After participating in the CPLC experience this summer, I have a few reflections to share. These reflections include descriptions of experiences, my understanding and synthesis of these experiences, and my considerations about how these experiences will inform my work over the upcoming semester and possibly the entire academic year.
Through the interactions at the CPLC gatherings and the separate Wicked Track gatherings, I have witnessed more people involved in discussions and collaborative activities than I have witnessed over the last fourteen years. I do not mean to say that this kind of work hasn’t been done in the last fourteen years, rather, I have never witnessed it happening in such a collaborative and public way. I know for myself, I have had these reflections on my own (individually) or within small groups (with two or three people) to talk about approaches in the classroom and developing/sharing assignments. I have not witnessed this level of engagement until now—a moment in which we have been asked to think outside of the box and do our work differently for the sake (or soul) of the university. What I think I am witnessing in this kind of community experience is actually an awakening of the individual and collective soul. This is very heart warming, and perhaps healing after several years of uncertainty, confusion, and intentional resistance. Over the summer we focused on laying the groundwork as we build what we believe to be the core of an integrated cluster educational model.
At this point in my thinking, the thing that seems most interesting to me (right now) is letting go of control and having the ability to use components of andragogy with components of pedagogy to evolve the classroom culture, environment, and experience in ways that feel liberating as well as very different form the traditional academic experience in which I was trained. The emphasis on dissemination of student work, somehow touching the outside world, will enhance meaningfulness of experiences we create with our students. Giving students agency and voice in their education and explicitly focusing on their liberation is liberating to me and how I approach my work. All of the resources we have used/read/watched liberates those false limitations that we sometimes build in our own minds. This has truly been a summer of mindful liberation in many ways.
One thing I plan to play with as I teach my TWP section this fall has to do with student agency and voice by inviting them to be part of the course planning, especially with developing rubrics together and becoming more of a facilitator rather than a content expert (unless we delve into the rhetoric of my wicked problem which is healthcare in the US and in that case, I will have to work harder to control myself). So, I have left some assignment rubrics open and will facilitate student development of the rubrics and of a few small activities. I have done this before in a general education course (self and society) and students jumped right in making themselves and their peers probably more accountable than I might have but it was awesome to watch them step up and be serious and effective in this way. I hope that this leads to more active engagement instead of passive or spectator-like engagement.
Understanding and Synthesizing (kind of…)
I also read Creating Wicked Students (Hanstedt, 2018), a book I received from the CPLC early in the summer, and I have already used it to evolve two courses that I regularly in the CMS major, in particular, transforming my course learning outcomes and other traditional practices in grading and classroom activities. I think the book enabled me to evolve my sense of empathy toward students, which then led me to think differently about how I create assignments or choose particular classroom activities. The book alone is responsible for changing my mindset about how I engage students in the classroom. For example, in the past I sometimes stopped after students had developed understandings of something in the course but this is limiting. The book gave me ideas for moving to the next step of taking some kind of action which requires synthesis and creation beyond simply understanding and applying theory. In the book, reference is made to Randy Bass, who suggests that high impact practices succeed because students are given opportunities to integrate, synthesize and make meaning, which then allows them to make decisions (act) within situations of uncertainty. This requires risk-taking and enables students to create in ways that traditional experiences typically cannot do.
This practice of creating experiences for students in which they make meaning through creating new ideas or working toward solving a problem enables students to look toward the future and sometimes make predictions; it also encourages them to integrate connections across disciplines and try adapting strategies to different contexts. This allows students to synthesize experiences and knowledges which enable them to make some kind of decision to take some kind of action. The most effective kinds of experience occur within the context of uncertainty (Hanstedt, 2018). Students experience cognitive dissonance but use their experiences to build toward something useful and attempt an action that can either go somewhere or be reconsidered and tried again. Hanstedt offers way in which we might take a traditional classroom experience and rethink traditional activities, adapting them to account for these same qualities as students have in high impact experiences. So, while not every class can or should have aggressive high impact experiences for students, we can use the framework for what makes something high impact and evolve our traditional classroom experiences/assignments to be more effective and more meaningful for students. I look forward to rethinking many of my former practices and see where they might go toward mirroring high impact experiences.
Considerations for the Coming Semester
I am particularly worried about my TWP section because it is the first time I am teaching this course. It is radically different from the former FYS, which I did teach multiple times. I am worried because I am not an “expert” with healthcare in the US (my wicked problem (WP)). But I did learn this summer that the focus should really be on the Habits of Mind (HoM). The topic of my WP is there to give students a context in which to practice the HoM. When I realized this, I felt better but still feel some cognitive dissonance-I wish we had more time with them (the students) but we don’t. I am even considering to allow students to evolve away from the WP of healthcare if something that is initially tangential to healthcare captures their interest. I don’t know if this approach will help or hurt me this coming semester, but I might just see where things go and see what happens.