Sunday, September 5, 2010

Without Apology

Dr. Zappala and I have thrown a lot at our Digital Civilization class: new tools, and a radically new approach to content, independent learning, and connecting students to their own passions, to other students, and to things bigger and broader than a semester and a Gen Ed requirement.

But no apologies! Sure, it's a lot, with plenty of kinks to work out. We'll get some things wrong. But we know where we are going, and that direction is not backwards to the status quo of higher education.

Speaking of which, the following video expresses our sentiments. Only, unlike the professor at the beginning, we will not shrug and say we have failed our students. We are giving this experiment all we've got.

Too many teachers, courses, and colleges proceed apace as though no radical revolution is underway in our society, This is not our point of view. We will not be teaching this course in the traditional way with a little bit of audiovisual enhancement to dress it up. No. We are challenging our students in a serious way precisely because the stakes are so high and the attention given to the change is so low -- even at first-rate universities like the one we teach at.

It isn't just that technology is increasing and media multiplying. All our institutions are being reformulated -- not just retooled -- as the revolution takes hold in how we communicate, think, solve problems, collaborate, persuade, work -- in how we conceive of the world and act meaningfully within it: government, business, family life, art -- the works.

It may appear to our students that their professors are a couple of geeks imposing their love of things technical upon their students. If so, they have missed the point. It is not about the tools, nor some naive attachment to gadgets and science fiction. It is about the principles upon which society is built (or rebuilt); it is about a lifetime of purposeful, educated, passionate involvement in the life of the mind and the lives of our neighbors across the planet. It is about the very purpose of an education. It is about realizing how to realize your potential in a world in which print literacy will no longer dominate. It's about catching up, yes, but it is more about catching the vision.

We have that vision, and it thrills us. And it scares us a bit, to tell you the truth. But we want to take our students with us, forward in the future. We want them to be brave enough to detach from the comfort and familiarity of  textbook learning and to pick up the challenge to dig deep within to the taproots of their passions, and to reach beyond themselves and their classrooms to the social networks and authentic issues and problems to which they need not wait to begin contributing their talents.

For all of this, we don't apologize. We hope our students are just crazy enough to stay with us for the ride.


Jeffrey Whitlock said...

If I may be so bold to ask, would you mind expounding on this statement : "We have that vision, and it thrills us. And it scares us a bit, to tell you the truth?"

Brandon said...

I think the vision can be seen as the incredible possibilities that are opening up with new technologies and learning. Its thrilling to be living in a time when things are advancing so quickly, and to be able to grab on and fly with it. The scary part is that we are not sure how well we will do when we're in the clouds. You as teachers want to teach us the best you can but we're all flying into the clouds together. I think that might be what scares you. I for one am grateful for professors that are willing to take us into the clouds. Lets fly high.

Madeline Kaye said...

I am not sure I completely agree that there needs to be some sort of outstanding revolution in college in our approach to new technology. Don't get me wrong, Programs like canvas and blackboard, when used properly, are extremely useful tools for learning and growing. However, sometimes I feel the efforts to modernize everything end up making things feel mundane and too computer-centered. In my new ward this semester, virtually everything seems to need to be reported through a long online form. I'm talking about FHE reports, visiting teaching, temple activity, ward activity, weekly institute reports, etcetera. This kind of push for technology just seems a little contrived and unnecessary.

Kevin said...

I completely agree that using technology to our advantage can be a powerful tool. This new method of teaching and self directed learning will take is into another dimension of the learning experience. The only thing that I think we need to be careful of is to be a consumer of technology, and not to be consumed by it. We need to make sure that we are the ones using the technology, and that the technology is not just using us.

Dalton said...

I definitely agree that a focus on technology and how to use it to become better lifelong learners in needed more. It has been interesting to see all of the different views on how much new digital technology should be used in a classroom setting. I personally love to watch and listen to radical new ideas especially when they are put into action. The good ideas get adopted into the main stream some where in the future but we would never have anything new or interesting if it wasn't for some radical thinker putting their idea into action, or trying at least.

Melissa said...

