From a letter to a friend:

One of my questions regarding language teaching has always been what “content” students are introduced to when, and since language bleeds into (our definition of) culture and cultural anthropology, when do students get to explore that notion? Especially students who take anywhere from one to four semesters and no more. In my ideal world those students would be exploring the nature of language, meaning, culture, and conflict equally with learning to converse, read, and write. … And I don’t mean the kinds of essays, stories, and dialogues in current first and second year textbooks. … So that students who do not get to the third and fourth year courses will have some skill in dealing with people who are different from them, whether they speak the same dialect or not. I think, in terms of world peace and understanding, the meaning/(mis)understanding/(mis)communication element is key. Not that wars could necessarily be prevented, given greed, selfishness, and the ego issues people face. But I do believe that, if we had to understand the meaning-making rules of certain Middle Easterners, and if they had to understand ours — at deep visceral levels (maybe somehow through experiential/service learning — heaven knows, there are many nationalities/backgrounds in the DFW area), then there would be less prejudice. The same goes for different ethnicities in our own country. The trouble is, this is also a societal and curriculum issue, and the people who control society and those who control the curriculum also need this kind of understanding. It is, however, often a threat to them.

But, getting back to my first notions — So how does one “do” content then? Anyway, one of my video projects may be addressing just these topics, i.e. the fact that one may be speaking the same language, but not having the same or similar meanings when conversing, reading, writing, etc. (My same ol’ soap box.) …

… it is heartening to know that there are many “out there” who are asking the “right” questions, caring about what it is that students are accomplishing/transcending/learning/doing, and who want to provide the context in which students can flourish. I guess that’s the ultimate goal: students flourishing, and flourishing can be a number of things, of course.

May 7, 2015

Dave Cormier hits the nail on the head when he says that the “content” of a course of study is the person or community. In other words, it is a group of people (scholars and the professor of a course) who determine what slice of the pie of knowledge and information, and what interpretation(s) are to be included in a course. In a nutshell, those people determine the ideas, the facts, and the interpretations to which students are exposed. What he is calling for, I believe, is a broadening of this pie. Within a field of study are more materials, analyses, and arguments than can be fit into a course. Students should be able to choose the content, within parameters, I suppose.

In my latter years in the profession I suppose that is what I tried to do: give students some parameters and then let them find their way in the subject matter. Guidance is perhaps the key, because students can 1) stray and 2) attempt to take short cuts, given that they often overbook their lives.

I was once given the analogy of a stuffed suitcase, whereby you attempt to fit the “clothes” of a field of study into the suitcase, but because there are so many “clothes,” many of them hang out of the suitcase. Once you close it, you cut away the clothes that are hanging out. I don’t know whether that is an apt analogy, but it is a point of depature for thought.

So the questions that arise in educators’ minds – and maybe they have been addressed – are these:

  • How does one coordinate a curriculum?
  • How does one “keep students from straying” too far – in terms of topics and interpretations, for while everything is related, and while there may be a number of arguable interpretations, students are often new to this kind of learning and there can be arguably “wrong” interpretations.
  • How does one do this kind of teaching/learning in what many academics consider stepping-stone courses, i.e. courses that you must take one after the other, and in courses such as engineering, where people believe there are “facts” and “methods” to be learned, but where also ethics and the context of doing an engineering job are also important?

Siemens says students and educators should co-construct the curriculum, based on questions of inquiry. Cormier says content should not be a slice of the field, as is often the case, but students should be able to choose.

Evidently, a lot of scholars are discussing this, so maybe they have more in-depth answers to these questions:

Now, how to convince others and how to demonstrate how to do it. Again, maybe they are doing that.