I listend to a National Public Radio last week in which authors of a new book, Academically Adrift, report that “many [college] students are only minimally improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing during their journeys through higher education.” (listen here http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift)
I downloaded the Kindle version and have started reading the book, but already it has made me think again about the role of teachers—and to think about teachers in the context of the theory of connectivism.
One thing I know is that the best teachers (from kindergarten to graduate school) challenged me. They knew I could do better and they didn’t settle for less than my best try. Sometimes I failed them and myself. As I got older, though, I loved the professors who I knew were smarter than I was, who blew me away with their ability to see and to communicate what they saw (practically all of the Comparative Literature, Women’s Studies, and English professors at Washington University, for instance).
The other thing I know is that Sugata Mitra found greater gains when he asked for volunteer “grandmothers” to bolster students’ independent learning. These folks were not subject matter experts but rather emphathetic, enthusiastic “grannies” whose job it was to say/type encouragement to their learners—things such as “Wow, I couldn’t have found all that” and “I’m so proud of you.” Self-organized groups of young children actually requested these grannies to read them fairy stories over Skype, and the idea grew from there. It has involved to include non-grandmotherly types as well (see here).
The thing is, I know I never liked autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway kinds of teachers. But I’m also struggling with the extreme hands-off stance of the CCK2011 facilitators. It worries me a bit that at the end of the week I will submit my thoughts on connectivism and be evaluated (I am taking this for credit). I have no idea what that might entail because I have had no communication from the facilitators. I have not gotten a comment or reply to a blog post yet. And it makes me a little grumpy, frankly.
It also gives me an opportunity to wonder about myself (thank you, Buddha). What is this desire to get some acknowledgment from the “authorities”? Why do I need any feedback? What kind of feedback am I really looking for? Are “grades” the only thing that make sense to me? And then I wonder about the theory: Does connectivism mean teachers have no responsibility? No ongoing helpful role? Does connectivism make lazy teachers? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I don’t think I want a traditional setting where my ideas are judged and found lacking, especially when the discourse is sometimes so insular that I can’t penetrate it (like offhand references to names of people that stand in for the whole of a complicated theoretical school; now I’m remembering what was tiresome about academia). But at the same time, I would really enjoy a granny. A benign mentor who says, “Hey, that’s a cool thing; thanks for sharing.” Someone who even just reads some remark I made and says, “I’m glad you made it.”
Maybe instead of one Professor I get 800+ potential grannies in my CCK2011 loose network. Maybe instead of wondering what I can do to meet my needs, I should try to be a granny to everyone else. What can I do for you?