Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rethinking the Confines of Teaching & Learning

You may recall that last year I featured Tom Schusterbauer in "Sage Schuste Seduced by Cyberspace", describing him as "a gifted teacher who has impacted literally hundreds of students by touching their hearts. I've never encountered anyone who more passionately teaches about literature and life." I also marveled that this self-proclaimed technophobe would be having such a tremendous impact on Facebook, sharing his reflections on life with hundreds of "friends-- primarily former students. And he's still going strong on Facebook!

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Schusterbauer commented to one of my blog posts:
"And I Quote....". The theme of my blog was the educational system's resistance to forces shaping the world outside it. As a recently retired vet of 41 years in the classroom, Tom remarked:

It is difficult to partially leave a system which you know has worked . . . It is difficult to find the time and the energy (especially for one who has been teaching for decades and in a discipline where so much time is spent in both prepping and correcting) to explore and modify. . . . the goal is to take what has worked and make it work better and more dramatically.

My knee-jerk reaction to this is, well Tom, we must change despite the "difficulty". But that would have been overly simplistic and would not have acknowledged the wealth of knowledge and insight Tom has amassed from all that time prepping. He is exceedingly well versed on such varied topics as the Holocaust, Abraham Lincoln, J.D Salinger, Anne Tyler, jazz, film noir, composition). Despite his high profile on Facebook, this treasure trove of knowledge was more or less unplugged from the educational "system" when Tom he quit punching in at the time clock. But he still loves teaching and sharing about his passions. And memory erasure was not a prerequisite for receiving his pension.

An aside: Once when the Media Center was making tough choices over which expensive resources to add to its collection, I suggested that the faculty could contribute "free" podcasts on race relations, Charles Dickens, mythology, the Elizabethan Age, and other subjects we had immersed ourselves in over the years. Such podcasts, I argued, would be legitimate sources for the kinds of research assignments we conventionally give students. Students would still have to wrestle with the information and synthesize it for their reports or presentations. My suggestion was not taken seriously, but I still think it was a pretty good idea. Isn't it too bad that some of Tom's legacy has not been bottled this way for present students to discover in their research?

Today there are even more dynamic ways to connect Tom back into our students' learning networks. Why not plug him back into the knowledge grid through email, texting, video conferencing, or perhaps, a phone call?

Even more peculiar is this consideration: Why aren't actively employed teachers considered as potentially valuable "nodes" in the learning networks of all students? Why, with the tremendous communication technologies at our fingertips, do we hang onto mindsets that "classroom teachers" are pretty much confined to serving designated students who are scheduled to show up in their rooms for the duration of a "course? This no longer makes sense to me and I've decided to take action with something I am calling a Knowledge Hub Project. More on Wednesday!

"Schuste" (with his permission) as photographed in '09 by Haley D.

1 comment:

WillKnott said...

thanks for the props

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