The Learning Gene
Listening for things we don’t know how to listen for. The Learning Gene is a podcast, blog and resource for anyone who wants to learn more about how to teach, analyze and create audio-essays. It’s for students who want to learn more about the craft of audio, and it’s for educators who want to bring audio into the classroom.
The Learning Gene is a project in Experimental Humanities. It doesn’t look to “experts” as authorities on knowledge or truth, as if expertise is unattached from the immersive, collaborative and open-ended practices of knowledge-seeking. Instead, The Learning Gene places its hope in the promise that “the unknowable is unknown.” Join us as we explore the unknowable limits of what we can (and cannot) learn about nature, science, classrooms and “learning” itself.
How to use this site
Under “Episodes,” listen to The Learning Gene podcast episodes. Each episode has its own show notes (with references & suggested resources) and transcripts.
The philosophy behind the project
Here’s the thing about teaching: it absolutely depends upon the creative and open interplay with students. (Some philosophers say that teachers are only “teachers” when students grant them this identity). But when scientists or philosophers study the nature of learning, they often point to expertise or to specific mechanisms (like learning genes) as the key factor in teaching. This turns students into objects of teaching, instead of essential collaborators. The Learning Gene investigates these kinds of phenomena in order to solicit alternative accounts of teaching and learning. And it does so by bringing audio directly into the classroom. We’re in search of sonic feedback loops!
The Learning Gene takes its cues from this statement by Ira Glass: “Radio is a peculiarly didactic medium.” Ira is being sincere here: radio (or audio more broadly) holds great promise as a form of pedagogy. Along these lines, The Learning Gene offers a range of audio essays, podcast episodes, blog posts and interviews that seek to teach—to explore, analyze and reflect on important subjects related to feminism, philosophy, critical theory, science, “race” and racializing violence, gender and the relationality of identity, existentialism, the very nature of abstraction, and other timely topics.
Ira’s statement can be taken another way, though: if radio is peculiarly didactic, then audio is an untapped protagonist in the dramas of teaching and learning. The Learning Gene investigates this possibility by mic-ing up academic activities. Shared under a creative commons license, The Learning Gene is an open educational resource that records, archives and shares the soundscapes of learning.
The Learning Gene is a collaborative project, undertaken by undergrads, grad students, recent graduates and professors.
The Learning Gene is facilitated by Ada Jaarsma, who is associate professor of Philosophy at Mount Royal University, located on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of Treaty 7 in Calgary, AB Canada. Ada teaches existentialism, critical theory, feminist philosophy, continental philosophy and philosophy of science. Her book Kierkegaard after the Genome: Science, Existence and Belief in This World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) explores the existential significance of placebos, epigenetics and science studies. Additional publications can be found here. Ada’s CV is here. Listen to a conversation about her teaching here, and read about her philosopher-portraits here.
Kaitlin Rothberger studies philosophy and gender studies at York University in Toronto. She’s a reporter-in-the-field for The Learning Gene podcast, tracking and exploring the dramas that beset undergraduate classrooms. Kaitlin has wide-ranging interests in feminist, critical, disability and queer theory, philosophy and pedagogy.
Namrata Mitra teaches English at Iona College in New York. In addition to research in postcolonial literature and political philosophy, she is working on a study of the somatic, affective and relational nature of shame. She also researches the creative dissonances at play within classrooms—a theme that you can hear more about in the first episodes of The Learning Gene podcast. Her primary interest in the medium of the podcast is that it can host exchanges, pauses, and reflections in rhythms similar to the ones enacted in the classroom. She hopes that one day her students will also participate in the podcast.
Kyle Kinaschuk is a doctoral student in the Department of English where he studies contemporary poetics and questions of elegy, mourning, and vulnerability. At the Learning Gene, Kyle tracks the soundscapes of graduate student research and teaching.
Anna Mudde listens to podcasts and teaches philosophy in Regina, Canada, on Treaty 4 land. Peter Gzowski’s CBC radio conversations were the soundtrack of her childhood, and she likes to keep her mind busy while she does things with her hands — so: podcasts! Her interest in the critical philosophical possibilities of audio essays, her appreciation for the artful skill of an interview done well (and badly!), and wondering about the potential for podcasts to form philosophical launch points or “texts,” make The Learning Gene an exciting place for her to think with others about podcasts. You can see more about her work at annamudde.com.