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    Core Concepts

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:14 pm

    Core Concepts
    For the Social Pedagogies Group, I am focusing on the “Literature for the North Woods” projects from my Skidmore College English course, “Literature and the Environment.” The goal of the projects is for students to “connect our reading and study of Nature Writing and Environmental Literature to our natural surroundings [Skidmore College’s North Woods] and to find creative ways in which the literature we are reading can enhance our experience of going into the North Woods . . ..  The challenge of the project is to translate or transpose literary ideas to new media for our contemporary audience and situation.”

    Since the student projects radically differ from a 5-7-page paper typically required in a literature class, it is helpful to articulate the core concepts informing the project.   The fundamental core concept underlying the project is understanding the unique purpose or role of literature.   Given the environmental focus of the course, it is important for students to understand and appreciate the distinct contributions that literature (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction) brings to Environmental Studies.   But more generally, the core concept I am after in the project is the purpose of literature.  While this is a complex questions with multiple responses range from the aesthetic to the political, in this introductory level course, the concept of defamiliarization from Russian Formalism best expresses the core concept I am after.   Literature exists to break/wake readers from habitual responses and perceptions and awaken them so that they can see the subject in a new light.   Essential, literature takes a subject out of the familiar context in which we have seen it and defamiliarizes it, makes it strange to us, so that we experience it anew.  It is my hope that through the projects, the students will focus on the features that the reading(s) awakened them too and use that as a starting point to create their projects.

    The second core concept—more accurately labeled a core value—underlying this work is the role of literature.  Often within an academic context, literary texts can be isolated as objects of analysis while their connect to the lived world can be obscured or eclipsed.   The project allows students to learn that literature in not a luxury or a decoration to the human experience but an important lens through which we perceive and understand our world.

    Finally, the last core concept embedded in the project is meaning, more specifically, how we make meaning specifically by translating or transposing ideas from one context into another.   By establishing this new relationship—between readings and the forest around the campus—the projects become meaningful not only to the students but also to their large audience


    Intellectual Community and more

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:14 pm

    Note: This Posting originally started out as a discussion of “Intellectual Communities.”   But as often happens in writing, as I wrote about “Intellectual Communities” and especially when I typed up the student comments, I was led to see connections to the “Situated Feedback” and “A Sense of Purpose” petals.   The interconnectedness is an important dimension of the Social Pedagogies schema.

    Community
    The Literature for the North Woods Project is only one dimension of the course in addition to reading and discussion of texts, writing literary explications (close readings) and analyses of the readings.   Students in the class also maintain their own blogs, in which they write regularly in response to the readings and class discussions.  I also require students to read each other’s blogs and comment on the entries.   This activity, along with the North Woods Project, is a central design element for creating and sustaining an intellectual community among the students.   For the project, that sense of community comes from the shared process of developing their projects as well as from the presentation of their projects to each other and other audiences at the end of the course.   Throughout the semester, students create three “snapshots” that invite them to begin to think about their own experiences and relationships to the campus Woods, connections they see among the class readings, and, ultimately, potential projects they might do and designs for these projects.   As students complete the snapshot, they post them on a class discussion forum and then read and respond to each other’s plans.  Some comments about benefits of the collaborative nature of the project:
    •    [About a joint project]  “E. and I spent a lot of them talking about our own impressions of nature.  Often, our interpretations overlapped; we both found ourselves focusing in on the smaller plants, light-play, and motion.  But there were several instances when we were able to enhance our project because we each observed something that the other person overlooked.”
    •    “Working with S. as a partner made the experience much less stressful and more enjoyable.  Meeting a few times before actually beginning the project allowed us to combine our ideas and make sure we were both envisioning the same final project.”
    •    “The best part though, was when J. and I went to put our two parts together.  We discovered that, despite working from different contexts, using different mediums, and contriving our ideas completely independently, we had arrived at basically the same conclusion about nature.”
    •    Throughout putting our North Woods Project together, Z. and I shared some remarkable moments of synchronicity.  At times it was almost too surreal; I can only compare it to when musical improvisation between two players sounds like a well-rehearsed and orchestrated composition.”
    •    “At various stages throughout the process of choosing and then developing my animation, I contemplated changing to a different type of project.  However, there were two things that kept me committed to making a claymation film.   The first was the encouragement from my peers on the discussion board.  From the responses posted, all who read my keep toolkit felt that it was an original and fun idea.”
    •    “Talking to classmates about the project seemed to help a lot in shaping the project.  Students had told us that while a presentation would be adequate, it would not be enough to engage the class and show off our creativity . . . . Spending a little time with classmates allowed us to realize that we could draw ideas from not only the historical readings, but from The Green Man myths and other folklore stories we read in class.”

    These passages are from the reflective essays that the students wrote at the conclusion of their projects.    In typing them up, I am struck by a clear sense of a community that doing the project seemed to create for the students.   As the Social Pedagogies flower suggests, “community” on the Course Design Elements side did correlate to “Situated Feedback” on the Student Experience Consequences side.   But I also have to wonder whether the project achieved a sense of an intellectual community among the students (or between the students and their nonstudent audiences).     On the one hand, I can see the intellectual community in the discussion of the creative process and presentation form in the students’ comments.   On the other hand, though, I don’t have evidence that the students were talking about the ideas of the course (see core concepts) among themselves (although this did come out a bit in the comments during the presentations).

    These passages also seemed to demonstrate the Student Experience Consequences of  “A Sense of Purpose,” in the way the Working Group has been unpacking this “petal”: work that matters to the students, work that they have something at stake in, work that is meaningful to them.