Another Resolution: Making my Pedagogy As Well as My Courses Visible

Inspiring, inspired work: Henry Jenkins today decribes his January course at MIT. These are the kinds of posts we need from one another as we try to build sound, effective practices in our classrooms–this is the kind of individual contribution to knowledge spaces that leads to powerful collective intelligence (as opposed to what Kathy Sierra’ describes as the “Dumbness of Crowds”)–indeed, M.I.T.’s open courseware exemplifies opening the doors of education to anyone with internet access.

Of especial interest to me is this excerpt from his section, “Educational Goals”:

This workshop emerged from a series of conversations that Henry Jenkins and Alex Chisholm had with more than 50 different companies, large and small, which might be interested in hiring Humanities-trained media studies students upon their graduation. We were consistently told that while Liberal Arts students are highly desired by employers because of their mental flexibility and breadth of background knowledge, they often lacked some core skills that would make them ideal employees. Among those things most often identified were leadership experience, teamwork, communication skills, brainstorming and problem solving skills, competitiveness, and the experience of carrying a project through to completion. So, one important thrust of the workshop was to give our own graduate and undergraduate students training and experience in these areas.

Sounds much like what Ken Robinson says in his TED talk, Creativity and Education” and in his book, Out of Our Minds, Learning To Be Creative which I’ve blogged about here.

And so, this spring I plan to link my blog-based courses to pages outlining my educational goals, methodology, reflections on outcomes, set-up considerations, etc. as a way both to contribute in my own small way to the growing body of online resources for teachers and learners and to reflect on and assess my practices. Learning from such teachers as Henry Jenkins, I will look for ways to enhance my students’ “leadership experience, teamwork, communication skills, brainstorming and problem solving skills, competitiveness, and the experience of carrying a project through to completion.” Yes, in the writing classroom.

8 Responses

  1. Barbara, just to let you know that your ongoing source of information, knowledge, and indeed hyperlinks are of vital importance to me at this stage of my education – and come to think of it – actually has been through my entire master thesis process and progress!! I love the excerpt about “educational goals” and your link to the Time Magazine from your last post 🙂

    In case you should forget how important you are to your students and blog readers now that you’re on a sabbatical, I thought I better remind you 😉

    Another thing, Barbara, I really don’t think you should worry too much about being too present on behalf of your students unless, of course, it’s a monumental sacrifice on behalf of yourself and your private life. Having teachers and professors present while being presented to huge amounts of novel information is invaluable while trying to make sense of it all, and indeed in adding it to our previously attained knowledge structures. You see, what makes sense to a professor may prove to be totally incomprensible and obscure to some students until they are provided with the necessary scaffolding from the respective professor/instructor.

    While attending my web design course we (57 students) occasionally found ourselves totally incapable of solving some of the continually erupting complex problems – and that in spite of our radiant and continuous collective interaction, collaboration, and communication!! When our ideas and technical skills had been completely exhausted we had no other choice than to turn to our professor, and once or twice prior to deadlines when she wasn’t available we were totally devastated. As a last alternative, we had thought we could use the blog to reach our professor being that the blog is online and available continuously, but soon discovered we were wrong.

    Don’t take me wrong, I don’t think professors should have to be available all the time, but blogs do indicate almost all the time, don’t they? Possibly, our professor may have spoiled us with her typically relentless engagement and availability causing us to expect and demand an attention that was completely out of proportion…. It may be something blogging professors should consider critically before they invite the platform into the classroom, or what do you thing?

  2. Thanks for the great comment, Toril. I appreciate hearing your take on the issue of professor availability, especially the anecdote about being in class and feeling lost at times when your professor was unreachable. It’s a good point, especially about it being essential that teachers really think through and articulate as part of the course overview their boundaries and their availability. We also need to make sure that our assignments are effective and that we make our pedagogy transparent, so that students understand why they’ve been asked to undertake a particular project or exercise. Then we have to be willing to stand aside and watch them flail a bit together and on their own to make sense of the material. If we’re too available then they never get to experience glorious failures, which are the most valuable learning experiences. I worry that because we care so much about our students, we have not let this generation fail, or to struggle with ideas and processes–to see that the doing and not the answer IS the point.

