Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Year-End Reflection – Can Personal Experience and Dialogue with Peers Lead to Transforming Aspects of One’s Teaching?



As a co-leader of C2.0, I provide support for faculty seminar participants as they explore learning opportunities that may potentially influence their practice as educators in useful and profound ways. C2.0 faculty spend a year learning to use social web tools to connect groups of students with each other, enabling learning interactions that would not be possible otherwise.  While we accomplished and learned a lot this year, what stands out is the powerful role that personal experience can play for educators in the context of C2.0, and how the articulation of that experience, and the input of one’s colleagues, can translate into transforming one’s pedagogy.  

Bass and Elmendorf’s “Designing for Difficulty: Social Pedagogies as a Framework for Course Design in Undergraduate Education”, a reading in this year’s seminar, addresses the centrality of learners’ experience in conjunction with the ability to comprehend their understanding or learning. While the excerpt we read focuses on faculty designing activities for student learning, many of the concepts also hold significance for faculty learning in a professional development setting such as C2.0. For example:
 “Since social pedagogies ask [learners] to articulate and discuss understanding, to position themselves in relation to knowledge in the context of audience and community, they can also open up a set of filters or conditions for...learning – such as prior knowledge, identity, connections to experience…” p. 7 [emphasis mine]

We were able to model this approach to social pedagogies through the series of online and f2f activities we developed related to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. The “Quiet” material was multifaceted and included a book review, Cain’s TED talk, and even a (somewhat tacky) quiz about where one is on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Introduced in C2.0 a couple of years ago by Prof. C. Jason Smith, one of the original leaders of the seminar, Cain theorizes that extroversion is idealized in contemporary life in the U.S.:
“The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk- taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind whoʼs comfortable “putting himself out there”…Introversion, along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology…[s]ome of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.”

Excerpt from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Engaging with the   materials made it almost impossible not to reflect about one’s own relationship with the spectrum of introversion and extroversion. And connecting one’s personal experience led seamlessly to the topic of working with students. 

While the issue of providing introverted students with more opportunities for participation is often mentioned as an advantage of online activities, exploring introversion and extroversion as personal experience offered a new perspective for us. Engaging with this material helped participants examine their experiences as learners, and in some cases, prompted them to examine their own assumptions about how their students were learning.

Not only were the materials provided in various forms, but Maria and I also offered a range of ways for participants to engage with the theme of introversion: an multi-staged reflective blog post that included replying to and synthesizing each others’ posts; a f2f activity where we all agreed to be quiet for 25 minutes; writing about and discussing the experience of being quiet; and, using the multimodal tool VoiceThread to respond to images of introversion and extroversion in a visual and sometimes entertaining way to approach the topic. 

At its core, the theme of introversion and extroversion engaged us. In examining the staged postings and responses, an activity we did during one of our f2f meetings, I followed C2.0 participant Nikki McGee’s process. After engaging with the Quiet materials,  Nikki wrote in a thoughtful blog post that she realized some of her students – the introverts – would greatly benefit by having individual time as well as group time to develop ideas.  She also noted that “While Web2.0 platforms are ideal for collaboration and publicity, perhaps I can find ways to encourage students to use these platforms for individual thinking. One idea is to have students create private posts or blogs, and then ask them to excerpt just a piece for public viewing. This way, students are offered and opportunity (and actually required) to take time to think out problems, issues, etc on their own before contributing to a larger discussion.”

After receiving a fruitful set of replies from colleagues, including Maria’s synthesis, Nikki responds by sharing the ways she has integrated the Quiet materials, including the implementation of a “think before you speak” policy in class. Nikki then refers to her own need to gather her thoughts before responding, referencing a characteristic of introverts mentioned by Cain. Although she seems annoyed with herself for not realizing her bias towards extroversion in the learning environment sooner, she has clearly found interesting and creative ways to integrate the learning based on her own experience, the Quiet materials, and the interactions with her C2.0 colleagues.

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