Tuesday, October 05, 2021

What Goes Around...

 I've had a couple of odd conversations recently with some of my younger colleagues.

A couple have told me that they like teaching on line because they can record a lecture and tell students what they need to know.

And I'm thinking, but wait... didn't we all get told by the experts that the teacher-centered, font of wisdom, pouring knowledge into heads models weren't good?

I used the term "sage on the stage" (which is better than the "cock of the walk" that a Lacanian would choose), and the colleague looked at me like I'd spoken classical Greek or something.  They'd never heard of the term.

There's a continuum, right?  on one end, is the old lecture format where the expert instructor tells the students what they need to know and the students dutifully write it down and learn it.  That's actually how I was taught mostly in college, and for some of us, it worked ok.

At the other end of the continuum is a format where students do a lot of self-discovery of stuff and the expert expertly guides them to appropriate conclusions and understanding.  That's a model that works better for skills and stuff.  So if you're learning violin, for example, the instructor shows you something, and you try to reproduce it and get feedback.  It's more the Oxbridge model of tutorials, I gather.  It takes a LOT of work from students to really get at stuff, but, at least the theory goes, the students learn the material at a much deeper level.

On the lecture side, a good lecturer can tell students a LOT about a topic in an hour, but the experts questioned the retention of that information.

On the self-discovery side, students need to put in a lot of work, and can only really discover a small amount of information or learn a small amount of skills in that same hour.

In literature, since I started back to school as a student (after my undergrad of lectures), much of the instruction was a mix of short lecture bits and student discussion which was supposed to lead to self-discovery.  Back and forth.  Tell students about X, point them to a passage, and gosh, they find X.

You could even do the reverse: point them to a passage and they notice Y, and then give a short explanation of Y.

In either case the students are, one hopes, building critical reading and discussion skills and learning how to read independently.

So there's a continuum, but are things swinging back from the discussion end to the lecture end?  Is on line teaching part of that swing?

Is the feeling that students are too overwhelmed right now to put in the work for self-discovery part of it?

Next thing, is this colleague going to want us to go back to teaching Beowulf to Virginia Woolf surveys?


In another conversation with a different younger colleague, they claimed that films aren't literature, in part, because films are created by many, many people, and don't reflect the author's intent in the same way that literature does.

And I thought, holy cow, didn't we have this conversation 20 some years ago and all sort of come to concensus that films and other media ARE all texts worthy of critical consideration and yes, can fit into a "literature" course?  

At the same time I thought, are we really back to talking about the author's intent?

And at the same time, I thought, every play is also created by many people, and Shakespeare doesn't seem to have controlled the printing of his plays (certainly not the First Folio, since he was dead), and yet we consider Shakespeare (and other plays) literature.

Then the colleague said that "we've always done things this way," and I thought, you've been here maybe ten years, and we haven't, and I've only been here 20 some years, and I can't tell you how we've "always" done things because there's never been an "always" to most of the things we do.  We're constantly shifting and changing.

Aren't I, the old fogey, supposed to be the one arguing for us to do things the way "we've always done them"?

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