Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 111-130

First online:

Emergent pedagogy: learning to enjoy the uncontrollable—and make it productive

  • Anne French DalkeAffiliated withDepartment of English, Bryn Mawr College Email author 
  • , Kim CassidyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Bryn Mawr College
  • , Paul GrobsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Bryn Mawr College
  • , Doug BlankAffiliated withDepartment of Computer Science, Bryn Mawr College

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This essay reflects the shared experiences of four college faculty members (a biologist, a psychologist, a computer scientist, and a feminist literary scholar) working together with K-12 teachers to explore a new perspective on educational practice. It offers a novel rationale for independent thinking and learning, one that derives from rapidly developing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary inquiries in the sciences and social sciences into what are known as “complex” or “emergent” systems. Using emergent systems as a model of teaching and learning makes at least three significant contributions to our thinking bout teaching, in three very different dimensions. It invites us into an awareness that the brains of individual students and teachers operate as emergent systems that are neither possible nor desirable to control fully. It invites us to appreciate as well that the activities and benefits of a classroom are not all individual interactions between teacher and student. Interactions among students and teachers are collectively contributing to a somewhat unpredictable project with an insistently social dimension, which is in turn crucial to the individual achievements of all involved. Finally, emergent pedagogy encourages us to consider more carefully the relations between the individual classroom and the larger educational community of which it is a component, including a challenge to rethink the matter of assessment.


Assessment Collaboration Complex systems Emergence Individuality Unpredictability