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    Looking at student work — faculty connecting through students

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:38 pm

    As a result, in part at least, of our recursive focus on the linkage between faculty practice and student work (ePortfolio), this seminar seems to have developed considerable traction.

    The beginning of the seminar, before we introduced the practice of asking them to bring in ePortfolios to share, felt sometimes loose and vague.  But as the year progressed, the seminar dynamics strengthened.   Faculty not only began to develop a clearer notion of the concepts at stake.  They also felt like they had more at stake — showing their students ePortfolios made the issues we were discussing very tangible and real.


    Representing knowledge for others in an intellectual community

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:14 pm

    I’m particularly interested in how the Reacting to the Past pedagogy plays out on two related areas of the social pedagogies framework — representing knowledge for others/sense of voice and intellectual community/situated feedback.

    In the Reacting to the Past games I have taught for the past three years, all student writing is posted to a course blog (for example, the spring 2009 course blog) the day before it will be discussed in class. Students read each other’s writing on the blog to prepare for the discussion that will occur in class – and, ultimately, so that they will be able to “win” the game by achieving certain pre-defined objectives for their individual role. During class sessions, each student typically gives a very brief speech summarizing the claims from her paper and then is actively questioned by her peers.

    Post-game reflective writing by students reveals how significant, and how unusual, it is for them to be writing and speaking for peers who have incentives to be critical readers and questioners.  In post-game reflective writing over the past three years, some 75% of my students report approaching their writing and class preparation differently than they do in other classes because they knew they would be critiqued by peers. Most students describe this pressure positively (“exhilarating” and “intense”), but a few explain their behavior more defensively: “The reason I studied hard ultimately was fear of looking like an idiot.” One student reflection captured the central themes that appear in most student comments about how representing knowledge for their peers alters both their study habits and their attitudes:

    “I had a lot more personally invested in this class than others. It was not about the grade but about not wanting to get picked apart in the game, and feeling confident about my argument. Even if I felt I wrote
    a paper that was good, I wanted to find more support, and I’d send it to people to look over to make sure I had put all I could in it. My writing became a lot more important to me.”

    It is impossible for me to demonstrate that student writing or speaking is intellectually deeper or more rigorous due to the social nature of the Reacting pedagogy; there’s no appropriate comparison group that would provide evidence to support such a claim. However, the consistent themes of student post-game reflections indicate that the pedagogy prompts them to behave in ways that I associate with meaningful academic work – to closely read core texts and peer writing, to write multiple drafts of papers, to speak carefully and listen critically in class, and to ask probing questions. As one of my students wrote: “Through embodying Confucianism and a point of view within it I was able to develop a higher level of understanding than I would in a traditionally-taught course.”


    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