Stories of Teaching and Learning Forum


Welcome to the on-line forum for reflecting on Bryn Mawr as a learning and teaching environment. Like all Serendip forums, this is a place for informal, public conversation. "Informal" in the sense that no one is going to worry about how you say things here. And no one is going to worry if you say one thing now and change your mind later (in fact, that's a good thing here). The idea is to share "thoughts in progress". Its a place to put thoughts you are having that might be useful to other peoples' thinking and to find thoughts that might be useful to yours. And its "public" with the same idea in mind, that everyone can make use of and contribute to everyone else's thinking. So what you say might make a difference not only to others here at BMC but people anywhere else in the world as well (who might in turn contribute some of their own thoughts to our conversation). The idea of an informal public conversation may take a little getting used to (some thoughts may need a bit of rephrasing before being said out loud) but there are lots of benefits to be gained from such a conversation, both individually and in terms of shared cultural understandings. So pitch in, and let's see what we create.


Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

Go to last comment

getting started ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-19 10:08:39
Link to this Comment: 13011

Very rich conversation at our first meeting yesterday. Thanks to all for helping me to think more about education is/isn't/might be. I'm sure everybody had different thoughts/reactions afterwards. A few things that struck me, for whatever use they might be to others ...

Having everybody involved in education sit and talk about it together struck me as a particularly good idea. I know its a part of the philosophy of the bico education program, and is done by others in some other contexts, but if we succeeded in nothing other than to make it more widespread at the College that would, it seems to me, make be a useful outcome.

I'm also intrigued by the "education can't be learned, it has to be experienced" notion and some of the thoughts/ideas that followed from that. There are some interesting implications there, for both teachers and students. And perhaps for questioning whether those are/ought to be distinct categories. Among the issues raised is the "up-tightness" factor that gets in the way of "playing around". Does that derive from teachers, from students, from all of us together? And would we really be comfortable, in all contexts?, in some?, in a few?, with education as "playing around"? What about the "real world"? Are people better off there if they think of education as "playing around"?

Very much looking forward to hearing what other people thought off our first session together, and seeing where we go next.


On Krishnamurti and other things ...
Name: Arshiya Ur
Date: 2005-02-19 11:57:52
Link to this Comment: 13012

J. Krishnamurti, the man who founded the school I went to, Rishi Valley School (translated to mean valley of the sages) believed not only that “Education cannot be taught, it can only be experienced” but also that the virtue of being in education, the process of both learning and teaching is a deeply religious activity. Religious, because the goal of good education is a state of enlightenment in the person: a state where the individual is self-aware, capable of dealing with oneself (psychological processes) and the world. Religion, not as a form of conditioning, but as a state of tranquility in which there is reality, God; but this creative state can come into being only when there is self-knowledge and freedom…

So these are Krishnamurti’s thoughts. Now for my own!

For me an experience in education is something that transcends the boundary walls of the classroom and something that I have implemented in my thinking process. It stops being about grades, pleasing the professor, sounding smart in class, and becomes something I engage in because in some sense it brings me closer to “enlightenment” or an attempt to be aware of the things around me. I find that many times this process takes place when I am close to nature. In school, it was not uncommon to do calculus under a Banyan Tree or talk Indian Independence while brushing fire ants off my notebook. I think there is something about the outdoors, the informality, the circulation of air, and the smells, which help people break away from pre-constructed ideas about what they are about to experience. And I wonder if we can explore this at Bryn Mawr…


to create a space...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-20 23:41:10
Link to this Comment: 13051

I add my thanks to all who joined us for last Friday’s discussion of “Teaching and Learning at Bryn Mawr," and thanks to Paul for creating this new website where we can archive and continue our conversation on-line. I’m noting here some of the questions and devil’s advocate-sort-of opening-up observations which I found most instructive in last week’s discussion--along with a warm invitation to add your own, and to invite other students and faculty interested in such matters to join us both here on-line or when we next meet in person. On Friday, March 18, 3:30-5 in the Multicultural Center, we’ll gather again to discuss “what we would like to see changed (contribute ourselves to changing ?) about teaching and learning at Bryn Mawr.