    One tension I see as a teacher of 18-22 years olds is a generational difference in notions of time and of access and of etiquette. I’ve written about this before, but I’m not sure I have really found the ideal solution for my classroom. Just as I am a slow-blogger, I am a slow emailer, and phonecall-returner—perhaps because I am a passionate person who tends to throw herself into the mix, I have learned to step back, take a breath, and be more mindful of the fuller picture. Students want answers now. I want them to struggle a bit for the answers–I want them to know that I don’t have any answers, only they do. Sometimes I think they turn to me too quickly, online and off. I want them to develop the problem-solving, teamwork, brainstorming skills Jenkins mentions, as well as self-reliance.

    But I am also keenly aware of the positive impact of office hours when students can drop by for the ten-minute consult. My classes are small, however, and we have built a strong sense of bonding among us from the first day and so nearly every student drops by from time to time—not just those who are struggling or excelling.

    Lanny Arvan has a terrific post on office hours well worth reading.

    More to think about here, and well worth a full post–thanks!

  3. Barbara, I love your reflections about availability since it is feature of blogs and blogging that I have thought of quite extensively both lately and before (in academic papers).

    Anyways, the link to Lanny Arvan doesn’t work and I was wondering if it’s fixable, because I would love to read it before I venture out of Cyberworld 🙂

  4. The link to Lanny is fixed…

  5. Dear Barbara,

    I just wanted to thank you for your site and for sharing so much of your work. After years of considering it, I’m just going to plunge in and do a class blog for my spring ’07 English composition course. I’m nervous though–that there are unintended consequences that I’m not considering, but I’m mostly excited.

    I’ve been reading about the work you’ve been doing and others and appreciate your visibility. I’m learning this all on my own–any places you recommend that have “how-to’s?”

    The simplest thing would be for me to have my students sign up for blogger accounts, but I’ve been looking into dropal and moodle–maybe I need to take it one step at a time, though. . .

    Nice meeting you!

  6. Lanny, I loved your post, but need to read it more carefully before I make any comments – if you know what I mean?? The latest link to Polly McClure’s article is vastly appreciated as it is an issue that really occupies my mind. I’m likely to have read the article meticulously before the day is over (although not before dark as we have very little daylight in Norway these days).

    It’s really strange that the link between human and dog training was highlighted now, because my friend and I were just talking about it the other day – although in a slightly different context – dog training versus how ex-husbands have been trained and why they think and do things differently from us. No, it wasn’t stigmatizing and it wasn’t a gender issue – plain good old upbringing…

    By the way, Barbara inspires and motivates me vastly, although as a learner (student) and not as a teacher, which actually means that she is able to inspire both teachers and students through her reflective and informative blog posts 🙂

  7. It occurred to me that we might model the type of interactions we want our students to have with us by role playing being a student in each other’s class. It’s pretty easy to record a Skype call nowadays, so on the technology side I don’t think it would be hard. The hard part would be scripting (or at least doing some setup) for the type of conversations that might be both representative and illuminating.

  8. Barbara, so many things to think about and my head is spinning… How do you keep up with the pace of your life? Do you get used to it? Is it just the American way, possibly?? I’ll have those hyperlinked posts read by the end of the day, but I do try to prohibit myself from the Cyberspace/Blogosphere as much as possible while working on my thesis – BUT, it sure is difficult, as you might quite possibly have noticed 🙂

    However, I did have a peek into Lizi’s world and her amazing reflections about her visit to Russia (one end). I say amazing, although they are predominately scary, and I wonder how she feels about Russia today after having been home in the U.S. for some time….

    As a neighbor to Russia I have never had any wishes to see the country as I know poverty and alcohol rules largely. Nevertheless, poverty and misery might strangle it today, but they may crawl out of it one of these days. I do hope there is hope in the midst of insanity and alcoholism. It isn’t that I don’t want to see the country, but poverty is scary in large proportions, and as the Norwegian that I am, I doubt I could handle it. It’s bad enough with the birds suffering from the oil spill.

    Did I tell you that Paolo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of my very favorite books?? I must have told you about that as I believe I discovered him through you. Thank you!!

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