Friday, April 24, 2015

Confessions of a College Educator: Why I did what I didn't do...

In my previous post, I discussed the decision I made to let a few students who were doing well in the class, be cut free from the last few weeks of programmed course work so that they could do some rhizomatic exploration - or what is now being termed "free-range-learning". I discussed some of the student reactions, ideas, and the impressions they had moving into this new place of learning.

Dave Cormier mentioned in the Facebook group, "there must be at least one person in that room that you're worried about. Maybe someone who is overly passive yet a good student? Someone else who might not be all that self driven?" And it got me thinking.

The reason I selected the two students came about because they were safe. I knew they were academically sound and if they didn't do another stitch of work this semester they would be in great shape. They were proven to be motivated and focused, their research papers were focused and well executed. So, I knew that they would understand the idea and run with it.

But to get to the heart of the matter, why didn't I ask someone less accomplished, someone not doing well? Part of it was not being able to see that perhaps the method was the issue. If I am being honest, perhaps I thought lazy, lack of motivation, and lack of perseverance was a "student" problem, not a "design of the course" problem. Now, it might seem evident that a student allowed to "free range learn" might prove all of those assumptions on my part as false.

At this point, I should sit on this idea. Part of my thinking process wants to set up a basic engagement process - a student must understand what I am asking them to do; the student must be able to work independently; the students must be.... Yeah, that is where it gets conflicted - why shouldn't they have the same experience, the same opportunity, the same possibility to learn?

Taking the best students sets up better rate of success, but it doesn't gives us a true vision of what is possible. I was never the A student - but I was the person who would have really benefited from doing things differently, thinking differently. And when it came down to it - and no one gave me those options, I created them myself. I wrote a novel in my junior year of high school because I wasn't being challenged, I made my teachers read it and talk to me about it, and that was my own rhizome learning exploration. I wasn't in the honors society, or the top of my class. But, I knew the value of work and refining what was important to me as learner. I can't believe I missed that in bringing this concept to the classroom.


  1. What a lovely honest post. I read it and could imagine doing exactly the same thing myself with my students - playing safe. Its set me thinking about how to to avid this trap.

  2. I think it will take some time for us to undo some of the ingrained modes of thinking in the classroom. Sitting beside the student means coming down from the podium. Lots to deconstruct in the way we've been doing business.

  3. You said it yourself, it's hard moving from the safety of the barn. I often find the simplest path is the easiest. Ask your students. "What would happen if I ...?" See what the say. That might be equally enlightening.