Monday, October 10, 2005

Beyond the four walls: what it means to teach

Will Richardson over at weblogg-ed describes (emphasis mine) the shifting notion of what it means to teach:
Provided we have access, we're not the best source of knowledge in our subjects any longer. We're no longer the only teachers our students can have on any particular subject. We're not the only audience for our students' work. We're no longer limited by the four walls of our classrooms. And we're moving toward a time when collaboration will be central to our practice. All of this requires that we cede much of the control over learning to our students, that we act more as connectors to relevant information than distributors of it, that we model the effective consumption and creation of content, and that we focus on the basic skills and ideas of our disciplines in the context of a more individualized, inquiry based model that develops passionate, or as Alan calls them "fearless" learners.

I just came back from a trip to Florida International University's undergraduate writing program, and part of what faculty explored in workshops I lead were ideas for peer review and using online tools to foster instructors not being the only teachers, to provide students a wider audience, to increase collaboration, and to do this all in part by using computer network technologies to get beyond the four walls.

Developing passionate fearless learners, it seems to me, something writing instruction is poised to do well. Learning to write is not learned by hearing about writing, but by doing writing and reflecting on that. Writing teachers who can find creative and constructive ways to have students take more responsibility and control over their learning to write --and their writing practices and products-- are writing teachers who have moved into the directions composition pedagogy urges.

What computer technologies offer teachers are wonderful new means of doing this --new challenges and new opportunities. It's going to be less and less about content and more and more about facilitating learning. This is nothing new for writing pedagogical theory. But then, the presence of technology doesn't assure that the theories will be realized or that the opportunity offered will result in the kinds of ends Richardson rightly advocates. It is just as possible for the worst of our pedagogies to become instantiated and wired into this computer network as they were wired into the current social and classroom network that makes up our current classrooms or our old classrooms.

There is no given. But there is possibility. A rich and wonderful possibility that it's worth working towards.