Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peer-Driven Learning: Encouraging Creativity and Play

This week, one of my peer-driven classes was finishing up their project proposals. They will be responsible for teaching two classes, which includes presenting a project that they will then hand in (this is a writing class, so they have to hand in something that is written). As I was going around the class, listening as their brainstorms were beginning to coalesce into a more solid proposal, I kept hearing something that troubled me: powerpoint. Four our of the five groups were planning to use powerpoint in their lessons. 

A shook my head. Do you like, I ask, when your professor uses powerpoint? Most of them shook their head. What happens when a powerpoint presentation starts? They answered that they tuned out, only focused on what was on the slide and only planned to learn what was on the slide. Then WHY would you want to recreate that in your own lessons? Blank stares. It's what we're used to, some answered. Because it's easy, others added. 

The students in this class have four weeks to prepare for their presentations. I sincerely hope that they didn't think that they would be spending four weeks on a powerpoint. But it shows how set in our ways we all are when it comes to just about everything. Students want to learn differently, but when presented with the opportunity to create a different learning experience, they chose the same old, ineffective tools. In my other class, when invited to explore options for their class assignment, most students didn't even look at the options I provided for them. 

This inspired me to tweet out to a peer of mine, Kathi Inman (check out her blog/site for her class at USC; this is thinking differently about education). Below is our conversation on Twitter:

Ok, it's a little truncated, but it really did make me think. How do I encourage students to play and explore, and thus find the space to be creative in my class? Should I have perhaps required them to find an example of innovative pedagogy/project themselves, rather than provide it for them? There's still time to do that in my other class, where we are doing projects at the end of the semester. But it also makes me think about whether or not I'm doing enough in my own practice, in my own classroom to facilitate play.

In other words, should I require play in a peer-driven classroom? It becomes difficult for me to think about what I should or should not require of students. I have said over and over again that they are allowed to do just about anything they want to, but it seems like they either don't believe me or have no idea just how creative and free they can be. It feels like I'm splitting hairs, but this is what it takes to make a class like this really work. 

I'm not the only one asking these questions, obviously. Kathi is experimenting with this (see the coding project her students are doing). Dr. Davis is using art and design as a basis for getting her students to think differently about what skills they will need in the future. The 2010 HASTAC Digital Media and Learning competition was based around games (scroll to the bottom). Over at DML Central, they are looking at making education more like Kindergarten for life; more making, tinkering, and remixing. Also, projects are a more creative way to learn, as well as more relevant to what future employers want. 

I'm still working through these issues. How do I introduce these concepts and options to my students without taking the classroom back over from them? There are so many rich and varied examples out there. Here are just a few:

Even just going through this list of fantastic and innovative projects, put together by a group of inspiring education and artists, I feel overwhelmed. And then I remind myself: think about how your students must feel. 

The list goes on. 


  1. Remember my mention of "invention mobs" a few weeks ago on #fycchat? The concept has undergone some major changes, but my first iteration of it was successful in encouraging creativity.

    I asked students to bring handmade objects to class (as inspiration), and in groups of three, students had to spin a narrative out of the objects. They only had about 20 minutes (in a 50 min class), and then they had to act it out for the class.

    While the results were mostly silly, I realized afterwards that that was exactly the point.

  2. Could one problem be that our students also don't know what options they have and, when presented with unfamiliar options, become intimidated by the unknown and possible failure? In incorporating a challenge-based learning project into my FYC course, I've not only listed some potential tools to try (PowerPoint is not listed for the reasons you discuss above), but I've located demo videos and embedded them on the class website. I've also set the project up so that they have to produce two iterations of it-so, if one version is a flop, it's okay. The other stopgap I'm using is to teach students how to problem solve on their own. I've refused to simply tell students how to do something or how to solve problems that have arisen for them; instead, I've made them use the internet, help forums, Twitter, and their peers as problem-solving resources. Hopefully, this will teach them that they can do things on their own. Having them work in support teams will also hopefully help--while everyone's doing their own thing, the group is a support system, providing feedback and helping them to solve problems. I don't know if any of this will help or not because it's still a scary idea for them (and me), but you'll never know if you don't try--and they may just learn something about themselves that they didn't know before.


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