The “Us” in Teaching

Steve Volk, October 31, 2016

"The Night School" (1873). The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1873

“The Night School” (1873). The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1873

The move to “disrupt” education usually focuses on replacing or at least supplementing face-to-face teaching with a remote instructor. Online teaching offers the promise (not the certainty) of a brilliant instructor orchestrating a well-crafted course that can reach thousands of students around the world. It is distance education, and if the reach of distance education has expanded impressively, the idea itself is hardly new. When I was growing up, I “attended” a distance education course via a television program called “Sunrise Semester.” My teacher, standing in a sparsely outfitted classroom studio in New York (I was in L.A.) endeavored to teach me algebra at 6:30 AM. The fact that I became a historian rather than a scientist provides some indication of how that turned out.

There’s a lot that can be said about the potential of distance learning, but much is sacrificed as well. By removing the teacher, what online learning disrupts is the personal interaction that has been at the heart of teaching and learning since, well, the beginning. Socrates and Plato, the Buddha and Trapusa.  Removing the physical presence of the teacher removes a vitality that is often at the core of what we are able to accomplish in the classroom. Continue reading

Teaching Tips for the New Semester

Steve Volk, August 22, 2016

Frank Boyd, "In Memory," Creative Commons Flickr

Frank Boyd, “In Memory,” Creative Commons Flickr

So I walked out to my driveway… and I couldn’t remember what I was there to do. Trash goes out Wednesday nights and it was Tuesday, so not that. Not to fix the flat on my bike, either; I forgot to pick up the patching kit in town. It won’t be until the next morning, in the shower, that I finally remember that I needed to ask my neighbor to feed the cats while we’re away.

Some years ago I shared with colleagues one of my favorite poems, “Forgetfulness,” by the marvelous Billy Collins. “Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,” he sighed, “it is not poised on the tip of your tongue/or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.” How true. I’m at a point where I forget that we’ve already seen the movies on whose behalf I lobby enthusiastically to go see, or the mysteries I check out of the library only to (re)encounter their strangely familiar plots. This also happens with the timely advice that I’ve received over the years, advice that, Collins again, seems to have “retire[d] to the southern hemisphere of the brain,/to a little fishing village where there are no phones.”

And now I’m even forgetting the useful advice that I’ve given.

Assuming that maybe you have forgotten it as well, and as a way to bring faculty and staff new to the college into the loop, I’ve put together a “playlist” of past readings on pedagogy and classroom practice to refresh us all at the beginning of classes. Other advice (new and old) on evaluation and assessments, reflections and reconsiderations, will come later in the semester. Continue reading