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Laura Gibbs

Unit 4: Power of Creation with Stacy and Adam

5 min read

We've got houseguests this week, but they are on a day-trip today, so I have a little time to get into Unit 4: Power of Creation... and of course that is a topic of huge interest to me, and I was excited to see Stacy Zemke and Adam Croom featured in the videos for this unit. It's very telling, I think, that the people Rob is interviewing from OU are non-traditional faculty, people like Stacy and Adam and Kerry Magruder last week. What would it take to ignite some of these experiments by the "regular" faculty at our school I wonder...? That is a question I will return to later in this post as it turns out!

Anyway, here is a link to Rob's post with the Stacy and Adam videos. Such important topics and questions; for more of how this plays out in my own courses, check out the posts at Anatomy of an Online Course. And for now, here are some quick thoughts in response to the videos:

Stacy talks about having students make the syllabus (and other folks like Mia Zamora, Cathy Davidson, etc. have written a lot about this), but I've never really worked on having students make the syllabus insofar as the syllabus governs everybody's work; given the widely varying level of motivation and involvement, I really feel like I am teaching a lot of different classes, customized around the interests and motivations of each student... so my goal is really to create a syllabus that is flexible enough to accommodate everybody. It's challenging enough for me to get students to make choices for themselves; if constructing a syllabus means some kind of consensus decision-making by the students as a group, I would find that really hard to do for my classes. But I love building syllabuses driven by student choice so, in a sense, each student is making their own syllabus.

I'm really intrigued by students not wanting to write for Wikipedia (Stacy talked about this). She links it up to the question of voice, which is why I haven't really done any Wikipedia-based projects since Wikipedia articles are written in that highly impersonal academic voice, which is not something I teach in my classes, and I honestly don't like writing that way either! I wonder if that is part of the problem for the students; admittedly, college writing often pursues that abstract, impersonal, omniscient voice... but students understandably don't feel very comfortable with that (I think that's a source of trouble for college writing in general). 

Oh look: combine those themes and you get CHOICE and VOICE. I could make those a class motto!

I also love Stacy's analogy about getting Lego kits but then throwing all those Lego pieces into your big box of Legos to use for other projects later. That is such a good way to conceptualize both writing skills AND tech skills! And, as you'll see at the bottom of this post, I love the things you can do with Legos now that I never would have imagined when I was a Lego-obsessed child in the early 1970s.

Adam follows up on that with distinction between "ingredients for invention" and "ready-made knowledge." That is something that surely cuts across all disciplines: we can even see that knowledge AS an ingredient for invention. That's what happens in my classes: insofar as I present content in a traditional way, that is ALL as potential raw ingredients for my students' own storytelling. It's not content for its own sake: it's content for the students to USE.

Time as constraint: Adam talks about this, and I see it as a faculty development problem as much as a student problem. If we think 150 minutes is not enough time to spend on working with students (typical class week), just think how little "free" time faculty have to work on course development in a given week! How many faculty members have that kind of time to spend on open-ended course development, eh? (as opposed to the must-do-now tasks involved in administering an already-existing class).

And again, Adam talks about how students interact with each other's learning narratives, blogs, imitation... but how often do faculty get to observe each other's teaching narratives, blogs, etc.? I think we can do a great job in creating these stimulating learning environments for our students, but the key question is now on the faculty side: how is the university going to create that stimulating learning environment FOR FACULTY so they can develop and grow their own teaching in creative new ways...?

So I guess that is the question I want to pose here: when teachers and students start working together creatively in their classes, all kinds of amazing things will happen, powered by the creativity of all those students. There's nothing stopping us from designing (or redesigning) ALL our courses in this way... except ourselves. I would therefore say that the really urgent problem is how to incite creativity and a growth mindset among faculty, who are often more risk-averse and paralyzed by perfectionism than their students are.

I read a really excellent blog post from a school principal, Chris Hildrew, who addresses the ways in which teachers, even teachers who are promoting growth mindset in their classrooms, can miss out on the growth mindset themselves: Growth Mindset Misconceptions and Missteps. This is an EXCELLENT piece of writing, and it raises some difficult and important questions we need to be asking about growth mindset and what it takes to really transform a school culture. Here's a graphic from the nice slideshow embedded there:

You have only failed if you have given up. Until then, it's learning.

You have only failed if you have given up. Until then, it's learning.

And since Stacy brought up Legos, here is one of my favorite Lego videos. If I had all the time/money in the world, I sure would love to become a maker of Lego videos!!! Voldemort Goes Wand Shopping: