Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 7:49 AM
Getting away from lectures, even with 500+ students – why, and how so?
“Less is more.” “Well, they need to know it all.” “How much do they really know when they ‘learn it all,’ and in what ways do they ‘know’ it?”
Active Learning: when depth, and when breadth? For we cannot know it all, nor can we know it in all ways, in 15 weeks, 4 years, or 12 years.
Students “taking something of value” away with them
Taking learning to another level: Internalizing
Taking remembering to another level: understanding
Taking external knowledge to another level: integrating
Taking all our knowledge to another level: action
What is in short term memory, what in long? And what do students do with what is in long-term memory? Does it sit there? Is it integrated into their own system of knowing and understanding, into their own system of truth? Is it applied? Is it connected to reality of mind or physical space? Is it judged? Is it dialogued with? Is it argued for and against? Is it interwoven into the reality that all is connected? Is it valued? Is it devalued as necessary? Is it applied to integrity, morality, and wisdom? Is it applied to honesty? Is it deeply probed? Is the question ‘why’ asked? Is the question ‘in what context’ asked? Is it applied to action, memory, philosophy? Is it connected to ego or to goals of peace or to understanding? Does it answer the question, “Why are we here?” – as teachers, as students, as living organisms, as human beings? Does it give students more than the five-minute university of Father Guido Sarducci from “Saturday Night Live,” now available on Youtube? If not, what has to change? Does it go beyond education as a commodity and actually address quality of life? Freedom? Community? Quality of life for all – people, plants, animals, the ozone layer, the air, soil, and water? Isn’t it all connected, interwoven? And if so, in what ways are we helping our students explore that, and in what ways are we using our research, scholarship, and creativity to advance this? What is the bedrock, the foundation, the underlying philosophy which drives our enterprise? Which drives our thought? Our action? Our relationships with our students? Our essence? Our truth?
What is it of true value that our students and we, too, acknowledge as true value, that our students will take away with them and that will not only stay with them, but which they will continue to explore, understand in new ways, have varying perspectives on? From poetry to electrical engineering, from philosophy to music, from physics to nanotechnology, in what ways do we go beyond “vocational school” and beyond “getting a job” to “advancing the quality of life of humans, animals, the planet,” and “ getting along?”
We as a campus are not separate from one another. As all life and ideas are intertwined, so too are we. Yes, Electrical Engineering and German do indeed have something in common, have mutual interests and understandings as well as divergent themes and goals. We are a community of seekers of truth. We are a community. We are seekers. We are here to serve – not our egos, but “truth,” even though we know truth is not a concrete static entity. Perhaps more than truth, it is our purest, humblest honesty we are here to serve. We are here to serve understanding, and we are here to serve compassion and action to the greater good, even when it is difficult to do so. Our scholarship, research, creativity, teaching, and student learning, our action and thought, our students’ action and thought – all of this is one and the same endeavor in various manifestations.
We are community and individuality, the self and other, the individual and society, and our endeavors – no matter what they are – happen within a social and cultural context, and within goals that are complicated, mixed, and sometimes both for better and for worse. We are called upon by the greater good and the need and the truth as we see it in our most honest and purest form/selves/depths to understand, to act selflessly and with integrity, as much as possible, and to help our students, our metropolitan area, and the world to do the same. Whether Confucius said it or not, “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” (Which of course is very culturally loaded as well, since light is not all good and darkness not all bad. Just as too much light will kill us, so too will too much darkness. Balance. And certainly humans have egos and anxieties, … but balance.)
The questions I have posed are in a way “universal” questions, and while in a way they have “universal” answers, yet each person’s exploration, answers, and resulting actions are individual manifestations of those themes. What we do here at the University is a symphony, and each of us produces variations on a theme, not by Mozart, but by us. So while my answer is not your answer, and no true answers are truly alike, yet we are playing the symphony, the symphony by us, each and every moment of the day, and at night in our dreams as well.
And a caveat: we must always remember that “language is the semblance of communication,” whether dealing with our research, scholarship, and creativity, each other, our students, international negotiations, or something else. If we keep that in mind, perhaps we will not kill each other so easily. (That caveat was the didactic part of this essay.)
So, then, in what ways does all of the above intersect, interact, communicate with those forces that have been put into play, also for better and for worse, which ask us to think about students’ modes of thinking, about outcomes, about assessment which is not grading but can use the same means, about active learning, about lecturing, about large classes, about small classes, about the use of technology as a tool to do what pencils, pens, and books cannot? I believe if we forget to constantly address all the above questions – and maybe you can think of more – we are not doing our ecstatic duty to ourselves and to others. Our highest calling is our purest, deepest honesty, that space within us which seems truly wise, that space where our fears and anxieties do not reside, where insight and the aha moment preside. And it is not eradicating ego; rather, it is going beyond ego to another space, in which we allow ourselves to feel safe – and dare I say happy, so that we can get on with our truest calling that does not monitor ourselves and others, but, like the meteor, is on its own trajectory, going where it will go.
So what does all of this have to do with best practices in teaching with technology? Most probably, everything.