65 Pasts, Presents, Futures
This is a surprisingly challenging assignment. I have taken much away from the CPLC experience so far – some good readings, some great conversations, and some thoughtful exercises that have gotten me to explore new instruments for my pedagogical toolkit. These have helped me think about my pedagogy. And while I think this is the heart of the question, I think too that a key takeway has been bigger than a tool or a tweak in the work I will engage in the next year.
A very key takeway, for me, has been the sense of community that I’ve experienced in our various assemblies. Meeting instructors who are very different from me in so many ways, yet share with me a common commitment to both improving teaching and sustaining the University, has been very heartening. In fact, at the end of a breakout session in our last convening, a colleague welled-up with tears and essentially cried as they expressed the sentiment (as I understood it) that they were so very grateful that we were working on the front edge of the institution’s movement into a new future. For me, this person captured the hopefulness that the CPLC experience has opened-up for me: that we, from all corners of the University, can come together to express how each of us, in our own different way, is working towards a bright future.
As an historian I’ve been influenced deeply by the work of Reinhart Koselleck. He centered his work on the notion that every “present,” at some time in the past, was that past’s “future.” And every past, besides being an earlier future either realized or failed, used the idea of a future to shape its efforts at either bringing it into fruition or preventing what it feared might come to be.
The CPLC is proposing a future, a wonderful one, where students will be less burdened financially and so engaged that they will want to maximize their education at Plymouth State. We have been in sessions to try and create this future, which I endorse. And yet this future is, in many ways, oppositional to the future that was embraced by so many not very long ago. Ungrading assignments? Not using printed texts that, by being assigned, continually promote the cutting edge of research: literally creating the market for new research to be published, and thus a demand (need) for it to be generated? Embracing the idea that our disciplinary expertise is conduit through which to teach – which essentially makes our fields less important than the skills of general education? These questions, I “takeaway,” are musings concerning something more than just a disruptive pedagogy in my personal classroom – they are the grounds, perhaps, for a civil war in the broader curriculum. I hope not! Yet civil wars happen when two vastly different futures can no longer be held in the present, presumably because compromise or acquiescence risk making one of the futures impossible.
Of course the future always is changing. In higher education I see that the future is not what was expected in the past. Some campuses are closing. Some campuses are merging. Some on campuses are searching for something new. And some, even on our campus, may be waiting to let the “latest fad” pass because in the past, sticking to traditional pedagogy ensured its continuation into the future. It worked. But the present and demographic future (let alone the economic futures faced by incoming students who might choose to forgo a state university education if there were less debt-amassing alternatives) seems starkly different compared to the future of only a few years ago.
A few years ago, at the end of the last century, I was an assistant professor at a university in the southwest. There, my dean often pigeonholed me in conversations about the purpose of our campus, regularly putting on the table “And as Krueckeberg asks: ‘What about the life of the mind?’” He over generalized, but spoke to a truth about the purpose of higher education that constituted my past: learning for the love of learning, and learning for the sake of improving. But not: learning to get a job. And in those years, a college education’s cost was more reasonable than today when compared to the costs of living, minimum wage, and an expectant starting salary. And the student loans were structured in ways less exploitive of the borrower than today. Today’s present and the near-future are not the future of education of my past.
So my takeaways are that we are wisely working towards a new future for our campus. That new future is linked to a present in ways that do not reflect the future of my past. Most students today can’t afford the future of my past. And I’m willing to change my present to meet their needs. Open pedagogy, from OER to project based learning, can help students become PSU alumni. And if we can help students become alumni, they we will have fulfilled the future of our pasts, even though our pedagogical approaches and tools are different than those for which we prepared a long time ago. To better meet our students, I have transferred my TWP paper syllabus into a visual and digital syllabus via piktochart. I have started to figure out Twitter. I am using OER. I am focusing my TWP class on the process of learning, as well as on building community. And I am seeing this affect my upper-division courses too, though less dramatically at the moment.
All of this would be impossible if there was not a community to support the boldness of change that has to happen, and to embrace the experimentation that comes with learning how to practice new pedagogy. So my biggest takeaway, of many, is that which I stated at the opening: I have been surrounded by a diverse community committed to a new future for the campus. It is one that seems ever more aligned with the present, compared to the future of my past.