pedagogically at sea

It’s been a strange semester. I’ve got one course I’m team-teaching and another course that’s part of a learning community. The colleagues I’m working with are great, but it’s been hard to figure out what I’m doing as a teacher. In these collaborative situations, I’m usually trying to think about not pushing too hard in any one particular direction; we try to stay somewhat in a mutual comfort zone I think, while still drawing on each of our strengths.

But that’s not all. In a way it’s the same old, same old. I feel like I’ve taken the decentered classroom to such a limit that I’m really not even present for most of the learning, let alone at the center of it. As such, it’s hard to know what or if students are learning.

Before I came to Cortland, I prided myself on creating elaborate assignments. My classes were highly conceptual and thematized in a typical cultural studies/composition tradition. However at Cortland I’ve gravitated (or been sucked toward) more technical classes. Certainly it’s been my choice, but it’s been a choice made out of necessity. In teaching desktop publishing or web design or other new media, I’ve left behind many of my former practices. It’s not that teaching design is "atheoretical;" it’s that we’re talking about a different kind of theory or concept or abstraction.

In doing this, the "content" of the writing has shifted. Instead of students writing traditional papers on cyborg theory (something I did at Georgia Tech), my students are maintaining blogs journaling their personal lives and producing newsletters for local community organizations. Yes, there is value to doing this kind of writing, and yes there are challenges to writing regularly to your blog or putting together a newsletter, but they aren’t the kind of traditional, intellectual challenges of dealing with academic concepts.

When I started doing these more technical classes, I had included more conceptual material. It turned out to be a cognitive overload for the students. But somehow I have to go back to it somehow. I’ve got to create classes where students can learn technological practices on the one hand and engage philospohical concepts on the other. The idea is to see their experiences with technology as a materialization of the concepts we are studying.

I guess the real problem with the classes I’m teaching now is that the concepts we’ve studied have not integrated with the media the students have produced. That is, for example, we’ve studied the relation between networks, globalization, and the changing workplace but I didn’t follow through to have them address these subjects in the media they produced. In a way I guess I thought it would be too hard to make them deal with these new concepts AND the new media at the same time. Another part of me wanted to see the students working to create their own voice/identity, but now I realize that that assignment was far more challenging than the assignment of dealing with new concepts.

So next semester there will be more defined assignments, more limited contexts in which to operate, and then in April I can bitch about that.


One reply on “pedagogically at sea”

A, I’m very interested in how you’re feeling…so what about our writing about it? You have the kernel of an approach the article might take here in this post.
I think my struggle is always with pushing in too many directions as well and in the case of 506 pushing up against students’ time limitations. I often end up feeling as if we are asking too much of them while deep down knowing we’re not. This is a new experience for me since I’ve always been the queen of asking what students think is “too” much.
I’ve seen you seem to say “students are doing enough” yourself when I’m not sure we both are committed to that assessment.
I do think an intro course has to allow for exploratory moves on students’ parts. The movie and the website assignments are good examples aren’t they? It seems that students need to do what they did w/those assignments first–and only then might we impose more conceptually based assignments.
As for critique of their own media productions–yes–so important–but time??? How to do it?
For example, I would like students to address the constructions of who teachers are in the websites they are creating. What cultural tropes do they draw their “text” from? How conscious are they of how these discourses of teacher make them up?
I have been thinking all week that we should be using the two Tues. nights in Dec. we have available to us. But because we didn’t set it up that way, we’ve lost that opportunity.
Do you think some of these issues spring from the limits of a once a week class meeting with the added feature of its being a tech app. course at least most of the time we’re in OM together?


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