When the teacher travels…

…she doesn’t need to cancel class. Why should she cancel class in order to attend a conference or to give a talk?

If she does cancel her classes when she is unable to attend, then she probably believes that students cannot learn without her, cannot benefit from engaging with one another out of her presence. Or she has a research assignment or the like coincide with her absence, which seems like a valid reason for canceling class–but is it? Why give up one precious opportunity for the group to come together to puzzle out something, and to continue to build the bonds of reciprocal apprenticeships?

If she does cancel class, then she must be making herself mighty indispensible.

If she does cancel class, then her students potentially lose a precious opportunity to explore the course together, richly, without her (whether she likes it or not) dominant perspective and voice and persona.

vermont elixir

So, with these thoughts in mind, I did not cancel class when I went out to NITLE’s Conference on Teaching Writing in the Digital Age (I will, btw, post the text version of my talk within the next week–after one more talk). Instead, I worked with my senior tutors to design a class they felt comfortable leading, and that provided opportunities for learning in that moment of the course as we moved from fiction to poetry.

winter leaves the pond

I’ve written before about how bringing seniors who have taken intro courses with me back into those courses a couple of years later, as tutors, to mentor the younger writers, and to have their own intro work showcased in the syllabus as models, examples of the kind of writing we will practice, is one of the best things about my teaching. The seniors act as go-betweens, as translators in a way, as they understand the method to my madness, and they understand the freefall of the students who are thrown into a classroom that values failure, that insists on risk, and aims to travel deeply into the world of reading and writing. They lead the Wednesday evening workshops during which they dream up inventive writing exercises and help model effective workshopping practices (I teach two days a week in a comfortable, computer-free lounge, and then hold a two-hour evening workshop once a week during which we look at things online and/or students workshop their writing in small groups).
april full moonrise

And so, I’m delighted to say that from all reports, workshop Wednesday evening and class on Thursday went very well. The students were engaged, lively, interested and probably pleased to have me out of the room for a moment. Does this mean that I think I should absent myself from class more often? Probably not. I don’t think any member of the learning community should be absent unless absolutely necessary. The shared language thins and the collaborative experience cracks if the members come and go too much during a 12-week course. We need to commit to this shared course, to our reciprocal apprenticeships if we are to reap the benefits from the 21 minds, imaginations, lives we represent. But having the person who, until we change our educational system altogether, holds the power of course design and evaluation abssent herself once during the semester, is a healthy thing indeed.

Two last talks from inside the Academy: not playing it safe

WALKINGTHROUGH LANGUAGE

In my ridiculous (and exasperating) fashion, I have two talks coming up, of course during the busiest time of the semester. Fortunately, I don’t need to be in class to be in class (the audio from Thursday’s class meeting–yes, they’re having class without me– will be posted to the blog, and I’ll be interacting with students on their blogs, and who knows, perhaps on mine).

That I don’t give the same talk twice has kept me up late for several nights reading, thinking, designing, creating, as I try to push my thinking. (Another habit I’ve got to do something about, I suppose, but really, if I’m not learning something each time I put a talk together, how can I expect my audience to discover anything?) This time I have pushed myself to get more creative and effective with my media as well as my message–and I walk the edge here trying out something new during a talk that means a good deal to me. Am I crazy? Perhaps. But I’m taking to heart what Yi-Fu Tuan writes in Space and Place: “Experience is the overcoming of perils…To experience in the active sense requires that one venture forth into the unfamiliar and experiment with the elusive and uncertain. To become an expert one must dare to confront the perils of the new.” (p.9)

I don’t really have anything against Powerpoint slides–PPT is a great tool in the right hands and in the right venue. It’s just that anyone who gives keynotes knows that bad slides, even pretty good slides, can induce a Pavlovian response in the audience: slides-right,ok- zone out time. And so all along I have played around with other ways to share visuals: Flickr sets being my mainstay, with a dose of wikis and even the old bgblogging, Slide.com and iMOVIE for good measure. Sometimes I use no media at all –we just have a conversation. Lately, though, I’ve been inspired by some of my mentors in this work–Jim Groom, Brian Lamb, Nancy White, all of the TEDTalks, to name a few–to push beyond the notion of the slide altogether, to be more creative while going deeper. And so, for my upcoming talk at NITLE’s Conference on Teaching Writing in the Digital Age, I have created a collage of links, images, videos, text, you name it, as a way to try to capture the tensions and the promise, the perils and the pleasures, of moving the teaching of writing into this new century. I think the collage-as-presentation makes a lot of sense for what I’m trying to show. We’ll see how it goes, but I sure had a lot of fun (frustrating fun) putting it together with vuvox.com’s new beta collage tool, a fabulous tool in its flexibility and its connectivity. Now we’ll see how it works during a presentation–I designed it for people who wish to go back and spend some time in the collage, exploring the links and media, long after the conference itself has faded away. Ultimately I’d like to add an audio voiceover from my talk, to contextualize and create a narrative flow over the disparate pieces. And I’ll be tinkering, adding more links, more video, more, well… see what you think…

