Conflicting Ideas?

This week, two of my McDaniel College colleagues each sent me a link to a different article. Each suggested I use their proffered link for the CFE Blog. I am thankful for this action because it showed me that at least two people read this blog (!) and also that they care what might go up on it.

But as I read through both links, I realized that the two articles took on rather different perspectives on student learning (BTW, I am not going to “out” the people who sent the articles – they can comment on the links and their ideas here!).

This particular article here basically questions what the notion of “Student-centered learning” really is. I must say that I share the concerns expressed in this article in that I wonder if the “active learning pedagogies” I am employing are just making for a FUN class (which is not my ultimate goal, though I would like to think my students are not suffering to learn), but in fact a class in which they grow, mature, think and LEARN. However, this article really does not offer any support that these types of classes don’t work. In fact, I wonder if the “sage on the stage” model – which this author seems to advocate – really works as well as we hope it does. Sure it works. Somewhat. But in my opinion, it works well for the very well-trained student. But I don’t think it works for students who have not really found the traditional classroom a place where they thrive. And after 10 years here, I do believe I have an awful lot of the latter students (and am glad for it, but that might be best saved for another post).

The other article that was sent to me via this link has a very different emphasis. I was struck by the image of a doctor from a thousand years ago put in a current hospital, finding he has not a clue what to do. But a professor from a thousand years ago? They would fall right into line (or go to the podium) and know just what to do! Is teaching really that static? And of course the discussion turns to technology, and, in this case social media. I’m on Facebook, but I can’t see a learning goal in it. It’s a way I interact with my students, but for me, that’s the limit. In this article I was struck by the comments about how not all students of this generation are as tech-savvy as we sometimes think that they are. This was hammered home to me when I organized a group project in my 1000-level class on Thursday. The class was divided into six groups of 4. In one group, no student had a smart phone with which to send an email. So, that group was the last to get a chance to choose their work of art. Not a big deal in that they all wanted a different work (something of interest and worth discussing in the class Tuesday). But I was shocked that there were four students (and they were sorted to be mixed of all levels, FY through Senior) with no smart phones! Perhaps I am not among the dinosaurs, living without an iPhone or the equivalent.

But I do agree with one quotation from this second article: “Students teach each other much more than they used to…They need some guidance on how to do that, and they need a little bit of an awakening because they’ve been in a kind of test-trance for so many years.” I have found – in Reacting to the Past classes and in my active learning classes, and in those where I employ project-based learning – that in groups or pairs, they work better, come to an understanding faster, and learn more than my just telling them what I think they should know.

What do you all think? Does either article resonate with you?

Happy End of Week 2.

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One Response to Conflicting Ideas?

  1. Deb Vance says:

    I find a number of similarities between the fundamental questions posed by the two different articles.

    First, it’s interesting that both begin by harking back to ancient teachers – one praises Socrates and the other stresses the antiquity of the professor-student relationship. But both recognize that there is this relationship between a student and one who has some insight and wisdom (I’m not going to simply call it “information” because what we teach is more than that).

    What a lot of people who are fascinated with interactive media don’t often recognize is that whether or not a medium is involved, the interpersonal interactions—the actual human-to-human relationships – take precedence. We all had to learn phone manners, for example, which were an extension of our face-to-face behaviors. The same holds for interactive technologies. Witness the bullying that goes on in social media. Basic theory on mediated communication – whether it’s television, radio, internet or cell phone – underscores the priority of the relationship between the individuals who are communicating.

    Finally, The Atlantic article opens with a premise that compares past and present professors, warriors and surgeons. As advanced as medical and military technology are, they too have their failings. For one thing, I’d say that warfare is less humane today thatn it was a thousand years ago when warriors fought with fists and swords. Similarly, no matter what classroom tools we use (certainly not swords, though), the interpersonal relationship between professor and student is still paramount.

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