This week’s readings were all about using technology to open up teaching and learning and to take advantage of the “abundance” of teaching materials, expertise, and networks. These pieces all strike me as fine, as far as they go, but they mostly reveal an understanding of what makes for good teaching that is fundamentally different from mine. Throughout my career as both a student and a teacher, the most important and effective learning has come from personal relationships with people that matter to me. When I have been a learner, I have learned most effectively when I was drinking up the wisdom of people I liked and respected, both mentors and peers. And I think my best teaching happens when I am able to build a personal relationship based on like and respect with students in intimate pedagogical contexts, like workshops, senior theses, or seminars. (Yes, it’s a good thing I teach at a liberal arts college.) It strikes me that to the extent that technology can help build and mediate these interpersonal relationships, it’s helpful, and to the extent that it distances teachers and students, it’s a hindrance.
One of the main thrusts of the readings this week was “openness.” I don’t have any particular beef with openness as a pedagogical goal, but it seems to me to miss the point. (And as a historian, it doesn’t seem all that new to me, either; Enlightenment philosophes thought they lived in an environment of radical openness and were alive to both its possibilities and its perils.) Good teaching to me has never been about openness, it’s been about closedness, about about intimacy, and about mentorship. Students learn to consume, process, and produce knowledge because they watch me do so, not because I’ve tossed them in a sea of others who are struggling with the same thing and allow them to sink or swim.
That’s why I think the pedagogical strategy that made the most sense to me was that of guided curation. Students learn when I am helping them to navigate the streams of open knowledge. Thus Twitter and other technologies in the classroom are useful to the extent that my students and I use them together; otherwise, it’s just a sink-or-swim pedagogy with a shiny gloss of Web 2.0 buzzwords.