Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another Semester Begins and There is Work to Do

I would like to be in a place where I could continue some of the blog posts that I have started but are in the "draft posts" category: there is the promised second post in the ongoing Teaching Africa series and then one I have playing around with about Robert Mugabe. But I can't get my mind out of the pedagogy of teaching and the daily interaction with my students. I feel a bit insular and island-like lately. Daily demands pull me in and the "out" looks very disturbing right now; the politics of the world and my nation seem overwhelming and, perhaps, a bit too real.

I have 4 classroom classes: three Culturals and one Archy. Two Distance Learning: one Cultural and one brand-new Archy. And I am back teaching for the Aggies down in Galveston; that one special challenge with 120 students who are all (the whole campus population) just back from a Fall semester in College Station--home of all the main Aggies, while the small Galveston campus was resurrected from the ravages of Ike. All in all, I have expended a lot of personal energy trying to make a very disparate set of connections with my students: virtual connections, small class connections, large class connections. I have spent long stretches of time in my car driving the long haul to Galveston, pondering the skill set required. I feel as drained as when I did field work and each potential conversation and interaction was a walk out a limb without needed corrective lenses.

But I have learned some things. I have students who really do believe that "the pyramids were built by aliens", that anthropology is about the study of dinosaurs, that dogs have language, that Latinos are more fertile than other people, and that most students don't seem to know the same types of things, by that, I think I mean that I can't tell that they have experienced a common High School experience with a common set of learned content.

They have read nothing and have little knowledge of very basic and fundamental content. It truly does frighten me to think that so many professors are using technology to distance themselves from this knowledge. Better to turn off the lights and cue up the power points; divide them in groups and give the "innovative projects" to work collaboratively on; or better yet build a wiki with no knowledge of what is and is not valid Internet source material: these all examples of activities I have witnessed first-hand.

No easy answers here. It just takes hard work and the desire to connect. Soon, we will be going with the flow and life will get easier. Then I will be able to look outward, again.

Now see, this is the sort of thing I am talking about. How are clickers going to help students learn reasoning skills? How, for that matter, are group projects going to solve that if the instructor is not an integral part of the process? Have you watched them in groups? How can these projects be designed if we don't understand where they are coming from? Particularly if we don't realize that they have had a very individual road of it throughout their high school years. If you want to engage with "their" (monolithic category alert!) understanding of technology than realize that large numbers of them have accessed only the most salacious and titillating aspects of the internet world--it is, after all, way cool to look at sites about alien pyramid building and conclude indigenous people...just, so couldn't do that. They aren't tabula rasa, they need to be retaught and we need to engage with them to figure out how to do that. How about if we put down the clickers and do so---hey, maybe not in the hundreds...maybe we need SMALL CLASSES and active involvement!


leasoup said...

I've been thinking the same thing about my own students this semester in regards to students not having a shared academic experience prior to college. It makes it hard to know where to start on any given topic.

larry c wilson said...

The questions you ask in the "update" need to be addressed to Boa. It would be interesting to hear how he believes clickers can help him develop student reasoning.

Pamthropologist said...

Gotta agree with both of you