Innovative Education for Me, But Not for Thee

Whenever I read Cathy Davidson, I am find myself moving from being inspired and invigorated to very, very depressed. Take her latest, for example, “Going Interactive in a Big Way: How Can We Transform the Lecture Class?” I read it and thought, yes, this is what I want to try and do in my classes! This is, indeed, the future of education! We should be asking our students to think critically about the Internet and electronic medium(s)! Why can’t students take responsibility for their education in my class? Onward and upward over the summer in order to reimagine (yet again) my classes! 

And then doubt starts creeping in. I remember all of the requirements and limitations that are imposed on my because I’m teaching general education courses. I remember that I don’t have tenure, nor am I on the tenure-track, so I am in a vulnerable position, making it that much riskier to be daring in how I teach my (supposedly) standard and increasingly standardized courses. I also fear letting go of control of my class, allowing my students more input and control. I fear giving up lecturing, the only way I really know how to teach, after all. And, above all, I fear failing.

I realize that it is a total failure of imagination at this point that I either can’t conceptualize how to make my writing classes more interactive, or I can’t imagine it being successful. Which is total crap because I know that it works. But there is a persistent message about the students that I teach, which is that they aren’t prepared to learn this way or that it doesn’t really benefit them (hence the increasing standardization of the curriculum). They don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t know what they need to know, so it is up to us to preach it to them. But in a writing class, where the goal is to improve reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, won’t just about anything do?

Other challenges that I am trying to overcome are that a) the classes are lower-division and b) required. In my mind (and, again, this might be totally false), upper-division classes that the students willingly chose to take are easier to make interactive because the students are more experienced and there because they want to be. Convincing these students to be innovative would appear to be less work. A freshman who has no idea who I am, what college is about, or what to expect (or the wrong idea of what to expect) might not look to kindly on a teacher who walks into class and says, we need to learn how to write, how do you want to do it?

I feel like an old dog. Can I learn and teach these new tricks to my students? And why do I think that my freshmen/sophomore non-traditional/first generation students are any less capable than upper-division students at highly selective colleges? Why am I helping to perpetuate the myth that innovative teaching is only good for the best and the brightest? I want to be braver, and I am ashamed that I am not. I talk a big talk, but when it comes time to walk the walk, I falter. I pat myself for the (minimal) work that I have done, but when confronted with the reality that I am just simply repackaging the same old pedagogical framework, I am left unable to respond. 

My students deserve an innovative and non-standardized education as much as anyone else, perhaps more. One of my projects for this summer is figuring out how I can combine the requirements that are imposed on me and my desire to do better for my students. I know it’s going to be a struggle, but I have to try. 

3 thoughts on “Innovative Education for Me, But Not for Thee”

  1. Go read this:

    He's a high school teacher. He's experimenting. This particular experiment seems to have some thought provoking elements for the kind of writing class you teach.

    Also, I agree that paternalism and standardization are NOT what your kids need. As my brother said about attitudes to the attention span of little kids, you don't just give up, you start with activities that will slowly build the skills they need to learn. (For attention spans, his thing is progressively longer assemblies, progressing from 5 minutes in 1 minute increments.)

  2. I love this post, Lee. I am REALLY interested to hear about what you figure out this summer … will you please share? I absolutely agree with your point that non-traditional/first generation students deserve an innovative education as much as anyone else. I have also wondered about how I can make my classes more interesting and interactive, incorporating new media and technology. I'm anxious to hear what you discover. Thanks for this post.

  3. Lee, I'm glad to read this. I've been struggling with these feelings too, ever since I started reading Ms. Davidson's posts via Twitter. I love reading about what she ia doing, but then I think, how would I even begin to incorporate these suggestions? In addition to what you pointed out, I also thought about the issue of resources: how can we try this if neither the students nor I have the resources to implement these changes? The community college where I work has some facilities, but nothing near what Ms. Davidson's students have. (It's another example of the digital divide, and how our community collge students are being left behind). However, this prompts us to be creative with the resources we have…at least it prompted me to be more creative this semester.

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