I wonder…

In the readings critical, complex and open pedagogical frameworks the classroom or a course were the analytic levels.  As has been mentioned throughout people’s discussions of the semester, that there are some difficulties in applying this to certain courses.  This, for me, has raised an internal question of what if we do this on the major/department level, and create a critical pedagogical arc? 

For faculty, there an be a challenge in operating within a system or structure that doesn’t support or advance these methods.  Some of the push back from the university, department and even students can temper adoption.  For students, I wonder how having the freedom to learn in one course, and then pushed back into the traditional format impacts motivation and drive in the long-term.

I wonder how student learning will be changed, particularly in STEM, if departments adopt an explicit critical pedagogy arc over the course of a program.  While foundational courses adopt critical pedagogical techniques to the degree to which they can, feasibly, sequential, high-level courses integrate techniques to an even greater degree of experiential learning, student-centered learning, collaborative course creation, etc. I wonder what would happen to knowledge if students could annotate readings and documents each semester to be used by those in the coming semester, or for themselves in later courses. 

I wonder what would happen if students and professors created a shared portfolio that traveled from course to course throughout the major/program, sans grades. I wonder if this would allow projects and interest areas to extend beyond one semester or develop in lower-level courses.  This portfolio could be used to guide project selection in future courses, and student skill development started in one course could continue in other courses (this would not include FERPA related information, but a co-created evaluation of the experience and items for other professors to continue). 

I wonder if this would create personalized knowledge/degrees, even within the “traditional” degree structures.  I wonder if this would change the notion of ownership that students have over their education from passively “receiving/getting an education” to something more powerful.  We discuss the freedoms that students take in this context, without fear of failure – I wonder if faculty, with support from the department, chairs and deans, would also take more risks.  I wonder if there would be more collaboration between faculty with regard to structuring syllabus, projects, and knowledge development if classes were seen not as stand alone check boxes or requirements, but one part of an integrated whole development process, centered on the student.

You’ve Got to Know the Rules to Break Them!!!

Paying particular attention to the Langer article, what she terms mindfulness, I consider critical thinking.  However, I think the major differentiation is the “when”.  For Langer, she believes that starting with conditional learning opens up additional possibilities.  For me, I am a firm believer in “You have to know the rules to break them” philosophy in life and education. 

When I worked in the government and third-sector, one of my roles was updating and revising entrenched systems and procedures.  At the beginning of my career, I came in and began changing processes without learning the what and why of existing systems.  Not only was this not well received, but in many cases caused unintended consequences.  It was only in coming in assessing the existing structures, could I step back and look holistically and the systems, the steps and how they work together to meet an end. 

In Langer’s story, she talks of how she mixes up some of the ingredients/steps in her cheesecake recipe – add something here, take some away there.  However, in her story, she didn’t say that she tried to bake her cheesecake at 100 degrees for 3 hours, instead of 300 degrees for 1 hour, or that she put it in the refrigerator in hopes that it would bake in there, or added onion and chives.  Alternatives, which as a novice baker, she could have easily done. However, she doesn’t, because she knows the rules of baking – there are some things you can change and some that you cannot.  It is only with this knowledge, that she experiments.

The same applies to education.  There are (small t) truths and rote memorization that needs to happen in education, a child doesn’t need to know that two plus two could equal four, it is four.  However, coupled with this rote knowledge and behaviors, critical thinking and analysis are crucial, particularly the ability to step out of the system and think reflectively on the whole and the steps, add new information and respond – “to improvise, adapt and overcome.”

When I think of successful inventions in tech, apps, and other areas, it is because someone innately knows a process, routine, or system, is able to step out of it and analyze that system – someone says, “There has to be a better way!”   I have also spent much of my career in five- and ten-year-strategic planning. In the end, most strategic plans themselves are in and of themselves pointless, it’s the planning that’s important, particularly an assessment of (knowing) what is.  It is from that foundation from which you jump to where you want to be and work backwards.  Most of time the actual plans never come to fruition as laid out initially, but you know where you want to go, what you can change and shift and what can’t as things evolve in reality – like a cheesecake.

Lastly, I don’t know why, but “Sully” Sullenberger came to mind, and his (re)actions on the “Miracle on the Hudson.”  When I think of him I know that on any given day he could have taken off from LGA with his eyes closed – that’s what I, and most people want, in their pilots. The difference is the ability to be reflexive and reflective on top of that rote knowledge to know when something is happening out of sequence, discard the plan and improvise, adapt and overcome.   When training new pilots, the first simulator training isn’t one that gets geese stuck in the engine, it’s the basics and then build out, and then build in complexity.