In hopes that you can join us then,
Thanks for coming--

Gladly, Anne

Is the information shared in college conducive to a peaceful life?
Do we want it to be?

Post-bacs could be rich resources into how science is seen “from the outside.” Having to “sell a course to a general audience,” rather than assuming the built-in or obligated interest of a captive audience of majors, is a good way for faculty members to learn to connect their fields to students’ lives and interests.

There’s a difference between education as learned (extrinsic, passive) and as experienced, (intrinsic, active); the latter is the hallmark of the “unschooling” movement, which sees children as naturally curious, and the role of their teachers and mentors as creating a environment to help the child help herself to learn.

Such learning could be—already is--facilitated in this college environment, in, for instance, labs where students are “not told what to do,” but rather given an open-ended invitation into “try things and play.” Having hands-on experiences motivates students to understand them and piques their interest to explore further on their own.

There is an “uptightness factor” at Bryn Mawr that prevents such play; students immerse themselves in obligations that keep them from having the time for self-directed exploration. Students also “feed off each other,” engaging in competition for who can be the biggest “mawtyr” (take the most demanding course load, get the least sleep, etc.)

There are signals from professors about what’s allowable: many classes are so carefully scripted before they begin that students do not feel as though they have any role in shaping what is going to happen (even @ the level of revising what they themselves have written). There was some preference expressed for having a class “not knowing where it’s going to end.”

That would be a very different structure than how most people have been taught. What moves could be made to open up that space?

How much of our education here (which costs $1.89/minute or $80/class) can involve the creation of an environment that pleases us as individuals, vs. needing to prepare us for “the real world”? What does such preparation look like? (Will we be graded on most of our life decisions….?)


(more) actively learning
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-03-24 14:24:19
Link to this Comment: 13982

There was such an interesting conversation in the Universe Bar last night, that seemed to me a great extension of our discussion here, last week, about "active learning." For a taste, see actively learning science (and other curious matters....)


empowering thinking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-21 07:53:43
Link to this Comment: 16231

I've just put up a summary of what I heard, last Friday afternoon, when Jossi Fritz-Mauer talked about teaching in Africa. So much of what Jossi had to share with us got to the deep questions about what it means to learn in the company of others, in a world of unequally distributed resources: what constitutes empowerment? and what is the extent of our obligation to and investment in others' growth and development? what are the terms of those engagements? Let us know, here, your thoughts on these matters...


Belated thoughts
Name: cshdaima@b
Date: 2005-09-29 15:18:43
Link to this Comment: 16380

hi,
first i have been meaning to write to say how moved i was by jossi's presentation for so many reasons. thank you for sharing so openly with us from your experiences and your thoughts of them. i had mentioned something about balance, and it's been so long now that i'm not sure exactly in what sense i meant, but i know that i did not mean to belittle the tensions that our different pulls and obligations create, nor to belittle the distance between what we want to do and what we actually do, even when we are trying to live out our values as fully as we can. by balance i didn't mean a nice, complacent place in the middle where everything is fine, but the ongoing tension between the poles that is (should?) always be there if we are reflective.

something completely different from the conversation taht really resonated is when jossi talked about his wanted all his teachers to see him in math class, in the sense that if people who knew us/were judging us could see us as a whole person, then that would be better. it made me think about that- and why we want people who know us in one context to know us in another. i think it is about connections and our own desire not to be reduced to one facet of who we are. i used to think this was my own way of thinking that the world revolves around me, or that it should, and that this is selfish or self-centered (as if this were bad, and as i write this i wonder if it is). but i think this way of my kids- i want my kids' teachers to see how wonderful, how multi-faceted my kids are. to see them as something more than the object of their lessons or whatever. and i see that my kids just want to connect and not to truncate those connections in a way that does violence (this is probably too strong a word) to who they see themselves as being.

