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    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.”

    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.

    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.