Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thinking in the Rut

 Caveat Emptor:  This is not the most coherent post I've ever written.  It's me (trying) to think through stuff I've been reading, my current plans for the library program, and how it all comes together.

Lately I've been chewing over an exchange Doug and I hada post of his, and one of Will Richardson's, as well as Sugata Mitra's new TED talk. (I'll embed it below).

I worry a lot that educationally, pedagogically, after 25 years of teaching, I'm in a rut.  We have all these wonderful new technologies with the promise to alter profoundly  the way we teach and to empower student learning.  I certainly work to harness that power, but am I using it to keep doing the same old thing?  Worse, am I actually standing in the way of student progress?

There's a  quotation on my computer desktop from a now-forgotten speaker:  "Teachers have the right to hide in a cave, but they don't have the right to drag students with them."  Reading over my earlier post today and thinking about my plans for the DP students,  I started wondering, "Is this really giving students the tools to become independent, self-motivated learners?  Am I putting myself too much front and center, rather than guiding students towards engaging with the material in meaningful ways?"

I look at those plans, and they don't seem that innovative to me.  True, they're new for the school, and certainly for the students.  But are they just variations on a theme, and are there better, more student-centered, ways I could be using these tools?

Undoubtedly, yes.   Will's comment that "reforms are hampered by the lack of teachers who can teach in progressive ways," should strike a note in all of us.  It is all too easy to stay in the rut, because the rut (usually) takes you safely to a known destination.  It is a (seemingly) guaranteed outcome.  Except, like the story I told Doug, staying in the rut can sometimes leave you upside down in the ditch.  If teachers keep doing what we've always done, our educational system is going to end up in the ditch, and we'll find ourselves replaced by computers.

Fortunately, and this is a rut I'm proud to stay in, I've always been one to listen to students, seek their feedback, and implement their suggestions. So an integral part of this new(ish) approach I'm taking will be to question students about what worked, what they think could be done better, and ideas they have for improvement.  Whether we ourselves are all that innovative, if we see ourselves as co-learners with the students, as sojourners on the same path, we open ourselves to new possibilities.

One thing I'm hoping, since this is so new for the students, is that their comparative ignorance of how we "should" be using technology will spark new ideas on how we can be using these tools as they do their research and write their papers.  I'm so embedded in education and pedagogy, it's hard to see over the rut; students don't come with the same preconceptions; so an integral part of this whole process will be student feedback before, during and after the process.

UPDATE:  On thinking about the implications of Mitra's talk, it's pretty powerful for libraries and media specialists.  We are all about providing access, then getting out of the way.  I can see where this would be threatening for some content-driven teachers;  if learning is self-organized, they are out of a job.  Librarians, however, would be at the very center of this. I need to think more about this and my angst-driven, somewhat self-centered musings above.  (By self-centered, I mean obviously those worries are still picturing me at the core, instead of putting faith in the students' ability to take an idea and run with it.)

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