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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.”


    Impressions to Reflections

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:03 pm

    Almost all Macaulay students study abroad at some point during their four years.  We support this (including financially) and see it as a key element in the curriculum.  This year we also begain an eportfolio project, and (somewhat unexpectedly) found many of our students using their eportfolios as blogs/eportfolios (I use the terms somewhat interchangeably–a separate question and subject to be discussed) of their study abroad experience.

    I’m interested in a range of questions about these away and abroad eportfolios.  I see the eportfolios as a place for students to engage in social pedagogy-type activities, but often separately from the context of a specific class.  They are having experiences which are learning experiences as they encounter classes (academic and economic), cultures, places, foods, living arrangements, politics, and languages which they’re not used to, which are different from those they’ve encountered at home or on their home campuses.  And as they have these experiences, they’re describing them and reflecting on them, posting photos and videos, getting and responding to questions and comments from friends back home and in other countries, because they have these public away and abroad eportfolios.

    These eportfolios seem to move through the framework “counterclockwise,” in the sense that they start with (and are designed to start with?) connecting the affective and the cognitive–they start with impressions or the equivalent of tourist journals.  But as they become more conscious of addressing a real audience (as they get comments or readers) and engaging with an intellectual community (which we promote and design for by aggregating all their eportfolios into a single site and directing advisors, other students, and the public to that site), they also become more conscious of representing knowledge for others and their explorations become more open-ended.

    What I want to see, the core design element towards which I hope they are moving, is to go from impressions (tourism) to reflections (engagement with authenticity and difficulty).  This does seem to be happening with many of the eportfolios, especially as they connect their experiences away and abroad to what they’ve learned back on campus.  I can already see and code for some of these moments, and I hope to locate more, as well as to see what kinds of design elements and pedagogies can promote this (more specifically).  I also think as time goes by (this is the beginning of these projects, so most students have not yet returned), I would like to see how these travel eportfolios get integrated into (connected? linked? cross-reflected?) their broader eportfolios of their thinking and learning when they return from abroad.

    I’m also interested in some of the social elements of the experience that are only beginning to occur–but for which I do notice I’m designing (sometimes without knowing I was doing it).  In several cases, we have several students studying abroad in the same place, and they have chosen to create a group eportfolio–so it’s one site with multiple authors, and they talk to each other in comments but also in posts directed to each others posts.

    Finally, we’ve just implemented (but not fully announced or launched) the BuddyPress suite of plugins which layers social networking on top of the eportfolios.  The idea of this is that all members of the Macaulay eportfolio community (not just study abroad) have their eportfolios connected to a central audience/response/intellectual community site, where they see new posts and blogs and member profiles and status messsages, and groups and friends–all searchable and connected. I’m anxious to see how this designed community might affect student experiences of situated feedback, and other connections I might not expect.

    (Oh, and one more thing–as if I don’t have enough–most of the away and abroad eportfolios make extensive use of photographs, and some video and audio, too.  I’m curious about how and why students make use of multimedia in these contexts–and whether this might have to be a separate petal entirely?)