Trying to change in a static culture

I really like the idea of connected learning and I think it is a powerful and necessary one. It would be the height of foolishness, if we have this incredibly useful tool  (the internet) for research and information and collaboration and discussion, to not use it and to confine ourselves to a single classroom at a single time, not opening ideas up to the world at large. And certainly, as time has gone on, it has become increasingly necessary to rethink not just what we teach, but how we teach and why.

There has indeed been a lot of discussion and debate about how to rethink what we’re doing and how to incorporate this technology into our experiences. Even in fields that very often welcome new ideas (usually the humanities), it isn’t always easy to introduce new methods.

To me it seems like even more of a struggle to make it work in STEM classes. While STEM fields will often readily accept new technology, there’s a pervasive idea that there’s a certain “correct” way of teaching things, particularly in Engineering.

As both a student and a (new) teacher in an engineering discipline, I want (and need) to rethink my ideas about how to teach, because I don’t want to just teach the way I’ve been taught–that was the aforementioned set way of doing things and it was very formulaic. Predictability can be good, but often at the expense of creativity.

Now, when I see all these ideas being thrown around about online meetings, blogs, discussion, outside collaboration, students running the show, etc., I get immediately disheartened that I’m teaching in the field I am.

This semester, I’m teaching a course on the design and computer modeling of metal castings. I think there are definitely opportunities for collaboration and discussion, because even after all sorts of equations and calculations, Design never has a single, clear-cut, “correct” answer. That being said, I think I would struggle mightily to incorporate many of the other elements of Connected Learning into my class. Not just because I can’t necessarily see a use for them, but because of the students themselves.

Metal casting, as it exists at Tech, is one of the least academic fields we have. Virtually everyone (if not actually everyone) in the undergrad casting program is interested in one thing: a job. They’re taking casting classes so that they have a better resume and can give better interviews and be better at their future jobs, and they’re taking all their non-casting classes simply because they’re requirements and the students just want a good enough grade to graduate. They don’t seem to care very much about how they’re being taught or learning for the sake of learning–they just want jobs.

I can’t blame them, but it gets frustrating when your students are only there to get better jobs, rather than thinking about why they’re being taught and why they’re learning.

I know these kids; I’ve worked with them for at least a semester already, if not a year or two. I know they don’t give a rat’s ass about what pedagogy or praxes their professors are using. Hell, last year I saw one of my professors try something completely new in one of his classes (I was a TA, not a student), and it failed miserably. The students didn’t keep up with it, the professor couldn’t enforce it, and everyone was back to business as usual after a few weeks.

And most of those students are the ones I’m teaching now.

So, I definitely want to rethink my preconceived notions about teaching and to do my best to create a dynamic, engaging classroom that isn’t just the “sage on a stage” lecturing for an hour (as so many of the classes I’ve taken have gone), but it will certainly be a struggle to do so in the environment where I work.