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M4–FIrst Impressions (only) from Michael

(Baby steps, Michael–micro-movements! Calm down.)

I took approximately forever getting my syllabus draft posted, and am scrambling today to catch up with the M4 readings, so I have only initial impressions to share.

One issue I keep coming back to is that many of the ideas and tools (conceptual and technological) we are gaining here may be differently useful in different courses. I keep encountering ideas that I’d like to keep in mind for revising other courses. (Really hoping I can discipline myself not to lose these intuitions in the onrush of regular-school-year responsibilities, but to keep studying and trying adjustments and innovations across my teaching–as they suit. Fragile idealism.)

For now, though, I’ve chosen a course that I find stubbornly resistant to some of the vision being shared here: I won’t detail it too much, but it’s a very teacher-centered course, simply because I’m trying to do two very unusual things in the field–integrating Western and non-Western literatures at each step and linking literature to history through the practices of materialist mentality history (okay, that one’s less rare, and yes, I went to grad school in the eighties, what’s it to ya?) [wink]. Neither approach is self-evident; I need to do a lot of the initial spadework for the students. I do try to be transparent about my methods, and will gladly use the online format to engage them in miniature instances and problems so they can at least get a feel for these analytic techniques–but only up to a point.

I feel I can’t expect students to spend the whole semester generating new knowledge according to my preferred analytic methods, working upward from the primary and even secondary data without slowing down the course to the point that it’s not fulfilling its purpose as a survey. This is where I split off from the skill-centered focus we’re reading about–I get it, I do, but this course resists the shift because of the requirements of coverage: I still need to race them through the Louvre, as we in the survey-course biz say.

So I’m trying to be patient and to believe that more of this will be applicable over a larger shift in all my teaching.

To that end, I think I’ll always keep Bloom’s taxonomy to hand–it’s an old reliable for me (although I hadn’t encountered his work in the affective domain, which I need to think about NOW.)

The two articles offered as “Primers” in Assessment both held my attention and seem useful as introductions to larger questions; I do wonder how much they are addressed to public-school instruction as well as upper level, and keep imagining a subtextual dialogue with standardized testing here. I found my mind shifting, in the Sewell, Frith, and Colvin article, to larger departmental learning assessment goals and the dialogue of my courses with them–so I want to go back and take those thoughts further.

The other articles seem to be for me to keep and apply as I approach other courses, although the article on student self-assessment read to me as a nudge to keep my grading standards crystal-clear (is that the same as transparent?)

Michael’s Midway-into-M3 Primal Scream

Okay, I’m not going to scream. (It was just an attention-getting headline.) But, having read M2’s material about learner-based syllabi, and now, in M3, the initial overview of Instruction Design Models, and the OLC Five-Pillar Quality Framework material, I have to remark:

No teacher talks like this.

These are not terms teachers use, at least none I’ve ever conversed with.  (It’s a matter of both vocabulary–Content assets? Storyboarding? Domain specific referenced items? Post-assessment items?–and more.)

There’s always the possibility–I think this is the faith we’re riding on at this point in our course–that these are terms we’ve actually always needed, and that here’s our chance for paradigm-shifting enlightenment about something we’ve all been doing for years. Or that these terms correspond to things we’ve always done. It’s also possible that some disciplines are closer to these ways of thinking than others.

But for me, it’s a mysterious view. And as a historian, I always argue that it’s important to listen to the accounts and points of view of the people your research represents: concrete, on-the-ground experience contributes meaning and insight that you can’t get any other way. And as one who’s been in the thick of teaching for a generation now, I can’t believe these people have ever taught or listened openly to a teacher, at least to a teacher like me;  I find these thoughts–to put it as neutrally as possible–unfamiliar, somehow off-base, and therefore something less than organically connected to what I’m trying to do. Doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try, but–isn’t it important that no teacher talks this way?

Beneath it all–this is beyond the question of jargon–what I sense is a businesslike conflation of broad, undergraduate liberal-arts education and inquiry with focused, practical, and measurable workplace skill-training; there is, deep in the assumptions here, a reduction of teaching to the transfer of testable information, combined with a bias toward “application to real-world problems”–and I’m teaching literature. There are certainly elements of information, comprehension, and analysis in what I teach, but–crucially, I think–a lot of the value of what I do isn’t that easily reducible:  I need to share an element of appreciation, of evoking pleasure and affect from the text, of  inviting enthusiasm and interpretive imagination, of modeling a life of reading and perceiving and enjoying to my students (which may affect them more than any specific text they read). These are easier to do face-to-face. Online, I’m pondering how to preserve that part of my work. (And, by the way,  my teaching has elements of “faculty satisfaction” these guys have never heard of.)

At this point, I’m not embarrassed to defend these sorts of intangibles–the feel central to me. What do you think–am I just being sentimental?