Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wesch and the Machine

Sorry I'm so late with this.  Cranky babies don't respect deadlines.  Jerks.

When Dr. Bogad first introduced us to Mike Wesch in SED 552 by reading his article "Anti-teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance." I must say that I was more than a bit skeptical of the whole idea of "anti-teaching:"

As I was shaking my head in agreement with Wesch, a little voice from the far reaches of my brain, keep asking how does Wesch knows that his students are really learning anything? He is vague on how he assesses his students' knowledge. Now I realize that Wesch's goal is to inspire students to ask questions but I'm not sure that making a documentary or creating a simulation of world history really proves that all of his students are learning. He seems to be implying that if we hand the reigns over to students that learning will just happen. Still he admits in this TED talk(13:39 min) that the world simulation game he has his students create "almost always fails" but that it "fails in the best possible way" because students leave his class asking the questions that will help them pass the test of life. While that sound amazing, I'm left a bit uneasy. Wesch either downplays his role as "manager" while discussing his innovative anti-teaching or he puts way more trust in his students ability to find, analyze, and present real information than I am comfortable with.

 I was uncomfortable with notion of handing over control to my students.  How would they be held accountable?  Was there some sort of summative assessment which gauged his students' understanding of the  courses' key concepts?  I just wasn't ready to make the leap of faith necessary to even consider doing this in my own classroom.

Given my initial reservations about such student-centered pedagogy, I was surprised by how much Wesch's ideas resonated with me today while reading "The Old Revolution." It was kind of like what Seth was talking about today when you haven't realized how far you've come until someone or something brings it to your attention.  I still think that it is important to make sure all of one's students are being challenged and participating in their learning but I realize that I was obsessing about the wrong thing.  If students aren't motivated, if they don't see the value in what we are trying to teach them, than I'm not doing my job regardless of how well my students do on MCAS.

Wesch argues that progressive, student-centered pedagogical movements have gone in and out of fashion for a long time.  But whereas in years past, there were only small pockets of revolutionary thinkers, Wesch argues that technological and cultural changes that have taken place in the last 20 years are so vast that "educators everywhere cannot help but see a disconnect between their traditional modes of teaching and the world in which we all now live"(2).  

This disconnect is a reality we live everyday--kids bored, disillusioned ,and disengaged.  We can choose either to hide behind the idea that kids today are just lazy or we can start figuring out ways to recapture their attention and spark their imagination.  Stepping outside of our comfort zone isn't easy but taking risks is the only way to grow.  I think Wesch framed our situation beautifully:

In the pursuit of these new learning environments we find ourselves asking those wonderfully fundamental questions: What are “the basics” and “basic literacy skills” today? How might our students best learn them How are schools/classrooms/desks/subjects/schedules/teachers necessary to this learning process, and how are they not? And these are the best kinds of questions, because their best answers are just more questions. And so we find ourselves exactly where any great learner would want to be, on a quest, asking question after question after question (3).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kelly,

    I hope you got some sleep!!

    You'll be happy to know that once your children are 17 and 15, like mine, they'll hardly ever wake you up at night any more. ;D

    Assessment has always concerned me as well. In higher ed we are having to concern ourselves more with learning outcomes than in the past. I'm sure there are still many professors who can teach by any model they choose, though. When I first started, I had a highly interactive class, but only with the students who chose to interact back. That is how I was taught, and I thought that was fine (and fun!). I lost about 50% of beginning programmers, which is actually typical for college programming classes. But it really sucked. Now if assessment had gone out the window (because I did have professional standards for what they produced), then they would have all passed and it could have been one big love fest. :)

    But within I'm ambivalent. I want each student to progress. It depresses me that I have to grade them. I don't mind assessing and I don't mind assessing to a standard that I've made brutally clear in a detailed rubric. And I think we can put inquisitiveness and creativity and whatever other properties we want our students to leave our classroom with in a rubric. I haven't read the Wesch that you cite, but I confess it sounds lazy to me. Go ahead and "unteach," but then *show* me that you did something. Again, I haven't read it, so maybe he does?