminology, and supporting content to your students once the course starts. Here are some examples:

Now when a student says, “did I miss anything in this weeks tute”, I can just say: “as I said in week one, check the blog!”

You will probably still be writing the tutorials and lectures the night before, but you at least have a structure that can be followed, a whole bunch of resources that can support your students, and a class based on some of the better international



I used to love TED. Today, not so much.

I think it was when I realised I was coming away happier, but not smarter.


My suspicions toward it grew gradually in about 2008 and by 2011 I really saw it as a forum focused not so much toward how to fix problems, but how to foolishly create and propagate them. Increasingly, I recognised a streamlined design based storytelling that promotes simple quick fixes for symptoms of problems, but not problems themselves.

It was the youtubification of the Californian Ideology.

One of the difficult problems of TED is that what is wrong with it is not always easily explained. This is why I’m so happy and relieved to see the TED talk presented by Benjamin Bretton transcript available here‘s critique on TED over at Readwrite and Megan Garber’s How Ted Makes Ideas Smaller.

This popular backlash against TED is as predictable as it is required.



This is taken from the VIA University College Website
Theory and practice go hand in hand

The alternation between theory and practice is characteristic of the Scandinavian education culture. We combine theory and practice, both deeply rooted in the trades and professions for which we train our graduates.

All our study programmes include practical training periods, during which students not only observe but also work with the prob­lems of real life. As a student, you will experience dilemmas where the ability to combine theory with practice gives you the basis for gaining new knowledge and insight. This type of education is the foundation of our schools and faculties.

Dialogue versus one-way communication

At our schools and faculties, as in Denmark in general, our teach­ing style focuses on the students being responsible for their own education. This is different from many other countries where the lecturer is expected to be responsible for the development of the students. We emphasise the contact between lecturers and students, and this manifests itself in the way we communicate in the classroom. We expect the students to participate actively in the lectures by asking quali­fied questions and by challenging themselves and the lecturer. Overall, we encourage the exchange of ideas and knowledge which everyone benefits from.

Problem-based learning

Students play an active role in the learn­ing process and take responsibility for planning and carrying out projects, either independently or in groups. The students also learn how to work in multicultural teams with teach­ers assigned as supervisors to guide them through the learn­ing process.

Future employers, whether private companies or public insti­tutions, put a high premium on these qualifications, because new graduates have knowledge of the latest theories and methods as well as hands-on experience with how things are done in “real life”.