In anticipation of Jose Antonio Bowen’s visit to the Mount next week, I’ve been re-reading (and reading more carefully) his 2012 book Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. The book itself functions primarily as an argument for the seismic shifts to the landscape of higher education (akin to those in the music and print publication industries), and goes on to suggest ways that many of us in academe–professors, administrators, and by extension, staff members–can begin to adapt our practices to acknowledge the uses of technology and our students’ experiences and expectations of it, while at the same time preserving and reimagining the delivery of our core liberal education values. Don’t let Bowen’s emphasis on the culture and practice of higher education fool you, however. Throughout the book, he offers an array of practices to experiment with in the classroom, in the online version of the classroom, and programmatically.
For the purposes of this 10 minute teaching demonstration, I was struck by Bowen’s emphasis on two concepts: customization and curation—both key phenomena of the digital era. Customization is the process we experience almost every day: it’s evident in the way that the Waze app (or any GPS program) can instantly give us directions from our current location to the place we want to go; or the way that ads from a website that we’ve visited continue to appear on our favorite news feeds or Facebook walls; or the way that Amazon.com produces recommendations for our next purchase. Bowen explains the way that we can anticipate and adapt to this phenomenon as we teach: “Technology presents teachers not only with more content than ever before, but also more routes into that content…We can certainly almost certainly improve learning by offering more choices for preclass first exposure. If the point is to introduce material or learn content, then offering students a choice of preclass reading, an audio podcast, a video podcast, or an activity will improve their preparation for class” (54-5).
The second concept is curation. Here’s a good definition, courtesy of Maria Popova, editor (or “curator”) of the site brainpickings. “Just as its origin in the art world, curation online is premised on the idea that a curator with a point of view culls content around a theme that he or she deems of cultural significance. A museum can make a name for itself by being consistently reliable in hosting these conversations (take the MoMA); likewise, a curator can make a name for herself by being consistently compelling in catalyzing those conversations (take Paola Antonelli). But the museum is merely the enabler of that conversation, the curator merely its catalyst, and the cultural conversation itself takes place largely outside the walls of the museum and the control of the curator” (see Popova interview 2011). Instead of producing content, a curator brings his/her expertise to bear in the process of locating and arranging existing content in the hopes of creating a meaningful conversation around the objects. Bowen adds this process to his list of new roles for faculty members: “The job of faculty needs to become more focused on designing learning experience and interacting with students…Now that technology has created a cheaper way to deliver content, faculty should spend more time finding the right entry point, creating a supportive environment, communicationg high standards, and guiding student learning…Faculty must become curators, performers, directors, assemblers, and pedagogues” (246-7).
The teaching experiment that follows, then, is an attempt to design a learning activity that forwards customization (as a part of the student experience) through the use of curation (on the part of the faculty member).
THIS IS WATER
The purposes of this assignment are threefold:
- To identify and articulate, in your own words, the key ideas—both literal and metaphoric—of David Foster Wallace’s essay, “This is Water.”
- To compare the benefits and drawbacks of different media on the transmission of those ideas
- To reflect on your own learning preferences, and to make inferences regarding the medium that works best for your first contact with new material.
Below, there are three versions of the same essay: one in print, one in audio, and one in video. Before you begin, think for a moment about which medium you prefer to start with, and why. Jot down your reasoning. Then, read/listen/watch the one that you’ve chosen. As you are working with the piece, try to identify the most compelling pieces, and jot these down on a piece of paper. Which quotations, images, or ideas grab your attention? Write these down! When you get to the end, look back over your notes. Choose three of your ideas that you noted. What do these three have in common? If you had to explain this speech to a friend, what would you say that it is about–what’s the overarching concept? How do your three noted ideas connect to that overarching concept?