Facilitator: Matt Gold

Provocateurs: George Otte, Mikhail Gershovich, and Joe Ugoretz

C 197

The development of social media tools and open learning environments has begun to change the way that many academics approach teaching and learning.  During a recent session on “Universities in the ‘Free’ Era” at the 2010 South by Southwest Interactive Conference, for example, Peg Faimon and Glenn Platt of Miami University described various new roles that professors might fill in order to help traditional universities evolve to meet the needs of the digital age.  Their suggestions included “Experience Designer,” “Project Manager,” “Angel Investor,” “Curator,” “Resource Allocator,” “Lifecoach,” and “Validator.”[1] Elsewhere, Humanities, Arts, Science & Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) co-founder Cathy Davidson announced a system of crowdsourcing grading for her classes that creates a peer-based method of evaluation, thus fundamentally altering one of the traditional classroom functions performed by professors.[2]

These are only two examples of many that highlight the changing nature of pedagogy in an era of networked learning platforms, open content, and remix culture.  This workshop will consider the ways in which such recent trends are altering the nature of the classroom experience.

Questions to be considered include:

In what ways have traditional pedagogical functions been transformed by digital media?

In what ways can professors best incorporate new media into their classroom to promote student engagement with course materials?

How should traditional universities respond to open content, peer-to-peer online learning institutions, universities, and open courseware?

In what ways should the tenure process be altered to take account of pedagogical innovation in the digital university?

What are some good examples of innovative course websites, learning networks, assignments, and student projects?

What objections have been raised about new media in the classroom?  Does the use of social media in the classroom tend to trivialize the learning experience?

How can courses that have mandated content requirements be reconfigured to take advantage of the social web?

How can learning environments best be designed to allow students to engage the open web while maintaining privacy and security?

[1] Faimon, Peg, and Platt, Glenn. “Universities in the ‘Free’ Era” SXSW Interactive Conference. 13 March 2010.

[2] Davidson, Cathy. “How To Crowdsource Grading.” Cat in the Stack 26 Jul 2009.

  1. Michael Smith
    April 21st, 2010 at 18:07 | #1

    As George asks, “What’s the role of the teacher in the world of rich media?” I keep thinking, in a world of rich media where students can be self-taught, why do they keep coming to us?

    Are students as stuck in old models of information transfer? Or are they looking for guidance to help them through this information saturated world?

    We spoke a lot of about ways to engage students in the “new world” and approaches to teaching that start to speak to the paradigm shift caused by new technologies. But as students keep coming to class (virtual or face-to-face), it so far seems to me that they still believe they need us (for credentials, etc.).

    So part the answer to the question of “what’s our role” is to keep thinking about why students keep coming.

  2. April 21st, 2010 at 15:30 | #2

    Faculty resistance

    visualization – digital archives

    paradigm shift

    publishers concerned with shifting

    Paper book as end product for scholarship/pedagogy?

    How to open up assessment in a digital age

    future of the book

    remixable textbooks

    relationship between open-source communities and learning that happens in the classroom

    how to best merge ability to use digital products with teaching strategies

    students having more factual knowledge than instructor

    paradigm shift

    printing press –

    George’s provocation: rosy prospect of moving beyond teacher/student model in which students are figured as empty vessels – teaching as information transfer.
    What happens when everyone has access to information?
    Should undergrads be taught as if they are in grad seminars? (John Seeley Brown)
    “if we’re not needed for packaging of information, what are we good for?”
    worst-case scenario: would it be only to demand of students “stand and deliver”

    new roles for teachers: designers, motivators, experience designer; creating order from the niches
    starting from where they are
    teaching “globalization” to middle school kids who had never been out of the Bronx

    what are the entry points? Wealth of opportunity to make learning experiences engaging

    shift from focus on content to skills
    history teachers – so much content to be transmitted – but teachers can help students sort through information

    “how to learn” in place of “what to learn”

    Teachers as “inspirers” – most important thing that we do is inspire people

    Teachers as curators

    group work, curating, making sense of a bunch of information

    interdisciplinary –

    models taking place in online environment: U.Phoenix model which separates course development from course delivery (business model); collaborative/teamwork type approach – publishers getting into that. Evolving model: have students involved in process of development of course and delivery of course – students as co-developers

    Mikhail – students floored by moments in which they have a chance to contribute to shape of class. They understand prof as fount of knowledge. Surprised when MG says he doesn’t know answer to a question. They are used to top-down approach. Used to banking concept of education (friere) . “how could you not do Hitchcock?”

    changing dynamic in class – what have you commented on? Asking students about blog posts that they’ve responded to in the past week. Values student work in a new way

    Joe Ugoretz
    creation – students all take photography of NYC on same day
    students come to see exhibition to recurate it – they show photos with an order that they’ve created themselves
    opening up of laws of the classroom – students can interact across courses, schools – so what they learn in physics connects to what they’ve learned in other sessions – or outside of outside institution entirely
    voicethread – ex. of social annotation – put image/artifact at center and make collaboration open and public “it’s like the Talmud”: – text at center, critiques arrayed around it – make it a richer resource
    – change tone of textbook – – tone of textbook not conversational at all
    – make students conscious choices made and active participants in own education

  3. April 21st, 2010 at 02:04 | #3

    There’s certainly a lot here to consider — lots of great, provocative questions which will no doubt lead to a rich, stimulating discussion.

    Let me ground some of this in personal classroom experience. As an administrator interested in digital learning, I have advocated for and supported the integration of digital media into undergraduate curricula of all sorts for a good number of years. This semester, I am teaching for the first time with the instructional tools I’ve championed and experiencing first hand just how transformative they can be.

