Saturday, May 16, 2015

#Rizo15 / From Connections to the Classroom Part II

A few weeks ago, I selected a few students in my college research writing class to venture out into a rhizome type of adventure. These students took up the challenge with excitement and apprehension. We sat down for an end of the semester wrap up of their work, ideas, and connection. I knew they would work hard and move forward with something they were passionate about. However, something intrinsically valuable emerged.

The two projected that emerged from the three-week adventure in learning and thinking came in the form of research for a nonfiction book project while the other student worked on collecting data through a survey that tried to define "ambition". Both of these projects had different approaches. The nonfiction book project was focused through reading, connecting, journal writing, and refining the ideas that might end up in the story. The ambitious survey on ambitious was driven by data. I thought that was an interesting choice because it moves away from subjective forms of thinking. I expected these projects to be about investigation and inquiry (they were) but to seek out data was a formidable and fact driven experience.

Beyond their areas of research and inquiry, they started their time outside the classroom with some apprehension. They had to "detox" from the typical experience that education offers. One student spoke about how good she is at understanding the objective content of a course and repeating and demonstrating that for the instructor. And that is exactly what some course look for in testing and written assignments. This experience pushed away from that. The fear and the uncertainty of what they might learn was probably overwhelming. But, once they moved into their thinking process and got in to their ideas, they worked hard. They were motivated by their topics and ideas, and they owned them completely. In some ways, I felt like I had to prove my trust to them. I had to be sure that no matter what they did and said - they were learners that were trusted and valued. At no time would I throw on my instructors hat and say, "Okay, this isn't working and now you need to write a paper for me." We have to trust that rhizomatic learning takes twists and turns. Sometimes, they will be bogged down and sometimes they will seem like they are moving very quickly. It isn't my job to evaluate and grade that progress.

Over the course of this semester I often challenged (I refer to her as my ambitious student because she was trying to define and measure ambition) a student again and again because I wanted her to think about the meaning of words, the way people use them, and what is behind those ideas in our societal constructs. Once I cut her loose on the Rhizome Experiment, I think she realized that she needed more information from the world and she created surveys and put it out there. If the idea that you should "write the book you would want to read" is true, then for a up and coming sociologist, creating the data that she couldn't find when she wrote papers for me is indeed a significant learning step.

The writer did more traditional connecting to books, ideas, and what her content might include. She had connected with a lot of books and ideas. She had journaled about her project and what she wanted to write. One thing I asked her to do was not write about everything in her journal, but focus her writing only on this writing project. She mentioned that she couldn't possibly journal about something as open and expansive as "meditation" or what you might be thinking in general. So, it helped her to focus and create ideas solely around her ideas for this project. She not only had some really focused ideas on the subject, she also started to think about the personal stories that might make it into the pages of her book. Connecting her research, her ideas, her reading and finally - her personal story will become her foundation for designing and writing the book. I can't wait until she finally starts connecting the connections and the personal stories together. It is the beginning of the blurry boundary between what you know and how you feel. That is a place for significant exploration and reflection.

To say I am proud of these two students wouldn't be enough credit to their hard work, their innovation, and their willingness to do something different. They both felt like they wanted more of this in their education. They want more time to explore, more time to find answers, look at things that aren't in one textbook but across seven textbooks. They also wanted some freedom to think and refine their ideas.

I wasn't surprised that they wanted more of this kind of thinking and learning. But they reminded me that it doesn't really exist in our educational system. I asked them to think about ways they can suggest and work with instructors to move toward this kind of learning and creation. It would be easy for them to prove themselves in the classroom, but they might have to initiate the conversation with the instructors how and what they might do. They may have to convince the instructors that they want more. Most instructors aren't expecting that - and it often means more work for them to move students off the typical class scheme. We always think about how technology and different modes of thinking can be education disruptors. The best thing I can do is to empower these students to disrupt traditional learning so they can take every opportunity, move all their own ideas, and take control of their learning. It isn't for every student, but this kind of learning is infectious and once you have it, you want more of it.

Note: I have invited the students to check this post and comment if they want to add to the conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Ron Samul I really enjoyed your post. I like this quote: "They had to "detox" from the typical experience that education offers." I have observed and worked through the same phenomena with my students as well. Although, I am not sure that the verb detox is the right word. I consider it a matter of conditioning, and so de- or re-conditioning needs to be part of the process.