I like to read on Sunday mornings, pairing my coffee with articles, chapters, and posts I haven't gotten to over the week. This morning, two unrelated texts provoked a whole set of questions about time in the classroom. The first was Walter Bender's forward to Learning to Change the World: The Social Impact of One Laptop Per Child, and the second was 'Health, Happiness, and Time Well Spent,' a recent post by Howard Gardner on WBUR's Health blog.
Bender opens with an anecdote when he asked engineers about a powerful learning moment they have had, and then asked them how they would use technology in the classroom. About their answer to the second, he writes "when they design technology for learning, they revert to a passive model in which the student is receiving information rather than designing a technology to enable students to rapidly prototype ideas, explore, and collaborate. They know what great learning looks like, but they believe that school is about instructing" (Bender, viii). In answering the two questions, there is a significant disconnect - for the first, they owned the problem and problem-solving process and in the second they intentionally distance the tools based on their idea of school. I thought to myself - why does moving into the classroom space force a disconnect to the immediacy of our own experiences and shape the way we approach our time with students?
Gardner opened his article with the questions 'What do people value most? What do you personally value most?' and build his post around the research that people value time well spent, and how they feel frustrated when they think they have wasted their time. We've all had the classes or meetings that we've walked away from saying 'well, that was a waste of time'. If we equate time and effort, I find that students will justify the quality of their work based on how long they spent doing it. And, inversely, I find myself wondering how students can just 'sit there and not do anything,' dumbfounded at their learned passivity. How strong is the correlation between ownership and sense of time well spent? And who defines 'well spent'?
I'll pull both of these texts together in a story from this past week. I just interviewed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Michigan State University, and in one of my conversations with a prospective doctoral student at MSU, we discussed iPads in the classroom and how to re-frame them as a tool for learning so they're not just a distraction device. I said "honestly, my challenge to myself is to design the assignment to be more compelling than Temple Run." He gave me a look like I was crazy.
I think his look was a reaction to how I had taken away the foundational assumption that a student has to pay attention to the teacher. I don't want to rely on and reinforce the traditional teacher-as-authority, student-as-producer role - but neither do I want to cede my authority into a vacuum. I want to leverage the roles of student and teacher in ways that will help me build frameworks of the assignment's purpose so that I am an architect of student learning and the students actually build their own experiences. If this is my goal, what does classroom time, and my associated instructions, look/sound like?
I've finished many classes and said 'this is what I would do differently' but I realize that I'm the one prototyping the changes in learning, I'm the one reflecting, seeing cause and effect, and changing. While I know my students sometimes walk away frustrated, they don't ever come to me and say 'this is what I would have done differently' - how are we leveraging the classroom space to engage students having everyone's time well spent? How are we approaching learning as a messy process that takes time? And, in the end, what does 'time well spent' look like with technology in the classroom?