    In my film class, I’m facing head on the questions that George raises — as he put it, “what happens when everyone has access to information,” of what happens when, thanks to any number of free online resources, students can know more about a given film or filmmaker than I do. While I have always embraced the idea that my role as teacher is to enable students to enter a critical dialogue with information rather than merely transmit it, I’m seeing now that the latter approach is practically untenable. I can’t possibly give them the factual knowledge they can (and do) get on their own on the Internet. They tell me things about our movies and filmmakers that I don’t know all the time and they tell me when I get something wrong. They can easily learn a ton about a given filmmaker’s body of work and what any number of critics say about it all in a short time browsing Wikipedia or IMDB or whatever else. They don’t so much need me for that stuff. Rather, they need me to point them towards the hard questions and to guide them towards informed, nuanced responses that problematize and synthesize the factual knowledge they’ve gained on their own or with my guidance. They need me, as I see it, to put them in conversation with knowledge and learning and, of course, one another.

    The tricky part is that they don’t always agree that this is what they need, at least not at first. Some feel that it is my job to know more than they do and if I don’t, then I have failed and should be embarrassed. And that is one fascinating side effect of this sort of pedagogy: it sometimes seems so radical to students that they can be somewhat slower in coming to trust that the professor is, in fact, guiding them towards learning.

    I’m looking forward to the conversations on Wednesday.

  4. April 20th, 2010 at 15:04 | #4

    As George said, some great questions here–and too many to really address. I’m going to try to “spark” the discussion with a “looking backwards” (“School 1.0”) post from a course, Alternate Worlds: Imagining the Future of Education, that I’m teaching now.

    I was sitting in a meeting last year, and an administrator (from another school) said “you know, classrooms are just about the only place in this country where you could take a person from 150 years ago, drop him down in that place, and everything would be totally familiar to him. Classrooms have not changed for centuries.” He said this as if it was a good thing. At the time I didn’t think it was a good thing…and I also didn’t think it was true.

    If we’re going to be talking in this course (and we are) about “School 2.0” (or 2.5? Or 3.0? Or 124c 41+? Or ∞?), we should probably start with School 1.0. What was that vision of 150 years ago? You’ll see one such vision in the excerpt from Tom Sawyer in this unit’s readings. And I’m sure you have many others from TV, movies, literature, and your own memories. But I wonder if those visions, tinged with nostalgia as they necessarily are, have any accuracy.

    You’re writing some reflections about your own educational history in this unit, and while you’re writing that, you can remember the idea of “rose-colored glasses.” Or maybe “mud-colored glasses.” When we remember the past, we’re really creating the past. It’s not the past itself that we’re describing, it’s our memory of the past. And memory, I would maintain, is a creative act. We select what we remember, and we view our past through the lens of the present. So in many cases, in literature and in life, when we recall or report School 1.0, we’re really reporting something we want to say about the way things are today. (“When I was young, we walked to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. And we liked it!”–that’s really not anything true or meaningful about the past school days…it’s a message about how the grumpy old man feels about kids today.)

    But I think there are some things we can say that have changed, whether in your lifetimes or my lifetime. Or a longer span. One description of the change has been that we have moved from a model of a “sage on a stage” to a “guide on the side.” Classrooms have become less authoritarian, more student-centered, with more emphasis on engagement and activity rather than obedience and control. The old rule when I started teaching was “never let them see you smile until October.” And children were “seen and not heard.” And kids memorized. Multiplication tables, poems, passages from history books, the periodic table of the elements. All memorized and repeated and recited exactly. And there were big difference in exactly who was there in the classroom–and what they got to study. Girls and boys, people of different races and ethnic groups or national origins–in School 1.0, it was well-established that they had different things to learn, different ways to learn, and different ceilings beyond which they could not rise. Writing was meant to be correct and grammatical, not expressive or creative.

    But even in those “old days,” some of those techniques, or some parts of them, did work, did help, and did acknowledge and meet real needs. Kids did learn. This is why some of the reports about School 1.0 are so negative about schools today. Some people think we’ve lost a certain shared cultural vocabulary, and that standards are lower than they’ve ever been, and they blame the changes in schools for those changes. But if you look at some of the dialogues of Plato, you’ll see that the Socratic method (hence the name) is not a recent invention at all. And much of what we think of as being new and modern and exciting and changing just today was really described by John Dewey almost a century ago.

    It might be that the core moments of learning (or the long-term process of learning) is not something that is really connected to School 1.0 or 2.0 or anything point anything. In that one-room schoolhouse, people did learn, and in the high-tech “smart” classroom, people do learn. And in both of those places they sometimes don’t learn. So as we look towards the future of education, as we imagine that, let’s also focus on the core values that we remember and that we know–and look at how those are changing and predict where those are going.

  5. George Otte
    April 20th, 2010 at 12:28 | #5

    There are a lot of thought-provoking questions there, and I would be crazy to try to address them all, but as I look them over, one thing keeps coming to mind: the sense that we could (or should) be ending the era of teaching and learning as information transmittal. That model is a essentially a one-way exchange: people who have information give it to those who don’t have it. This is basically a packaging operation: wrapping up thought (in lectures, courses, books) and presenting it.

    The question, then, is what happens when everyone has access to information — and access to interrogating it, reconfiguring and synthesizing it, putting it into dialogue or dialectic with other information. You might say that this poses the possibility of moving from an instructivist to a constructivist model: one placing a premium on inquiry, application, collaboration, creation (and not just absorption).

    This, of course, is the utopian view. The dystopian view is that this model itself gets co-opted and absorbed by the old model (which of course I’ve painted in a reductive way that de-emphasizes its endurance and resourcefulness, especially because I’m omitting any real consideration of the power relations it relies on). So the danger is that the digital university doesn’t move beyond the packaging model, instead becomes a re-packaging model.

    I’ll leave it there for the nonce, and look forward to the discussion at the conference.

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