and now circling back to the context that jossi gave us, this is part of opening ourselves up to other people- and not having us set the context for how we will know them but to do this together with them (and the reflective professional literature has a lot on this, this is not a new thought). he was personally involved/affected by the people he taught, and that made everything he (and they) did much more meaningful for him (and for them, judgng from the letters he shared). there was a powerful piece in the new york times magazine sunday the 18 on the last page ("lives" section) by a doctor who worked with people inthe aftermath of hurricane katrina. he used the metaphor of armor, and said that what we really need to do is not put on armor, but take off armor, and to open ourselves to others, which brings with it the possibility of being hurt (and changed, a la Jane Addams- I wish I knew how to link to other posts like Anne does, I know i've written about this somewhere before). it seems like this is precisely what we haven't been doing as a society- we haven't been looking and opening and connecting, probably for fear with how overwhelmed we'd all be with what we saw (or that we'd feel compelled to do something about it). and hurricane katrina (and our response) laid bare so much of what we have been ignoring, as individuals and as a society.
hope to see you all tomorrow,
corey


connecting (technically, philosophically, pedagogi
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-10-01 14:24:13
Link to this Comment: 16407

Corey--

First things first (since you, like me, are so interested in facilitating "connecting"):
a little instruction on "linking."

If you look at the top of posting page, you'll see a link for "instructions for how to post," which includes instructions for creating links. Each message has a "message-id" # @ the top, which is what you use for linking. For example, if you want to refer to my message above, put in your posting

As <a href="#16231">Anne said</a> in her posting ...

which will "read out" as

As Anne said in her posting ...

If you want to refer to a posting in a different forum, or somewhere else on the web, you follow the same format, but just use the complete address. For example, you would reference your earlier discussion about Jane Addams this way:

As I <a href="http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/forum/viewforum.php?forum_id=221#9010"> said earlier about Jane Addams</a>

which will "read out" as

As I said earlier about Jane Addams....

Moving now from technical expressions to their philosophical underpinnings...

I was quite struck by the intersection (opposition?) between your claim above, about the need to "take off armor, and to open ourselves to others," and the proposal, in a discussion nearby about The Emergence of Emergency, that a useful response to Katrina might have been building a firewall, one that assures the safety of the whole by not allowing the contamination of a part to s-p-r-e-a-d...

I felt as though the refusal to "firewall," to take the risk "being hurt (and changed)" was continued in yesterday's story of teaching and learning, which began w/ Janique's description of her work in Boston classrooms, and ended with discussions about what contracts we have (and might we re-negotiate?) in the classrooms @ Bryn Mawr.


"unsettling ideas floating through our heads"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-11-05 09:33:23
Link to this Comment: 16822

I've just put up the summary of our discussion, with Janet Rhi, about teaching English in rural Poland. Such a rich conversation, about the aims and ends of education, and about our need to be clear about our own moral positions, about how we justify the work we do. We might be quite clear about our own intentions, think ourselves "morally justified " in helping others be who they want to be. But such an activity can be quite destabilizing, and do damage--and we really can't go anywhere to avoid this problem (hey: it happens to those of us teaching and learning at Bryn Mawr!) Whatever we do, we will have an impact on other people, so we ought both to know at a fairly deep level what our justification is, and acknowledge that we can't control the outcomes, for others, of what it is we are doing.

Whew!


appreciation and potential
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-12-03 08:55:06
Link to this Comment: 17277

Thanks, all, for conversation yesterday about and stemming from Biology 202. I've added some notes to the end of that page and the course this coming spring will certainly be different in ways that reflect our conversation. More importantly, perhaps, I was impressed/gratified by peoples' inclination/willingness to use the discussion of Biology 202 as a platform for thinking about more general issues, relevant not only to this course but to others as well. With that spirit, I think we really can have a productive series of inquiries into the specifics of individual courses at Bryn Mawr, with the aim of having classrooms in general more richly informed by ongoing exchange between and among students and faculty.

