Last Monday, I found myself telling my students what I wish I never had to tell them at all: “I’m talking at you for almost an entire class period right now. Shout at me if you have questions. Here’s my administrative hoo-ha. Fifty-minute marathon. I’ll never do this to you ever again.”
Each syllabus day, I always later reflect on the fact that I need to make that class more engaging. My conflict is this: I hate talking at my students, so there’s the option of telling them to read the syllabus, themselves. However, I also hate when my professors leave the class structure up for interpretation, assume their own clarity, and get going because, as I’m sure we’ve all heard from a professor or twenty, “We have so much to cover.”
Like, yeah, what makes your class so unique?
Does each subject not have an infinite amount of information to relay? If a teacher doesn’t think so, they should reconsider.
The need to reconsider course structure—to reevaluate the information-transfer approach that supposedly solves, but, just kidding, actually torches the so-much-to-cover problem—is what connects this week’s readings. An example is Mark C. Carnes’s “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire,” in which he emphasizes the need for students to become more actively involved in their own education. It’s not simply financial burden, Carnes says, that causes students to drop out (although, of course, that’s not a problem to dismiss, either), but it’s the lack of motivation and interest students have. Even Barack Obama, Carnes quotes, said that, while in college, he too felt he was just going “through the motions.”
The strongest gains in pedagogies, Carnes (and, quite ubiquitously, all the other related readings for this week) says, are found in those that feature teamwork and problem-solving. The examples found in Douglas Thomas’s and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change echo this assertion. “Play, questioning, and—perhaps most important—imagination,” they write, “lie at the very heart of arc-of-life learning.”
Through each of the presented stories, Thomas and Seely Brown support the message that schools need a combination of exchanges between massive information networks as well as bounded and structured environments; or, in other words, they support the idea that we need to bridge the gap between the large information-based world and the “intensely personal,” structured one. This, they write, is how imagination is cultivated, and it’s imagination that will drive students to create something new and meaningful.
I wonder how our world could look if every student could have learning experiences like those from the “Digital Media New Learners of the 21st Century”—how we all would benefit from the same kind of academic stimulation. Creative teaching incites creative thinking, which, of course, incites creative, new ideas. Why are we still running with the concept that we suddenly become adults who love being lectured at?
The kids (particularly the one calling himself the “daydreamer”) in the aforementioned video reminded me so much of my seven-year-old nephew—how excited he is about building new mini race-cars, about learning to draw a new Pokemon character, about asking questions, in general. And while I certainly wonder about and hope for his future education being stimulating, I wonder about and hope for the same of all ages of students. When is it that we have the desire to learn sucked from us? Why must we be drained of that thrill? What can we learn from the teachers doing creative work with these elementary-aged students, and how can we apply that to adults?