What we do during class time…

A quick rant:

Will’s post this morning pointing to Steve Dembo’s Podcast versus Lecture Shootout post and Dave Warlick’s “An Apple for my ipod post, ask the same question I get asked repeatedly about my blogging-podcasting-digital storytelling classrooms: If so much time is spent outside of class engaging in the discussions that normally take place inside the class (the blogging part), or in this case, if podcasts or vodcasts will replace the in-person lecture class, then what DOES go on in the classroom? I find this question nigh on shocking. And it points to the fact that we do not train our teachers about learning–about what education means. We do not ground them in classroom practices beyond the lecture-demonstration-discussion model, and we do not ground them in Paolo Freire or Ron Burnett who writes in his essay, “The Challenge of Change in Creating Learning Communities” : “…the importance of learning in a shared dialogue between partners and not in a monologue that is based on power.”

Indeed, I went on a bit about this topic a couple of posts ago and throughout my blogging. It’s hard not to get frustrated by this question–that it even needs to be asked.

Teachers are forever lamenting the fact that we don’t have enough time to dig into our subject in any depth, to do more than a greatest-hits kind of overview in survey courses, for example, because there’s so much ground to cover and so little time. First off, I have always had a hard time with the entire knowledge consumption model of education–well before a computer ever passed the threshold of my classroom. But, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a decent lecture (at certain moments). And a good lecture can work just fine virtually. So what do we do with all that time? Focus on the learning, provide opportunities for our students to practice and apply the discipline as apprentices in collaboration, rather than wasting the precious hours together in passive (or even active) listening.



* Engage students in collaborative, subject-centered learning through authentic projects, activities and simulations. Not all of these need to take place in class of course. The time together can function much like the circle around the fire–sharing, discussing, probing the issues. Teachers can present problems to be solved together, the way Exeter dispenses with textbooks almost completely and instead throws a challenging problem on the table that, when solved or explored, will trigger questions about the theories, the facts, the processes of the discipline. Students learn by questioning, questing, doing and consulting. (And don’t tell me you can’t evaluate such learning! The whole notion of evaluation is another post I’ve got steeping…)

* Bring experts into the classroom (and onto the blog) to contextualize the subject within the real world. Have them talk with (not at) the students. Have them, like Paul Klein did when he visited my class–give them an assignment (Paul gave my artswriting class the charge of designing an exhibition that would include a specified number of artists. They had to decide who to show, how and why. What a lesson in thinking , doing and writing about art! Or look at this assignment Jim Grant, a composer, gave to the class. Have them write wiki-books about the subject, creating the course text as they go. Have them explore create tags for the lecture or reading or discussion, compiling terms and tag clouds as a way to engage with the vocabulary of the discipline. I could go on and on here… Every course, every learning situation will invite its own opportunities.

* Throw the classroom doors open to service learning. Have the students apply the learning from the lectures, books and online discussions in efficiacious, meaningful work for the larger community in which they live.

* Have the students present their takes on pieces of the lectures–analyzing, extending, applying the learning for their peers. They can do mini-lectures and presentations in front of the group to gain experience in formal and informal presentation situations. They can create podcasts and vodcasts as well, comparing the three kinds of presentations within the field.

Ah, the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and by our grasp of the goals of formal and informal education and our specific course objectives ( of course we are often hampered by state mandates and standards). As Maxine Greene has said repeatedly, “Scholarship is intensely creative.” Shouldn’t teaching be so, too?

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