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Archive for April, 2007

learning

I discovered Charles Nelson’s blog when he kindly commented on one of my student’s blogs. In the post I have linked to, he talks about learning theory, error, and flow. He looks to video games as a place where flow can be found, as well as lots of time on task, which is another predictor of success.

Today I am wondering if there is more than one kind of thing which constitutes “learning.” I find myself resistant to the education theories that try to boil down all learning into manageable, predictable patterns. When teaching someone to read, or teaching someone a foreign language, there is just a lot more “right and wrong” and I can see how error feedback is important. But when I am teaching composition theory and asking students to just consider different theories, how do I locate error? Is there a place in education for open-ended questions, for personal development, for big questions for which there are no answers?

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I spent an eye-opening day at University of Mary Washington a few weeks ago, enjoying the presentations at Student Academy, 2007.

Two other women and I were supposed to judge the presentations to award prizes. We were overwhelmed by the incredible variety of projects. Students were doing really interesting things with blogs; using technologies to help us better funnel the information swamping our lives; rethinking the intersection of economics, real life and virtual worlds; conducting psychology research…and more. In the end, we didn’t have much trouble reaching consensus on what projects should win the prizes, but we felt funny. One of the other judges said “None of the ones we are choosing are very technically amazing. Are they just going to think that we are “old ladies” who don’t understand technology?”

So many subtle fears are embedded in that message. There is the ever-present fear in our culture of being perceived as “old” and behind the times. There is the pressure, as females, to prove that we are technologically competent and not too “humanistic” or “soft.” There is the assumption that the best projects using information technologies are the ones that use the newest and most complicated technology.

We resisted giving into the fear of how we would be perceived, and awarded the prizes to the projects that were most interesting intellectually, which showed the most student-led innovation, and which were most effective at accomplishing the goal the student had set for herself. And it was hard to judge because the students were so amazing! I was mightily impressed by their passion, creativity and independent thinking.
This awesome project won first place

and if you look at it, I think you will see what I think constitues a wonderful use of technology for intellectual pursuit. Using web design, this student actually gave a 3 dimensional representation of how literary criticism works. Instead of doing a traditional typed essay, she created an essay with moveable pieces. I have seen hypertexts before and they have their uses, but in this example she makes the text non linear for purposes of understanding the analysis better. Her thesis remains in the right corner so that as each point of her argument pops up, we can see it in relation to the thesis. Check out how the words in the centrally important quote are highlighted differently for different pieces of the argument. I am struck by how she used her technical knowledge of web design in a spare and beautiful way–every decision is based on the intellectual work she is doing, not on what she COULD do to make a flashy webpage.

I believe that it is a good use of technology when I don ‘t really notice the technology because I am so caught up in the insights and emotions the technology makes available.

So thank you , UMW, for this opportunity to learn so much from your students!

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I needed a little fun today and am just geeky enough to admit this gave me a smile. Like my friend Gardner:

I’m terza rima, and I talk and smile.
Where others lock their rhymes and thoughts away
I let mine out, and chatter all the while.I’m rarely on my own – a wasted day
Is any day that’s spent without a friend,
With nothing much to do or hear or say.

I like to be with people, and depend
On company for being entertained;
Which seems a good solution, in the end.

What Poetry Form Are You?

which could explain why I found I had to carefully craft an agenda before a meeting, or else he and I could easily talk the day away : )  Missing our talks, Gardner!  Glad I can still catch you on your blog.

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At long last, here is part 2 of my interview with Dr. Bain. Knowing that he has started 4 different Teaching Excellence centers, I wanted to know what he felt was the main job of such a center. He told me about the four crucial ways that the center can serve the university. You can listen to “the Four Ways” here.

But one simple and valuabe thing that he told me off-handedly, while we walked across campus, has stuck with me the most. When I asked him how to get faculty to come to Center events about teaching, he said: they’ll come when the events aren’t about teaching, but instead they are about LEARNING. Ah HA!

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