Did you catch the Google Hangout with Michael Wesch, Cathy Davidson and Randy Bass on Monday? The End of Higher Education
The topic was the purpose of higher education and the discussion ranged from shared stories to passionate declarations of how education should be repurposed. They tried to frame the discussion around three questions (Mike Wesch did a great job of keeping it fairly focused)
The discussion focused on turning the traditional approach to course design upside-down. Instead of thinking about what we want to teach and then looking for content to develop a course, perhaps we should begin from WHY? Why should we teach this course? Why should student learn with us?
An interesting shift in perspective for a teacher, potentially valuable to students, but I still question the potential for change in an increasingly outcomes-driven education system. Although dedicated, experienced teachers like these three panelists are open to exploring the “why”, the pressure on schools (and on teachers) from parents, government funders and the business community is to make education more “relevant” and “meaningful” in terms of work, not in terms of citizenship or creating a more enlightened and empowered individual.
Although I found many nuggets that I have squirrelled away for further exploration, contemplation and sharing, some of the most thought-provoking comments for me came from Michael Wesch and Randy Bass. Randy spoke about the need for providing safe spaces through balancing structure and freedom so that students could feel free to take risks and be creative. He described the intimate learning spaces of the atelier-style course he taught “where you can model what it looks like to give and get critique”. He acknowledged that students may not have the social capital or comfort with being critiqued right away and needed a chance to see how it worked, practice it in a protected way before venturing out into the “connected classroom” environment where they might face “criticism from all directions”.
That really resonated with me as I’ve found that many of the teachers I’ve taught have felt very exposed and vulnerable if they thought that what they said or did could be viewed and perhaps misconstrued from people who didn’t understand the context. A valid concern and one that is rarely addressed in the open education and open educational practices discussions I’ve been part of.
Michael Wesch embraced the power of openness and talked about the value of creating creative open learning places where the instructor could facilitate student creativity by “putting yourself out there”. He cited ds106 as an example and encouraged people to find “…your authentic self and take a few chances so other people can take chances”. He pointed out that a lot of learning in an open course can take place on the fringes, where we, as instructors, may not be able to see or monitor what is going on. But learning happens when people form new connections, whether orchestrated by a curriculum and a teacher or more naturally as people play and explore new ideas. I like the sound of that although I still have concerns about how that works in a outcomes-driven institution where students are trying to earn credits that will be recognized by potential employers.
I’ll end with another quote from Michael that might resonate with you too “the most beautiful aspects (of learning) can be when the center loses its hold…”
Now back to contemplating “why I teach” – hard to narrow down to a statement