One thing I realized reading this is that I haven't needed to use computers that much in my life. I don't know how it works in public high-schools, but I was home-schooled and took correspondence courses that used snail-mail. I don't think I'd even have learned to type very well if I hadn't chosen a course on it. Then of course I got to college, and no-one really expected me to know about anything online beyond blackboard. So, thank you for the chance to really get to know my computer. I'm really excited about this.

Daniel Zappala said...

Jeffrey, I don't want to speak for Dr. Burton, but I'll elaborate a bit from my perspective on why this is a scary vision. For me, it's primarily because teaching in this manner takes me away from my comfort zone. Dr. Burton has mentioned several times that its hard to not assign 100 pages of reading a week -- the fear is that you're not going to learn as much of the information about the history of Western Civilization as is expected.

In my case, I'm trying out similar concepts in my graduate research course. Normally I would assign 2-3 papers a week, and I would know ahead of time all the papers we're reading and could lecture at length about each of them. This term I'm assigning one paper a week, and then the students have to come to class having read another paper. 12 students, 12 different papers, many of which I've never read before. How am I supposed to lecture on them?

The key is -- I don't. I have the students discuss what they learned from the paper and how it relates to the topic for the week -- they teach me and the other students. I had my first session today, and I walked into class a little uncomfortable because I hadn't prepared my usual hour and a half worth of material. It worked great. The students really showed that they could go out and find relevant research papers, digest them, and fit them into the area. As a result, we're going to have collectively read about 15 papers per research area instead of 6, and we'll put together a Wiki with summaries for each one. It will be a MUCH better experience, because the students will have learned more.

And in the end, this is the clincher for me. I want students to become better learners. The key to that is taking ownership of your learning and the course material and flying with it. It's all about process -- learning to learn. Along the way, I want students to become more literate in digital technology, because the dominance of print technology is ending and you will have much more success if you are more adept in all of the ways in which we will express ourselves -- print and digital, with the flexibility to adapt to whatever comes after digital.

Daniel Zappala said...

Madeline, I agree that sometimes technology can get in the way, and it can seem a little self-defeating to require every activity to be turned into an online report. However, I hope you'll see that this course is about a lot more than using computers on the instruction side of teaching -- Blackboard and Canvas. It's more about computers on the learning side -- how you integrate digital media into your education. This includes everything that falls into the consuming, creating, and connecting axes that we've discussed in class

Daniel Zappala said...

Kevin -- As one who has struggled at times with an addiction to technology (if it could be called that), I agree that everything must have its place. Balance is crucial here, and we're not asking you to give up any of the other important parts of your life or to become too heavily focused on technology. Use it where appropriate and use it well. Hopefully it enriches your experience.

Melissa, I'm excited that you're getting this opportunity!

Alex Gunnarson said...

I love what you're doing with this course. Admittedly, it did take me a while to get used to it (I hope my grade didn't suffer as a result), but I love everything about the purpose of DigiCiv—"independent learning, and connecting students to their own passions, to other students, and to things bigger and broader than a semester and a Gen Ed requirement.... It is about the very purpose of an education. It's about how to realize your potential..." I feel as if I've been waiting my whole educational experience "to dig deep within to the taproots of [my] passions, and to reach beyond [my]sel[f] and [my] classrooms to the social networks and authentic issues and problems to which [I] need not wait to begin contributing [my] talents." And of the "authentic issues and problems" of which you speak, the very problem which I feel myself compelled to address is that of the Information Singularity (which I posted about here), which, oddly enough, is central to this class. It's as if this class is tailor-fit to the direction I wish to take in life.

I find it unfortunate that the vast majority of my education has been spent in study, a minority in application, and none on the personalization this course is bold enough to take. We need an educational system which addresses students as individuals, not as so many copies of each other. This class, I am happy to know, leads the way.

Thank you for this unique opportunity.

P.S.—Incidentally, I wrote a post on this very topic.

Alex Gunnarson said...

Also, I don't know if you can change this, but on your list of class blogs, my blog is listed under my name—I changed it to "Synthesis." Thanks.

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