Balancing Acts: The Collage

My Students Still Read My Blog…and Think about the Role of Blogging

mildweedsilk

I’ve written a few times over the years about how my students actually like to read my blog, and that when former students look for me, they often first head to my blogs to check up on what I’m up to before shooting me an email or picking up the phone. One of my students is now on Twitter with me, though he uses it much less than does Shannon. It’s fascinating to share these spaces with students.

This current group, though, does not often comment on my posts; rather, they tell me at the beginning of class that they caught my latest post, and ask “how do you get to MASSMoCA from here,” or they stop me in the library or come to my office to talk it over. I think this is an interesting intersection of blogged-world and face-to-face world, how our conversations walk right off the screen and into class, into our conversations when we meet. I like that. But I also like it when they try to pull their thoughts together to frame a written response to something I’ve written–it signals a commitment to the conversation, an acknowledgment of being stirred by something. I want them to stop a minute, put fingers to text (or audio or image) to argue or agree, to extend my thinking either here or over on their own blogs when they’re interested. Indeed, over the years, some of the most thought-provoking comments have come from my students; for instance, look at how three students joined the conversation unfolding from an old post (I’m linking to the old bgblogging–still haven’t ironed out the missing links on this blog).
eyeingtheground

I want them to drop by.

Sometimes they write posts out of the blue, though, that show me the merits of not pressuring students to respond, to be on the blogs, instead being patient as they discover for themselves why we’re blogging as part of the course. Indeed, one student, grappling openly with blogging, has just written a great post in which he answers his own question about the purpose of blogging . You can go read the full post over on his own blog, but I’m also going to excerpt almost all of it here, to weave his thoughts into the conversation over here as well. It’s a treasure:

“Returning to my blog after a brief break always seems to bring novel thoughts about the process of blogging my work and the more general idea of forming and participating in an online community. I am in a constant state of reflection as to how I feel about posting and creating online as opposed to in “the real world.” Practically I suppose it makes sense to use the tools we have available to us – in this case, blogging has been re-cast for me as a source for learning (through communication) to take place within the context of writing courses. And even as I find the blog useful in this context (and also an unexpected unleasher of new creative processes), I am struck by an unwillingness to fully dive into the process of blogging itself… I keep expecting for the “ah-hah!” moment to hit me as I read a comment or make another post (and I admit, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that at least somebody else is reading my writing.) Yet there is also a state of personal uneasiness that strikes me as I type away in my text-box. In the same way I think Facebook is damaging my generation psycho-socially (have a discussion with me in person about the topic), I wonder if my blogging is somehow removing me from the creative process even farther. Sometimes I feel as though I end up spending hours in front of a screen – writing, e-mailing, blogging – and I can’t help but wonder what I would be doing with my work (and time and creativity) if there wasn’t a screen there for support. (?)

Perhaps I now should admit that even while writing this a miniature “ah-hah” moment has, indeed, occurred. This is what blogging is about. This piece of writing. Reflection and communication and sharing. I didn’t set out to write this piece, I felt compelled to say something about what I’m actually DOING here (eventually posting some work from break) before doing it. And if a whole group of people gets together and starts to use this space to form a sort-of “creative collective,” there might be the chance to grow and create more vividly in the real world from our collective experience in a virtual one.

When BG explained blogging to me in J-Term, I nodded my head in theoretical understanding – I certainly could intellectualize what going online with my writing was supposed to do for me. But it’s not until I have been with my blog for nearly 12 weeks that I have come to understand more deeply how I can use this tool in my creative life. This isn’t to say that I’m totally comfortable with it or that I’m going to be a super-blogger for the rest of my life (or that I think Facebook is creating thriving online communities) but it does point to a rediscovery of what it feels like to learn outside of a classroom setting and the different forms communities can take in our very (post)modern age.”

norwaytreesfromthetrain

This kind of post, this revelation put into words, is one reason why we need continuity and connection with and between and for our students beyond the walls and division of courses, semesters, disciplines. This is a reason for slowing into a practice of writing reflectively online, of connecting the way in ongoing hypertext reflections about their work, their thoughts, their lives, and in the occasional glimmer of a post like this, when a student, for no other reason than to sort things out for himself, reveals his learning, shows something of himself. But it takes time. And space. And for our students in this era, permission of sorts to share with us and one another the stumbling, the discoveries. Nice way to move into spring!