Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Teaching and learning" rhetoric

This past week I went to a workshop put on by the teaching centre here at Uni. I'm signed up for another - long - one this week. I also go to monthly lunches because I'm part of a year-long program that the centre runs.

I don't know why I continue to invest energy into the formal discourse of teaching and learning at universities. Well, I do it because I really care about teaching, and I keep hoping there is going to be something meaningful to me in any of these workshops and events. But it really is becoming clear to me that ways I - and many of us in the humanities - are thinking about teaching, has very little to do with the approaches in this little "teaching and learning in higher education" world. You know, for starters it's the lingo - using the term "feed forward" instead of feedback is a prime example.

In fact, at this last workshop (attended by just four of us, plus the facilitator) it really seemed to me that a lot of what is being talked about is teaching as administering a kind of therapy. And it is not coincidental, I think, that the people at many of these workshops, who are engaging this rhetoric, were nursing and education faculty. (Not that these are lesser disciplines, of course, just that I think it makes sense that there would be different approaches in these fields from the ones we might use in the humanities.) And that these folks are also often talking about inculcating a kind of morality - my goodness, at this last workshop, one of them talked about how she assigns "making a shoebox of gifts for Xmas and giving it to a local charity" as a project!? Uh, how does that work??

I actually really felt like an outsider at this last workshop, and I think a couple of the things I said about my approaches to evaluation were really scandalous to the people there...I got that vibe. And I'm not saying this in any kind of "poor-me" way; I really don't care. Because frankly, it seems to me that any kind of intellectual rigor is being sacrificed in much of this discourse, and that it's just about feel-good...stuff. As well, I find that some of this talk shades uncomfortably into a kind of instrumentalization that dovetails with the commercialization of the university - terms like "value-added" and "leveraging" get tossed around a little too often for my liking.

So, yeah, not feeling satisfied with that world, not at all. Every time I go to a workshop, I come away feeling disappointed. But I still feel as if I need people to work through some teaching stuff with. People in my own kinds of fields, who are facing some of the same pedagogical issues that I am, who have similar kinds of visions of what a classroom can be. And who are not interested in infantilizing university students, nor in producing good little workers!


kermitthefrog said...

I know what you mean, Hilaire. I'm lucky enough to have worked with a couple of people in our "teaching & learning" center who share with me a love of all things concrete and pragmatic, and who both have academic backgrounds in the humanities. Without knowing that they were around, though, I'd feel much more at sea.

As backup, though, I love me those internets... I've gotten helpful responses when I've posted about teaching issues/questions on my own blog. It's not a substitute for interactions in the context of one's institution (at least not for me), but it's helpful nonetheless.

Hilaire said...

Yes, the Internet is a great resource for these things - and so are bloggers. I've actually printed out discussions from certain blogs and put them in my files. And I, too, have had a great response when I've asked questions on my blog, it's true.

I think part of what I need can't be captured by single-issue workshops, in some ways. I need some deeper philosophical discussions that have bearings on the actual concrete work of teaching, you know? I think what I need to do is to step up to the plate and make an effort to forge the little pedagogy discussion group with like-minded people - we've talked about it, and need to really make it happen!

Psychgrad said...

Based on my experience going to a workshop on teaching, it seems that I am one of very few who didn't receive the memo that these workshops can be a big waste of time. I hate to give up on them entirely, because I think professors should not settle with the same old course design/material just because it the easier thing to do. But, it became clear to me quite early in the workshop that I wouldn't learning anything to add my teaching. In fact, any interesting discussion were quickly muffled by the faciliator. Unfortunately, I think little quality control is done there and the university is just happy to be able to say that they have a teaching service centre.

Perhaps it would wise to suggest that there be workshops tailored to different faculties.

Hilaire said...

Psychgrad, this is exactly what'd have different content (at all kinds of things, not just teaching workshops) for different groups of faculty. I think a number of us feel that way. Like about the research orientation day for new faculty at the end of August - half of the day was spent talking about how to draw up contracts with industry, buy $50K pieces of equipment, get patents, etc. Not only was this a big waste of time for many of us, it also really sent a message about the priorities of this university - a message which has unfortunately been borne out in other messages, since.