I made the following remarks earlier today at the 30th Annual LAND Conference.
As I have previously argued, “While discussing vital educational issues, the voices of community college students are practically non-existent. This is a problem that we can easily change.” By encouraging public writing, our students can produce meaningful work that benefits them educationally and personally.
A team of students responding to Dr. Cathy N. Davdison’s “Writing (In Public) Across the Curriculum” observed that “Multi-dimensional writing is essential when addressing the public, as there is more than one field of academics.” They argued that, instead of simply writing to the professor, “it is important for people to evolve to a more sophisticated method of communicating ideas through writing.”
Public writing on venues such as HASTAC and Hybrid Pedagogy is one way in which such sophistication can take place.
In “The Unheard Voice is Now Clear,” student Suzanne Hakim observes that until being asked to participate in a student centered class that required public writing, she had never in her “academic career have been able to connect and share thoughts and opinions with my peers and multiple professors on an intellectual level. This is so refreshing … knowing that we do matter, we aren’t just a ‘class or group’ we are individuals with independent thoughts.” Her comment, made in response to Kevin Browne’s “Distrust in Academics,” was part of a discussion that involved other students as well as a faculty member from the University of Buffalo, a faculty member from the University of Otago in New Zealand, a former instructor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a faculty member from Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky, and a faculty member from Duke University.
Our students live up to the expectations that we have of them. “If we prepare our classes with the expectation that students are incapable of producing meaningful work or tackling difficult assignments, they will not disappoint us.” (Berg) But if we assume that students can produce meaningful work and give them the tools to be successful, they will live up to our expectations, as Anna Ashley did in her recent “Concerning Critical Pedagogy.” An 18 year old Freshman at Schoolcraft College, Ashley incorporates Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Emily Dickinson’s “From all the Jails the Boys and Girls” and her own observations to comment on contemporary pedagogical practices.
Although Ashley published her blog on HASTAC, it was inspired by Sean Michael Morris’ “The ‘Critical’ in Critical Pedagogy” that was published at Hybrid Pedagogy, the same essay that served as inspiration for Lee Skallerup Bessett’s “Pedagogies of Care” which he published in Inside Higher Ed.
One might ask if Ashley’s blog posting really contributed in a meaningful way to the discussion of critical pedagogy that is currently being organized by Hybrid Pedagogy? After reading Ashley’s blog posting, the Director of the Future’s Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York whom President Obama appointed to the National Council on the Humanities tweeted Ashley’s HASTAC blog to more than 10,000 people around the world. Ashley’s contribution was meaningful.
By encouraging public writing, students are inspired to see that their research has implications outside the classroom. Consider Andrew Shaw’s “The College Experience: A Modern Day Paddy West?” in which he argued that “College today is remarkably similar to Paddy West’s improvised academy.” According to folklore, West was an eighteenth century “Liverpool boarding house keeper [who] teaches greenhorns to be able-bodied seamen in just a few days.” For very little training, “West received two month’s wages for his services.” Shaw deftly compares West’s impoverished students to contemporary college students who are building debt in a tough job market. Were he not asked to contribute his historical knowledge to a HASTAC blog, Shaw might have been content to simply summarize the story of Paddy West without having any real meaning of its significance.
Currently, I have a group of students who are doing research about topics that interest them. Eventually, they will participate in HASTAC discussions while also making comments in other venues. As of today, these students will have compiled—in the fifth week of the semester—annotated works consulted lists that include a minimum of 25 sources including quality Internet sites, peer reviewed journals, books, Google books, and videos. Before they begin writing, they will have consulted an additional 20 sources that include articles published in HASTAC, Hybrid Pedagogy, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed. Finally, they will consult sources not published in English.
As I was drafting today’s talk, one of my students e-mailed me that “I changed my topic from kinesthetic learning to homeland security and terrorism prevention in the United States.” He doesn’t realize it yet, but he has not really changed his topic because he does not yet really have a topic. It will only be after he has consulted 50+ sources that his topic will emerge.
Even my history students—who have less flexibility in pursuing their research than do my composition students—do not really know the topics on which they will be writing. For example, when he began his research on the age of discovery, Shaw could not have known that he would be publishing his blog about Paddy West or that cartography would emerge as a theme for his “A 21st Century Perspective on the Age of Discovery” which has been published at College History.
In a few weeks, the student who wrote to me that he was changing his topic will be publishing blog entries in HASTAC and posting comments on Hybrid Pedagogy and other venues incorporating his understanding of kinesthetic learning and his understanding of homeland security and his understanding of terrorism prevention and his understanding of other issues in which he has yet to discover that he has an interest.
By using venues such as HASTAC and Hybrid Pedagogy—or their equivalents—and asking students to do public writing, they will make more significant contributions than they would if they are only asked to write a paper to submit to their professor.