Among the interesting general questions that arose yesterday was that of how students content with more "traditional" courses related to less traditional ones, and how faculty should respond to that. There are a few perhaps relevant thoughts in the material added at the end of Biology 202, as well as in some of the "accrued experience" writings linked to near the beginning. This is not at all an issue unique to Bryn Mawr. Some additional relevant writings from elsewhere are available from Science as Story Telling in Action and include

Perhaps also relevant is the forum conversation that I mentioned took place among students in my Biology 103 class this semester.

Very much looking forward to continuing discussions in the kind of open, engaged, and mutually supportive atmosphere we had yesterday.


on getting data--and getting respect
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-30 08:10:38
Link to this Comment: 17856

Thanks to everyone who came and participated in our workshop, Friday afternoon, on "Psychology 340-Women's Mental Health." I've written and put up a summary of what I found most interesting in the conversation; also, here's a link to the overview to the challenges and new directions in rethinking science education that I'd just come from, and which so informed all the questions I was asking you guys about field site work as empirical research, and the degree to which it actually came to inform/unsettle the theoretical material you were studying in this class. I learned so much of interest, there, in how psychology continues to try to "compose" itself as a discipline, and "get respect"--not so different from how we try to do the same thing, as individuals?

For a continuation of this conversation, come back to Stories of Teaching and Learning next month (2:30, 2/17) when Peter Brodfuehrer and his students will bring "Biology 321 - Neuroethology" to be workshopped. Also of interest to you all--given the conversation about possible differences between science and humanities teaching, between telling personal stories "to connect and empathize" AND to "contribute to empirical data-gathering"--might be the ongoing weekly series on "Rethinking Science Education," which is taking place in the multicultural center every Friday 1:15-2:30. (This week's talk will offer a view from English House.)

Thanks again for much good instruction! Anne


womens mental health discussion
Name: Diane
Date: 2006-01-31 03:35:53
Link to this Comment: 17897


That was a great discussion on Friday and it has led me to think more about psychology and how it works and what it is.
I felt that the research component as well as the discussions in this class informed the praxis. For example, In my notes, I tried to apply a biopsychosocial model of developing a mental illness to some of the
situations and folks I met at FN. I found that this helped me to
get a more complete picture of the individual and what was going on in their lives. Because we were listening first hand to people's stories and these people have challenges of mental illness, sometimes the stories were broken and disjointed. Also, we were not privy to diagnoses or anything like that, so we more or less pieced things together. There was a prevailing theme of loss (loss of custody of children, loss of jobs, broken relationships, homelessness) and being marginalized (fears about inability to pay for meds, fears about aging and physical problems).
Going back to the research about mental illness, it's onset and how it plays out in peoples lives, as well as research about what works as
far as therapy, deepened my understanding so that for me there was real investigation. The focus of a psychoeducational workshop helped us to be informed listeners as we assessed the needs of the various groups.

But what I wanted to say also was that I came away with questions which could go back to the lab. I have questions about women who have lost custody of their children and how this effects the
course of mental illness, and other questions about suicidal behavior
and how people in a group like this who are already challenged cope
with this kind of loss among their peers, how does it effect them in the long term? Some of the folks at FN were agitated and restless at the news that one of their members had died. The director provided a grief intervention. How effective is this? What are the members' attitudes towards suicide? Are they different from people who have not faced challenges of mental illness? Relationships at FN interested me. It was often hard to tell whether people were friends or partners or what kinds of relationships they had outside of FN. And I am interested in the attitudes of people from the greater community who came to provide meals and to "participate" at FN. My point is that I think research and the lab of life are interdependent. Research provides the necessary and valuable structure, you can go back and look at it (like an x-ray or an MRI) and engaging in it enables you to look at a problem stripped of distractions and you can also branch out from it and explore theoretically. But I enjoy it (the relationship between research and praxis investigation) as a circular relationship and not a dichotomy.
It is interesting that in Prof. Rosenfeld's class on WOmen's Mental Health we combined praxis and research, and in another class I took, (Prof. Cassidy's class) which was on gender theory and development, we combined study of the research and discussion and then designed an experiment. Both methodologies were, in my opinion, effective ways of applying what we learned through lecture and discussion to a challenge of investigation.


