“Make Something Interesting”

This is the challenge we each face as future faculty. I truly appreciated Seth Godin’s manifesto and hope that I can meet his challenge. In the field of public administration, I am often surrounded by others who want to measure the value of work on the cost-benefit basis. I think there is far more to governing people than just a cost-benefit. Fortunately, I subscribe to a worldview that allows me to accept other ways of being and thinking. So the notion of leading a class or seminar through an exploration of ideas that allows them to connect the dots is thrilling. I wrote earlier in the semester that I wished there was a place to practice some of the teaching methods we are discussing. Now, I realize that is neither necessary nor sufficient to inspire learning. Being present in the moment and guiding the exploratory process of learning is really the key to inspiring learning.

“Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is priceless” Many have identified the challenge with this approach is getting it through the gate-keepers of the institutions at which we might teach. I agree, it is daunting to think about taking a “radical” approach to education. But it is more important to comply for the sake of a tenure position or to inspire learning. As Palmer argues we are the institution. If we don’t speak up and spark the interest and intelligence of our students, then nothing will ever change. That to me is a sad state of affairs.

Hearing the Voices of Learners

Reflecting on the material for this week, it occurs to me there is much to these new ways of creating learning with our students. In previous discussions about mindfulness, the importance of being fully present in the learning experience with our students was critical to create the open spaces for learning to occur. This week’s focus on ways of learning outside the traditional lecture offers many different options for opening the learning space up and giving our students a genuine voice in the learning process. My concern is how to do it well. These are all very inspirational and motivating concepts, but where is the discussion about how to take these ideas and really turn them into a real classroom experience. The Reacting to the Past website (https://reacting.barnard.edu/curriculum) does offer a learning forum for teachers who want to or are implementing these games in their classes. But, I want to make sure my students are getting their money’s worth of learning in my classes. It would be nice if there was some sort of test lab where I could try out some concepts and learning models without making my students guinea pigs for a few semesters while I figure out what works or not. And how do we as junior faculty get a fundamentally different learning experience through the gatekeepers given what I perceive are the challenges of course approvals, meeting accreditation requirements and institutional cultures.

 

** After thought – this list of quotes are phrases that spoke to me, but I have not quite wrestled with, yet.

“The power and importance of play”

“from production to participation”

“collective expertise”

“embodied and situated experiences”

storytelling & exploration

 

I <3 Public Administration

Marilyn Lombardi’s article made me realize that I not only enjoy Public Administration as a field of study, but because it offers such amazing opportunities to create learning with my students in a way that is truly different from other courses (not to mention how different from how I learned). Now, I am imagining shaping an intro to public administration class that is scenario based, focused on learning the traditional theories in applied, contemporary situations. Maybe have students conduct analysis of actual policy issues for a real public officials or agencies. The logistics of such an assessment¬† process are still a bit fuzzy, but the potential is exciting.

I am also intrigued by the concept of co-creating assessment rubrics with the students. While it could be difficult in to do in a large undergrad class, I’m not convinced it is impossible. Of course, the smaller honors or graduate seminars are much easier to imagine. Has anyone tried this with their class? What are your experiences? What went well or not so well?

The research portfolio is a method that has recently been introduced for master’s students in our department. I am still getting my head around the dynamics of the portfolio, but the way in which Lombardi presents the concept, I wonder if we think about the portfolio not just as an assessment tool for a single class, but whether it could document the work throughout a student’s degree program. Would this long-term assessment give more meaning to the degree in totality?

“My teacher makes me want to…”

“My teacher makes me want to smash my face into the desk!”

“Learning is amazing, school sucks my soul!”

“Most people who like school only like it because they get to see friends or get away from their home…”

Those were the reactions of a teenager when I said I was working on homework for my class about new ways of teaching. Having finished Mike Wesch’s, Anti-Teaching article for the week, I was curious to hear more about her thoughts on traditional and alternate ways of learning. Clearly, she represents the epitome of students we are trying to inspire to learn but failing because of how we go about it. I was curious to learn more from her perspective. So I asked her, in 10 words or less tell me what you think about school and learning. I thought this would be quite a simple task because those first three quotes came of her tongue in less than 30 seconds. Then, I watched her struggle to put those thoughts into words that fit into the bounds I set, 10 words or less. Although she came up with an answer that was similar to her initial responses, it took almost 5 minutes and was revised.

1st response: “Learning is amazing but school is stress inducing and miserable”

Corrected to “School ruins the fun, beauty and kids yearning to learn”

Watching this transformation, made me stop and reflect on what I was observing. What I failed to recognize, initially, was that I was mindlessly framing our conversation. I had fallen into what Langer referred to as the “rigid habits” of framing and constraining the conversation, and in doing so¬† I also failed to “generate possible ways” to express what she instinctively knows. More mindful of how I framed my curiosity, we continued to have a great conversation about her experiences in school. It was amazing to hear her express how much she wants to learn but rote memorization, mindless note-taking and meaningless testing in school is the opposite of learning. It was as if she had read our class readings!

These are some other descriptions that came out in our conversation: stressful, one-style, not paying attention (to note taking), most things aren’t even important.

So, I asked her to think about re-creating learning math (her least favorite subject). What would that look like? She thought for a short while and could not come up with any ideas. I changed the subject, what about social studies (one of her preferred subjects); still no idea. She finally said, that while she couldn’t think of anything better for these two subjects, she would make science more lab oriented, learn by observing how stuff works. And it struck me, despite knowing that her school experiences up to now had not inspired learning; the school system has done such a great job of killing her creativity that she could not even imagine another way to learn.

A final note from this insightful teen, “school is not supposed to be entertaining but it can be interesting.”

Much ado about blogging

Whether I enjoy the process of blogging is quite irrelevant. I am not Tom Peters, and I seriously doubt I will remember the exact day of my first blog posting or what it was about. Nor do I believe blogging will become some life changing experience for me. I blog because I have to; I make no excuse for the blunt truth of the matter. That said here is my thought for the week.

I wonder if Scott Rosenburg would still consider blogs as transformative as the telephone, six and half years after his initial musings. He was somewhat dismissive of the genuine erosion of the role and importance of public spaces that resulted from the explosion of technology including the phone and in more recent years technology and social media. Robert Putnam has well documented the phenomena in his book Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000).

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Is blogging just another way to further separate ourselves from genuine dialogue with others about important issues?