Weller’s chapter was an interesting start, and I appreciated the note towards the end that the pedagogies being posed were not a how-to guide, but rather a glimpse of some of the possibilities. It seemed to me that elements of many of these strategies are not too far from our ideal classrooms/teaching strategies (critical engagement and knowledge construction over knowledge acquisition, open-ended questions/problems and diverse possible solutions, etc), though they’re often not entirely realized. Certainly some of that is due to educators’ various constraints–time, resources, experience, comfort, effectiveness devising strategies to pursue those goals, etc. But I also think students’ comfort levels matter as well–they also have expectations for how education works and what its outcomes are supposed to look like–since as Madsen-Brooks points out, there has been an emphasis on content over skills like considering/critiquing content.

Part of the student discomfort I’m imagining would arise from these models is due to exactly the changes Weller is arguing should produce some sort of reconceptualization of teaching strategies (and the list of skills Madsen-Brooks produces–can you imagine telling students in a classroom that your goals for the class remain ambiguous, and your priorities may change?), that is, the abundance of content/connections as the core of educational models. I think we tend to be leery of that abundance because there is so much “bad” content out there, and based on my experiences, many students struggle to effectively assess it, so educators feel the need to moderate/curate it (hey, recreating that “scarcity” sort of like DRM etc). And here the “power of the crowd” gets a bit scary because of its potential to authorize (based on numbers/popularity rather than complete understandings–see Madsen-Brooks pondering Texas’ content standards) problematic knowledge. So I think lots of this would have to start with, or really intensely moderate and develop, some of those basic skills of assessing selections from among that abundance. Of course, making this a collective assessment rather than leaving it to individual learners to decide might help alleviate that challenge somewhat.

Incidentally, this reminds me of a conversation with Jim Groom a couple of years ago when I was setting up a UMW Blogs site for my Colonial America class, and he was tossing out ideas about how to construct an online archive of primary sources, located and introduced and tagged and categorized by students as part of their course work, that then subsequent classes could add to as well as draw on. There would ultimately be more content than every student would use (abundance), but there would be that process of selection and constantly growing materials available. The thought was totally overwhelming at the time, but getting more intriguing now. I could even see this crossing classes, with upper-level history classes aggregating things (curating them as a group) and lower-level classes deciding how to draw on them as a resource. Madsen-Brooks’ “Crafting Idaho” is an interesting example of how this could work, and so is Historic Buildings of UMW.

Twitter. I’m in the Reluctance spot still. I don’t especially want to be that visible, and the service will remain firmly in the professional realm for that reason (there are students present in that space and able to follow me). I do see how it could be a great tool in terms of networks>hierarchies, succinct thoughts (we can often drone on, and this forces you into a more constrained format, hopefully more “punchy” comments), etc., but I’m also glad to see that even people who made it central to a class found it uncomfortable to do so at times. What I do especially like is the cross-class potential–a hashtag for our methods students who are spread across three sections but working with parallel syllabi/assignments/goals, for example.

2 Thoughts on “Week 3 thoughts

  1. I think your idea of using Twitter or some other digital tool to create a learning community among the various sections of our methodology sequence is an interesting one. I know the department has been struggling to find the appropriate balance between coordination and uniqueness between the different sections, and this could be a creative solution. In 298, students from all sections are participating in a collaborative Omeka project, but they aren’t discussing it at all. A Twitter hashtag might be a good way to get them to think about the experience collectively.

  2. Jason,

    I love the idea that the colonial textbook idea is still churning, you have no idea how excited such a project would be for me. It’s part of the work I did before jumping ship on the Ph.D., and anytime you are interested I would love to re-visit it when you have time and energy.

    Also, en fuego.

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