Reflection on Women's Mental Health Discussion
Name: Kelly Stru
Date: 2006-02-10 13:18:02
Link to this Comment: 18054

I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts I had after reflecting specifically on the part of the Women’s Mental Health discussion where we focused on dichotomies. As I remember it, although I was very quiet during the discussion, I had many thoughts about an abstract dichotomy that was being described in the presentation - from Alexis' questions about personal stories in classroom/discussion to Paul's question "What is science?". It appeared to me that all of this discussion was interconnected, although to the individuals engaging in the dialogue, it might not have been. Whichever dichotomy we want to use from that discussion, a dichotomy has a distinct overlay in a praxis course.
If you listen to the manner in which many students describe a praxis course, they have a tendency to create two separate pieces of the course. There is the "academic" course work and there is the "praxis". What many students seem to have difficulty with is the concept of a praxis course as a holistic course, not necessarily as a practical application of the theory (which reinforces the divide), but as an integrated learning experience that consists of a grounded theoretical element, active, relevant field work, and a reciprocal sharing of resources, experiences, and learning (for students, faculty, praxis staff, and field supervisors) all of which can occur through the reflective process - this is one way of describing community based learning. In my work with Praxis III students, I have had some difficulty getting students to think about their course as a course and not as an internship. So, now I am going to give you an example, which explains one of the reasons why I think that this dichotomy exists.
As a senior at the University of Colorado, I chose to write an honors thesis. It was one of the greatest things I ever could have done, because I worked with a brilliant, young professor who gave me a great deal of freedom in my research and introduced me to the deep and relatively unresearched world of narrative theory and new methods in qualitative research. My thesis was called "And the Beat Goes on". I was a Communication major with an emphasis in rhetoric, so this paper was about spatial and linguistic rhetoric and the use of these two types of rhetoric to display and reinforce power struggles in the restaurant where I was working. The methodology I used to research part of this paper was auto-ethnographic inquiry. I won't get into a long description in this email about the work or the methodology in the interest of your time. We went through a defense, much like a graduate student would and the majority of questions I had to respond to focused on the type of methodology I used. In my paper, before I could describe my workplace and what I was seeing, I had to basically write a pre-paper, paper describing my methodology, providing support for it through other research/theoretical concepts as well as addressing the limitations of it. We called it a layered account. I told a story of my experiences/observations in the restaurant, weaving into this account a description and rationale for my use of auto-ethnographic inquiry as well as the communication (rhetorical and power) theoretical implications for what I was seeing.
Why did I tell you this example? I see a Praxis course much like I see the layered account in my thesis. A praxis course, which is a community-based learning course, has a methodology of sorts, unique to itself. There is research about community-based learning, a theoretical knowledge base - pedagogy. In Praxis III courses and in most of the Praxis I courses I have worked with, the students are not introduced or given background to this knowledge base. In essence, we skip over the "Why Praxis?" part. Could it be that the students have difficulty relating, engaging, and integrating their Praxis course work because they have no theoretical/conceptual basis for doing so?
I have been working in community-based learning, experiential learning, service-learning, etc. for years now, but it is only recently that I have begun to understand the nature of the relationship of a higher ed class with active work in the broader, surrounding community. Most importantly, the "process" is imperative in these classrooms - and sometimes process may be overlooked because it is not deemed academically rigorous enough. My personal feeling is that allowing time for the process and facilitating a process-oriented environment for students is my responsibility in the work that I do and will continue to do. I will leave you with some of the questions that I thought about while generating this message, as well as highlight some of the authors I have read which function as the base of my understanding of this discussion.

