Previously, my vision of my future classroom did not include administrators and evaluators and assessments. I had envisioned me and the students being inspired to move through the curriculum and then moving beyond it to satisfy personally relevant intellectual curiosities through critical thinking. Think Dead Poet’s Society, and you’re on the right track.
Digital technology was not a part of this vision. In my clasroom, we’d embrace the tried and true, the old-fashioned methods and tools of learning: inquiry, the library (preferably dark, wood-paneled and old and musty), pen and paper and books (real, physical books!), and a good dose of cynicism for the ‘establishment’. A figurative island of the curious, really thinking about and investigating and questioning, and then questioning some more. I haven’t thrown out this vision, not completely. I have added a few elements, digital and Web-based technologies just to name a few. And what I have realized is that the old-fashioned (some might say ‘dated’) methods and the newer technologies are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We don’t have to discard books because we have e-readers. Setting aside the idea of meeting students where they are in order to more fully engage them, digital and Web-based are not the antithesis of the methods I had in the classroom when I was a student. Embracing the ‘new’ ways can augment the ‘old’.
I saw this movie back in 1989, just three years after graduating from a small, college-prep school where I remember teachers similar to Robin William’s character, Mr. John Keating. I won’t critique the movie here, or explore the Romanticized and idealized portrayal of poetry, literature, the arts, education. In my university days, what I held on to from the movie was the idea that this was my education. I followed my interests, taking classes not because they were required for my degree, but because I was interested or passionate about the content. Instead of bowing to professors, I respectfully held them accountable to me – I was paying tuition after all, and working at night to do so. I skipped the tightrope of disregard for grades, realizing however, the irony that I had to keep them up in order to stay in ‘good standing’. But I believed, (and still do) that the dead white men in the ivory towers (3:10 – 5:40) were no more and no less capable of making sense of the world than I was. “In my class, you will learn to think for yourself again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody else tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
I knew nothing about social constructivist learning theory at the time. I was simply empowered by my teachers in high school to think for myself, and particularly to question. Digital and Web-based technologies are not only not the antithesis to the idealized version of liberal arts education I’ve held on to for so many years, they epitomize these ideals. This new (to me) conception of technology has been a sea change for me. As I understand the use of digital technologies and the Web 2.0 approach to the internet, students, as the central agents in their search for understanding and meaning, are connected to and have access to sources of information that I never would have imagined as a student 20 years ago. The community of intellectually curious learners has moved from the isolated wood-paneled classrooms to an incredibly wider environment. Learners have always had the option to search out different perspectives in order to create meaning and their own particular truths; but in my school days, we were limited by geography and space. With the internet and with the ability to connect with each other, barriers to information and the analysis and interpretation of that information in order to attempt to make some sense of our world have been for the most part removed.