Response to Gardner

It’s taken me a week or so to reflect on Gardner’s post. As I suspected, like a fine wine the post improved with age—or at least my understanding of it did.

Mike Caulfield started the thread:

[O]ne of the paradoxes of HASA-based LMS systems: they follow the grain of our thought, and at the same time they profoundly fracture our experience.
And the students? Well, they’re “in there” too. At least the piece of the student that belongs to that class is. You know, the English major slice. The part of the student that is a science minor is in another box, and the part of a student that is looking for a job or hanging out with friends doesn’t have a box at all.
[By contrast, I]n a student-centered LMS, the student contains part of the class rather than the class containing part of the student.

Can a student be genuinely engaged while showing only a slice of themselves? Doesn’t a slice almost by definition imply lack of engagement? I’m not suggesting that a student must reveal all of themselves, but the thinner the slice the less chance it is real, no? More importantly, if the student views their college experience as slices, where is the whole, or is there one? Gerald Graff writes about this “disjunctive experience’ in Clueless in Academe, concluding

“Clearly, it is crucial to begin providing students with a more connected view of the academic intellectual universe, one that let’s them recognize and enter the conversation that makes that universe cohere and relates it to the wider world.”

But how? This is where Jim Groom enters the conversation (in a comment on Mike’s post):

How about letting students manage their learning with the relevant tools so that they are framing their education for the professors, peers, and anyone else whom may be watching.

That, I think, is the key: We need to teach students to manage their learning in a way that reveals rather than conceals the whole.

Indeed, this is where Gardner comes in:

…What I’m finding this summer, for example, is that the course of study, as an experience, does indeed have its own integrity and identity, and that students in some cases want to keep their front page (let’s call it) unique to each class.

This is fine, even admirable if it represents the students making a conscious decision. Jim is even working on a way to provide students this choice. Using Jim’s language, they are still managing their own learning.

Gardner continues:

…Most of all, learning management itself should be part of what a student studies and crafts, part of what the teacher models, not a one-size-fits-all monstrosity that keeps all the work and all the teaching materials hidden and hermetically sealed. Every course of study, in one way or another, should ask of its teachers and students, “What do you make of this? What can we make of this?” And, yes, the ethical question: “what should you make of this, and what should we make of this, and while we’re at it, what should we make of this you-me-we thing, anyway?”

To quote my favorite Acting Director, “Yes, yes and yes.” 😉

As an economist, I appreciate the scale argument that at a system level, we need to be able to educate many people. I’m not, however, convinced that the industrial model, though familiar and easy, is the only way. The alternative might be for students to take a more active, attentive, intentional role in their own education: Learning management. I like the term as we’re defining it here, and I especially like the irony of using it to describe how students manage their own education, rather than the original, Bb-esque meaning of the system managing students’ learning for them.

… For me, at this point, all real school must be “learning centered,” that is, devoted to identifying and shaping and nurturing a community that has devoted itself to learning. Real school is centered not on people, per se, but on people’s commitments. It’s a crucial distinction. Our rights, responsibilities, and identities as members of this community are conveyed not automatically, or statically, or unthinkingly, merely because we’re on the payroll or registered for a class. Those rights, responsibilities, and identities are conveyed because of shared commitments. Commitments born of trust, commitments reflecting each person’s willingness to risk, to contribute. Commitments born of each person’s decision, like the books in Donne’s heavenly library in his “Mediation 17,” to lie open to each other, to read, and be read by, the other.

I think the notion of responsibility and commitment has legs, and it’s certainly different from the status quo. I think most students imagine that if they come to class, sit quietly and take notes they are doing what is expected of them, fulfilling their responsibility.

Gardner proposes another standard: He expects students to contribute to the class, not merely to attend. So not contributing is not a zero, it’s a negative. If students find class participation unsettling, that’s just part of higher education, like writing a paper.

For me, the takeaway from this discussion is the need for teachers to get our students to explicitly acknowledge the commitment we expect from them. Trillwing discusses the hurdles we face in this endeavor. As Don Marquis opined sagely:

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; But if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.

I’m not discounting the difficulties, but I plan to try this, in conjunction with regular use of Gardner’s APGAR in my first year seminar this fall.

Stay tuned…

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2 Responses to Response to Gardner

  1. Laura says:

    Amazing post! I also think the idea of commitment and responsibility works on the faculty side as well. I think students and other faculty recognize when a faculty member is not contributing to the community, has decided to just let his or her status as a faculty member convey whatever it conveys and not worry about taking that any further. The faculty I work best with are ones who trust that I share their commitment to teaching, that I respect their work and they, in turn, respect mine. The ones who want a quick fix are a struggle. I think I’m going to need to digest this more, but I think you and Gardner both are really on to something.

  2. Sleepycat says:

    Wonderful train of thought. To pick up on a specific piece of this, I would be delighted if students were even interested in managing their own learning, much less ready and able to do so. How do you propose we transition students from the K12 morass that is NCLB and teaching to the test to a model of considered and thoughtful self-directed learning managed in coordination with faculty and the resources available from all possible sources?

    It’s similar to what Trillwing discusses regarding a focus on grades but what I see seems to be a bit different (personal epistemology lens vs motivation lens though they are all part and parcel of the larger whole). While I have a good chance with some of my returning adult learners, a number of them and most of the ones that come to graduate study directly from undergraduate study still look toward the recitation/received knowledge model. We use learning contracts in several courses and many students never really become comfortable with specifying their own learning goals and learning plan within a course.

    Orienting, modeling and scaffolding can only do so much when behaviors, beliefs, and values are ingrained from so many previous interactions. The way the CMS is set up doesn’t help but I don’t think it is the deciding factor.

    You certainly give us much to ponder here.

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