Today is yet another snow day around here. This winter has been particularly hard in a lot of places, leaving parents and guardians scrambling to keep children occupied while we frantically try to keep teaching, keep writing, keep grading, just keep going because even with a snow day, technology means never having to stop working.
I’ve instituted a pretty hard and fast rule over the past two months: no technology after lunch. (“Does this mean we can’t drive anywhere either? Because a car is technology,” points out my precocious little five-year-old who doesn’t want to be without his iPad.) I am encouraging (ok, requiring) them to use their imaginations, actually play with the obscene amount of toys they have, and to negotiate with each other what and how they should play.
Or, entertain themselves.
Yesterday, my colleague over at Just Visiting  brought up the issue of if we should be “entertaining” our students. I’ve written about this issue before , specifically as it relates to women faculty (and others). But his post got me thinking as well about how this fits into my peer-driven learning approach .
Basically, I’m telling my students that they are to entertain themselves.
I haven’t been writing about this semester’s new peer-driven classes because of the snow days and travel delays and, honestly, a little bit of fear. But one of the connecting threads between all of my peer-driven classes is to get the students to be more engaged by giving them a voice and a say in what we read, how we learn, and how we communicate that learning. My role is to provide the toys, so to speak, some guidance and supervision, and them let them figure out what to do.
I am not the entertainer, because I am not the center on the process; I am but one agent (almost said actor!) in a larger project or system. The students can be as engaged, as entertained, as interested as they choose to be, but the onus is on them to do the work. The idea is that by allowing them to select the materials and some of the assignments, they will be more engaged, more interested, and the experience will be more meaningful.
I am responsible for setting up the parameters for the students to be successful (as well as ensuring the “hard” skills, aka student learning outcomes are met), and I am active member of the community in the classroom with a certain level of expertise and experience that I can lend to the process. But I see this as an opportunity for the students to develop some of those “soft” skills employers seem to covet these days: collaboration, critical decision making, and creativity. I am one of the collaborators.
It is certainly not perfect, insofar as I recognize the issue of students not really having a “choice” when they get me as a teacher, and thus don’t really get to choose to do peer-driven learning. We all struggle as well with sliding back into traditional roles, me as the sage on the stage and them as more typical students. The power dynamic will always be looming in the background. I am, ultimately, responsible for their grades, as well as responsible for setting up the parameters of their courses. My power, though, too, is limited, with institutional impositions on my choices, assessment measures, and grading. But I always talk about these issues with the students, hopefully to if not decentralize, then at least demystify my role.
I’m going to try over the next few weeks to blog a bit more about my two new peer-driven classes this semester, but ultimately, I don’t want the responsibility to entertain them.
I’m there to help them learn how to entertain themselves.