This past semester I reintroduced presentations to my section of ENG 2850, after taking a semester’s break. Previously, I had organized presentations throughout the year to introduce the time periods of the texts the class was going to be studying (for instance “The Enlightenment,” “Romanticism,” or “Post-Colonialism and Globalization”). Groups of 3-4 students would research the period and come up with a presentation that I hoped would be a fun and informative supplement to lectures that I give to introduce a new unit. Unfortunately, what I had hoped would be fun and exciting (and some were, to be fair), were often drier than what I presented. So, I took a break and reintroduced the group presentation this past semester, but at the end of the term. This time, I asked students to brainstorm on a general question: what is something you think about a lot every day. This brainstorming session gave birth to topics like, Social Media, Sports, Racism, Romance, Feminism, Inequality and, yes, even Selfies. Each member of the group of 2 or 3 drew topics from a bag and among themselves had to select the topic from those choices. After selecting a contemporary topic, they then had to present how this idea relates to 2-4 works we had studied in the year. As all assignments go, some were fascinating and informative (The social media group created facebook accounts for three literary loners—Frankenstein’s Monster, Sarty from Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” and Gregor Samsa from “The Metamorphosis”—and the ensuing back and forth messages, pulled from quotations from the texts and their own interpretations, wall posts, buzzfeed quizzes showed a great deal of insight into the works and specifically queried the idea of whether or not social media promotes human connection), and others were not (a promising premise of Clarissa Dalloway coming out on an episode of Oprah quickly devolved into reductive thinking about the novel and over-emphasized a discussion of sexual mechanics).
Why do I bring this up as a risk? Well, in my attempt for students to embrace the connection between the great works we study and the lives we live today, I felt more often than not that students equated freedom and creativity with less critical thinking and the urgency to get a laugh. When I approach how I can use hybrid learning and technology to open up the classroom to empower students and harness their own innovative thinking and learning, I fear that the freedom I give them will not produce happy chaos or productive mistakes, but rather their turning a blind eye to the rigors of literary study and critical thinking in favor of navel-gazing. I teach literature today for this reason—I do believe that rigorous creative work helps to transcend time and place and helps us to increase our self-knowledge and what it means to be human. The presentations of last semester have stuck with me because of the risks they pose—a risk that can bring out strengths in weaker students, produce innovative thinking, but that can also expose how inveterate the coping mechanisms and bad habits are that block learning potential. How do I strike the balance of giving students have more control over their education with hybrid technologies in the deconstructed learning environments, without compromising on my teaching goals of the class?
I came to Bass’s “Engines of Inquiry” and Groom and Lamb’s “Reclaiming Innovation” with the kind of scepticism brought on by the “innovation fatigue” the latter article notes, along with my own troubled feelings about the isolating aspects of the “silo” effect of technology brought on by the corporatization of innovation. I felt both as a threat to the basic tenets of pedagogy that I hold dear: exposure to new concepts in safe and supportive spaces, critical thinking and questioning of cultural mystifications, and for me the central importance of human connection in any learning environment. What I took from both these texts is that there are great methodological ways of approaching the integration of technology in the classroom that do not hold new systems as a panacea for education and for that I feel grateful to discover this approach as I begin thinking about hybrid courses.
Groom and Lamb’s take on how we as educators can “reclaim innovation” was for me particularly engaging as I think about the possibility of my own hybrid course (which is not to say that Bass’s work was not helpful…I just don’t see my students cathecting toward CD-ROMs in 2014). Their isolating outsourcing as a key problem in the integration of technology in the educational setting made me develop a loose idea as to how I would like to approach my own use of hybrid learning. If outsourcing–of the software/hardware, of technical/professional support, and really of the expertise away from the classroom to “the latest product or saleable idea”–how can hybrid teaching and learning posit something quite the opposite? Essentially, how can we incorporate technology that does not embrace the silo stack in such a way so that instead of outsourcing innovation, we can”in-source” it–rely upon the capacities of the students as sites of innovation. How can we incorporate technology in the form of open platforms (using any technology that the teachers and students feel mutually comfortable with or willing to teach one another) to harness the pedagogical potential within the class?
Bass’s article articulates first steps of this process or insourcing potential in what I see as an effort to deconstruct the false limitations of the course, mainly its physical (classroom) and temporal (schedule) parameters. His idea of technology not as site of more passive learning (coping mechanism) but as an “engine of inquiry” has the potential to push the course–and its sites of learning and teaching–into times and places that both student and teacher can elaborate through process and experience (through blogs, videochats, sharing pictures, etc., that can make NYC a learning lab). Secondly, by removing the idea that a course has own teleological route (first we learn A to understand B, or first learn A then learn B because of a historical or other kind of ordering philosophy), we may democratize the classroom by de-emphasizing the expert-novice paradigm so that students understand their own key role in the course as a user and producer. I see in-sourcing as a method to use technology in an open and supportive way (beginning with mutual comfort zones and branching into mutual support of learning new tools) to re-imagine the course not as fixed but as full of potentiality. Hybrid courses that look to insource seeks to each student to discover their own potential to understand, analyze and create–not just the potential of satisfying learning goals. My personal goal for this two-week period is open my own pedagogy to a flexible methodology to show students how to use their own resources “to spark” “the possibility” that exists “beyond those predefined uses” of literature, of technology, or of their own affective, experiential, or personal capacities.
The hybrid teaching model–in its potentially wide embrace of different technologies, sites of learning/teaching, and knowledges–seems an excellent way to shift innovation from existing outside the classroom to discovering the potential for innovation within it already. Seeing students as producers of the central innovative work of the class–through group study, assignments, and personal discovery–sets a new goal for the hybrid classroom. Untethering innovation from technology makes the process less “of a technological problem, one that requires a ‘system’ to ‘manage’ it” and returns it to the status of “toolkits that invite their users to adapt and extend them” in hopes of opening students to learning as that mythic “life-affirming adventure.”