I have a past that I once considered dark. I was embarrassed to admit to any new friends I made that I had once been a hardcore gamer. For about 3 years during my undergraduate years (a decade ago), mostly summers and over holiday breaks when I wasn’t working, I spent my time plugged into World of Warcraft (WoW)… not casually playing–grinding for resources, completing quests, raiding, and participating in team PvP combat. It was never dull! I had multiple top-level characters-my favorites were a human warlock and a Draenai priest, that I played with friends in real life and with friends I had met online. I was embarrassed to talk about my gaming past because of the reactions I would get from people. If I wasn’t getting a blank, yet horrified stare, the person I was talking to might be laughing or snickering at me for my juvenile, time-wasting hobby.
But I never saw it as a waste of time. I learned a lot in those games about social interaction, team work, planning, communication, and problem solving that I don’t think I would have had an equivalent opportunity to experience in real life. Especially in an age where communication and learning is increasingly happening online and in the digital realm, I believe it is increasingly important that we all practice our skills so that we are ready to engage with other people/learners whom we might not be working with face-to-face.
Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in “A New Culture of Learning” talk about how gaming is a highly social activity that can bring together and engage multiple generations while also allowing the players to direct themselves in the play. I think this is an insightful way to look at WoW and other games like it. It is a simulation of a fantasy world, sure–but that doesn’t make the learning outcomes any less real or valuable.
Jumping into a “traditional” classroom, we think of a teacher in front of a class full of students and what are they doing? Well, they might be doing something out-of-the-box that’s fun and engaging, but more than likely, they’re doing the same thing we teachers have always been doing–they’re lecturing their class to death and they’re wondering “what is it about the students these days?”
News flash: it’s not the students. It’s you. It’s me. It’s us. It’s educators who have been so focused on career development/their own learning/whatever, you name it–that they’ve forgotten what it was like to be a student having to struggle through another exhausting lecture-based class.
Just last week, I had to give a presentation to a class that I’m the Research Assistant for and since I was in a relative hurry and the information wasn’t exactly “interesting” per se, I created a basic PowerPoint to deliver the information and at first, was satisfied with my work/preparation. During the 20 minute presentation, though, I discovered quickly that I had made a mistake. I was the only one that talked. No one really asked any questions. I was trying hard not to read the slides, but found myself stumbling through the information. I was probably 4 minutes into it when I noticed I “lost” my first student, and I was only half way through before one of the professors on record walked out because what I was doing/delivering was clearly a waste of his time. In retrospect, especially after the readings this week, I realize that I would have done them a better service to send the class an email with links to the websites where I pulled the information from and then spent that same 20 minutes discussing the case studies rather than boring everyone to death with policy discussion.
The big question I’ve been asking myself since then is: “How am I going to do it better next time?” and “What am I going to do differently?” From Jean Lacoste’s Teaching Innovation Statement, I pulled this quote because it really resonated with me: “I want to reach every single student in the class. I want each student to feel important, and I want each to know I
care about his or her education.” And it’s true. I really do care about each and every one of my students. I want them to get the most out of our time together, yet when given the opportunity to really help them, I feel like I set myself up for failure by following the same model for classroom interactions every week. (But that’s why I’m in this course now–so that I can learn to be better. One of my personal mantras is “Know Better, Do Better” and pedagogy is no exception. I decided to go into education because I LOVE learning, yet I realize that I don’t know all that much about teaching, yet.
I am going to wrap this blog post with an excerpt from the Robert Talbert reading:
“Notice also that I do not count whether a lecture is inspiring or not. No doubt many lectures are inspiring, but being inspired and being taught are not the same thing, and just having one’s thoughts provoked doesn’t mean that one has interacted with the lecturer in any real way.”
Robert Talbert “Four things lecture is good for” (2012)
As I look to the future and imagine opportunities where I will be able to make a difference to my students, I will start by not “teaching” with the same stale lecture and exhausting PowerPoint that I have elected to use in the past. These methods are outdated by contemporary standards, and we owe it to our students to do a better job at meeting their educational, social, and creative needs. There are so many different innovative, exciting, and engaging examples of how educators are out there today, providing a completely new and inspiring educational experience.
So how will I be different in the future? Well, I’m going to start by slowing down a little bit. I’m going to slow down and start paying closer attention to the things that inspire me and capture my attention–and then I’m going to study those methods. I’m going to be mindful about my own learning experiences and see if there are things from my past that I can draw on in order to grow into a better version of myself (who is actually an amazing educator!) I will be thoughtful and thorough when it comes to my course material because I owe it to my students to provide them the best education that I possibly can–and that if they’re going to show up ready to be taught, then I am certainly going to meet them on their terms.