Guest Blogger: Dana Flint
Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
Not long before his tragic death in 1951, Albert Barnes sent a couple of pages of John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (pp. 177-178 of the 1916 edition, if you want to know) to his good friend Horace Mann Bond. Those pages emphasized the central role of thinking as problem-solving, and highlighted some educational emphases that Barnes hoped Lincoln would adopt. He highlighted the now familiar problem-solving steps of an initial sense of a problem, observation and investigation of factors, construction of solutions, hypotheses, and conclusions, and testing those constructions. In the spirit of Dewey, he understood that this process of problem-solving towards more “intelligent” adjustments (to use Dewey’s term) would be repeated again and again in the constant self-renewal of human living, and, Barnes hoped, in the self-renewal of the educational process at Lincoln. That was then. Nowadays, it seems that this is what we commonly do in our instructional approaches. Here are a few examples from my FYE class this semester:
- I wanted students to come away with a usable skill associated with each subject area in the course, for example, the module on Research. Previously, I brought students to a Library computer lab to receive instruction on searching Library databases. This year I continued in an analogous manner with an in-class demonstration using my laptop and a projector. But somewhere along the line I had a “sense of a problem.” Do students come away from such demonstrations with a usable skill? How could I know? So I got them to define some problems which were of interest to them: abortion, war and technology, global warming, and violence and Grand Theft Auto. Then I showed them a web site that demonstrated the format of annotated bibliographies, and asked them to submit an annotated bibliography, with five varied references, as a demonstration of their skill in doing research. Well, I am still in the process of “testing” (that is, assessing) this solution.
- Second, I thought the usable skill associated with the Speech module would be pretty easy: Let the students make speeches before the class and have another group of students evaluate them. I have done this before, but this semester I got a surprise. Instead of speeches, the students did PowerPoint presentations with the lights out and which ended with a movie, of course. The trouble was that there was a lot more high tech and a lot less speaking. So I went with the flow and found a web site containing a PowerPoint presentation on how to do PowerPoint presentations, and I presented this PowerPoint presentation while instructing the student-judges to critique the PowerPoint presentations of the students, using what they had learned about PowerPoint presentations. This seemed to represent a double process of self-renewal going on at instructional and learning levels.
Am I right in assuming that nowadays we commonly see the process of teaching and learning as a process of facilitating ever more educated adjustments to ourselves and world? Would the “Fitness for Life” course be another such example of this process, or would it not?