Social Software, Pedagogy and Reticence, A continuation

I returned from a couple of days spent with fellow liberal arts-bloggers at Bryan Alexander and Sarah Lohnes’ First MANE Social Software Users Group Meeting to find Aaron Campbell’s discussion of my January 12 entry over on his own blog, and Will Richardson’s take over on his blog about both our perspectives. Add to that Patti Ganley from C.A.S.T.’s reply, mix in the last two days’ worth of discussion with 15 colleagues (imagine being in the same room for two days with 15 people who share your take on pedagogy and technology…), and now H�ctor’s response and I feel ever more committed to speaking out about the kind of classroom where deep learning takes place and how social software can contribute to the goals of a student-centered, knowledge-creation and sharing environment. I’m ready to put together the talk for New Orleans next week with H�ctor and then to pull together my spring course blogs.

Sure, H�ctor makes a valid point about how we’ve made little if any progress on the constructivist front, especially in higher ed, as yes, Sunday’s NYT and yesterday’s article about ETS getting into info literacy testing demonstrate, but when I return from presenting our classroom work and see how others then take the lessons into their own classrooms, I remain committed to the goals. It’s agonizingly slow work and few get it. But look at the rewards for our students. So I’ll drag my little soapbox around and stand on it on every street corner I can and see who will listen–not about the social software itself or even to the pedagogy (which as “Too Many Topics, Too little Time Blog”points out, are both tools, after all, and

“the question to ask is what can i do next, ad then use whatever tools you have, pedagogies are tools, are technologies. when you start saying which determines which, you start dismissing the key point, the student, the learner, that person or those people determine both.”

–touch�) but to the students and what we want to make possible for them.

And Patti, who spends all her time in public school classrooms, writes:

BG, I don’t think it needs to be an “either/or” question. For you the process was just as much, or more, about the constructivist pedagogy and how using technology and multimedia could be a vehicle to support that. For other educators that may not be the case. They like the technology, they like that technology makes it easier to engage their students in the curriculum.The natural progression of students starting to take some ownership may be easier for those educators to incorporate than choosing to let go of that control in the beginning. Not everyone is as courageous as you are.

So, yes, in all your wonderful enthusiasm you should tell your story, but understand that not everyone has the skills, ability or desire to take on teaching from the circle. It is a scary proposition and teacher change is rare without sustained support, but isn’t it OK if educators try the technology and take the leap from the podium to the circle at their own pace?

Of course she, too, makes an important point, and several people at the Users’ Group meeting would support her argument that the only way some of these IT folks can sell technology at all to a reticent faculty is to show them that it makes what they already do easier. If faculty equate technology with more work and time and effort without commensurate rewards, then forget it. Very few people want to or can give more than they do already. As we know all too well, teachers are overloaded. And so slow adoption of tools little by little can indeed reassure the reluctant adopter that technology is time-consuming but not necessarily more so than any other careful, student-centered approach. It does take effort, there is a learning curve–and we should initiate NEH summer best-practices workshops and give teachers release time to learn how to teach with technology. We need Faculty Technology Fellows in our schools, given time to research the student-pedagogy-technology connection in their classrooms, to learn the tools and to try them out with support from IT, and to collaborate with colleagues in other institutions. Yes, we need time. And we need Patti Ganleys and H�ctor Vilas out there in classrooms showing teachers how and why it works.

What most concerns me is when classroom adoption of social software misses (or worse yet, ignores) the SOCIAL aspect. In some ways blogging is tailor-made for classroom use–it is by getting students talking with one another online IN CLASS and ABOUT CLASS as PART OF CLASS that we can hand over their learning to them, to energize them as active owners of their own educational experiences, and to help them to become effective citizens capable of thinking critically about the world. Of course, as several people pointed out at CET, students often resist group work for the “good” students want credit for their work and don’t want to carry the slackers. We have to show them them the benefits of collective intelligence. Reading the final reflections from H�ctor’s first-year seminar this morning, I was struck by how student after student commented about how they had to learn the benefits of community in this course, how to give of themselves without fear and how to listen to one another. And this is what H�ctor’s talking about when he writes in reply to my last post:

CORRECTIONS: “constructivist pedagogy,” a nice name, has not caught on in either K-6 or K-12. Sarah speaks from the priviliged positioning afforded by Teachers College. In reality, “No Child Left Behind” is the pedagogical imperative in K-12–ask around, or spend some time in schools, as I have.

We do see examples of “constructivist pedagogy,” mind you; however, teachers and curriculum moving full force in this direction–no way. Perfect example is in this past weekend’s NYTimes Education Supplement, an frightening characterization that in the past 20 years, 15 of which have involved technology, we’re still “ah ha’ing” the same things, wondering the same things, and we’ve moved forward NOT a bit, not a bit at all!

In a sense, we should start talking about “reality pedagogy.”

How is it possible that our students have spent some 12 – 16 years in school without learning how to work with one another creating knowledge or why they should even want to do so?

As we repeat ad nauseum, social software can make it easier to create student-centered, project-based communities of practice in our classrooms. Through the networked, restless becoming and public nature of blogs and wikis–if we teachers introduce and integrate them effectively– students challenge themselves to think deeply and creatively about the subject matter. Adding multimedia narrative and hypertext, audio and visual examinations of the world as they engage in published collaborative inquiry and knowledge production within virtual as well as f2f communities, students practice critical and creative thinking skills as well as how to care about more than their own monologue. Learning as a social activity–

What heartens me this week is the consensus at the meeting by IT and faculty attendees alike that we (this group) need to create a knowledge space among us, a portal of our combined experiences and resources, but also, and more significantly, to capitalize on the benefits of collaborating between our classes and our institutions. A couple of project ideas are stirring out there, especially in-the-wilderness blogging explorations (of the kind <a href=”http://mt.middlebury.edu/middblogs/pkashyap/India”target=”_blank&#8221; Piya is doing so magnificantly ), interest me. If I ask my students to work collaboratively, then I’d better do it myself. And I am in good company here, what with such folks as Doug Davis from Haverford and his ideas about creating a memex and collaborating with classes interested in the Arab World, and Linda Patrik at Union interested in developing a network of Study Abroad bloggers on the one hand and the talented and creative IT and library folks on the other who really get the student-pedagogy-technology connection. One foot in front of the other. Onward.

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One Response

  1. Hate to be the “reality” check in all this.

    The Mellon Foundation, comprised of the “higher-ups” in some of the best liberal arts institutions in the U.S., two of which you name in your post, rejected my grant application that asked that we bring together all these folks so as to be able to collaborate, share resources, and thus to establish a new foundation for working together, assessing our practice, our institutions, and therefore the future.

    Old paradigms are faltering–computers and writing, the center for advanced computing at UVA, etc–and new ones are required if we’re to meet the demands of this new age, just in its infacy.

    Are we going through growing pains?

    Anway, I was rejected…so I leave conjecture to you.

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