Who and what we are is determined by our environment: social and economic, political and parental. But most importantly, it is shaped and formed by our technologically mediated environment. It is not so important, then, who and what we are, but how we are all of these. How do we live, how do we want to live, how do we work and play, study and build, destroy and create? A large amount of the answer lies in the recognition of the mediated atmosphere surrounding us: the proliferation of networks, the marvellous connection machinery of the internet, the infinite storage capacities of what used to be memories and what is now smartphones, google glasses, and cloud data storage.
No learner-centered approach can ignore this environment. I hold on to the idea that it is the task of the social sciences in a university to teach students the necessary skills not only to survive in this technologically mediated world, but to thrive; and not only to accept it as it is, but to develop its potentials and to contribute to building a better future for all. But though this demands, it seems to me, the ability to select attention and criticize, to analyze and apply, none of these is unaffected by a rapidly changing media world. None of the old methods, approaches, and values of social sciences has any value if it refuses to be shaped in and by its environment.
As a teacher, I aim to guide students towards an understanding of their future contributions to society in a workplace; I aim to foster their skills of placing their attention to the most valuable information; and I aim to encourage their motivation to hone their fine-tuned analytical skills for in-depth research. All three elements are crucial in a world where the storage of information is not a problem, but access and analysis are. In such an environment, it is the task of the social sciences to enable students to become creative and engaged members of their community, informed and entertained individuals in their private lives, and savvy in their online existences.
The workplace. Classrooms are workplaces, and though it is my task to engage students, and to foster curiosity rather than just deliver information, students must be aware that it is their task to maintain the classroom as a professional, but colloquial workplace. Everything must be up for grabs and questioning, but questioning must also be encouraged from everyone and from everyone’s own unique point of view – which is to say, that I regard it as my supreme task to foster as broad a range of possible opinions excluding those which exclude others. Gendered and racial, economic and social injustices must be objects of discussion, not determinants of subjects of discussion.
Information. A student’s attention and curiosity is frequently unsatisfied, or even dulled, by the classroom environment she finds herself in. Lengthy lectures and boring presentations, and even long readings are no longer adequate means of teaching in a technologically mediated world. Certainly, the lecture is not – and I think it will never be – an outdated model in and of itself. Careful analysis, demonstration, and guidance can be derived from it. However, a student’s attention span is shaped by the mediations it is embedded in on a a daily basis, and here the speed of informational processing becomes important, just as much as the ability to discriminate important information from less important information. The social world, with all its crises and instabilities, potentials and achievements, is only a book of seven seals if one does not have these discriminatory skills. It is my supreme goal to guide my students in their attempts to make sense of the mass of information they face on a daily basis: to choose where to put attention, and to know why.
Analysis. Once a student has reached an understanding of which information is important, encouring her to engage in in-depth analysis is, I believe, no longer a skill to be taught, but merely a question of encouraging the student to spell out what she already did in choosing the piece of information at hand. The scope of every piece of information in the social realm is always world-wide because it is always connected to everything else; but in analysis, a balance must be achieved. Analysis must emphasize levels of understanding – local, regional, state-based, national, international, global – but it must also be aware that two crucial aspects are left out of such a level-based approach. It is imperative to emphasize, for every student individually, that no social phenomenon is a brute fact, and that all of them have social, political, ethical, and cultural ramifications. Likewise, it is imperative to make students aware that levels change and are made to be changed. Thus, an important role is played by visualization – the intuitive grasp of conceptual movements, and networks and links between concepts, for learners who will inevitably think more and more visually – but, equally importantly, students must understand that it matters, to them as individuals and to all of us as a society, what we choose to see and not to see.