What tools do students need to be able to think about "Why Praxis?"
What tools do faculty advisors and Praxis staff need to facilitate this thoughtfulness? What role does diversity play in this discussion? How can we measure student learning? What assessment tools are necessary?

Some research/writing that my understanding is based in: Dewey, Schon, Freire, Dominelli, Alice Lesnick.

It was a pleasure being a part of this presentation and this discussion – and as you can see, it has sparked quite a bit of process in my own brain.

Kelly


going off script
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-19 22:03:12
Link to this Comment: 18211

Kelly's thoughtful posting recommends replacing two conventional dicotomies--of "personal stories" and "science," and of "praxis" and "academics" --with what she calls "integrated learning experiences," "layered accounts" that weave together students' observations with their theoretical implications.

Last Friday afternoon's workshop, led by Peter Brodfuehrer, pushed that challenge one step further. Can those of us who have spent our academic lives learning to defend ourselves from "being wrong in public" actually learn to do business in a different way? Can we be "transactional," taking the risk (and having the fun!) of 'going off script,' responding openly to what happens when we interact with others--both within the classroom and outside it?

Join us for the next session of "Stories of Teaching and Learning," on Friday, March 31, from 2:30-4:00 p.m., in Thomas Library 223, when Kelly and several Praxis III students explore these ideas with us further. Until then, add your own thoughts here....


no contradiction
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-02 07:37:21
Link to this Comment: 18783

As I was writing up my summary of our conversation with Kelly Strunk, Friday afternoon, I found myself laughing out loud w/ delight to see what had happened. Kelly had come into that session "knowing more than she knew she knew": not just that her experience of articulating a methodology for autoethnography was parallel to the need to do the same for praxis, but that the methodology of autoethnography might be able to provide precisely the articulation praxis needs. Seeing Kelly so well positioned to claim more than she had been willing to claim was a great demonstration of the idea we explored @ such length later in our session: that when students are working @ their praxis sites, they draw on the theory they've read and incorporated in their knowing, without any realization that they are doing so. Acting on a gut level, as they respond "instinctively" to their clients, they are still "doing theory" unawares.

I also found myself excited at the way our group was able to articulate a sort of pedagogy that sees rigorous academic work as rooted in (but not bound by) the personal; that sees an investment in the personal as fueling (but not limiting) engaged academic work. Yes, "there is something very powerful in thinking about your personal mattering." And yes, we need to get beyond both the "personal box" and the "theory box." And yes, we can use each to open up the other. To get to the point where autoethnography is not a contradiction in terms @ Bryn Mawr--now: that's something.

Thanks, all, for helping so much with the process.


transactions
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-23 22:33:16
Link to this Comment: 19127

I spent three hours in the living of the Multicultural Center on Friday afternoon learning about a couple of new teaching initiatives at Bryn Mawr: the first session featured Sharon Burgmayer's new course on "the chemical history of art," the second Gail Hemmeter and Linda Caruso-Haviland's new CSem on "Performance and Self." The first presentation was about a science course special-tailored to the interests of students (in this case, art and art history majors); the second was about a first-semester course that emphasizes writing as a "discipline-independent public act, performed in order to get a reaction from others, a reaction that one can learn from. It needs to be a transactional process."

Both sessions, in short, were about messy "transactions." Both drew a distinction between the "antiseptic nature of studying and getting your hands dirty"--a distinction generally reflected in the curricular structures of the College. I learned that--like the medieval alchemists who practiced the "art of making a substance no formula could describe," modern researchers, artists, performers and writers are most fearless, and most successful, when they "don't think in terms of what is "right or wrong," but rather in terms of "what might happen."

Interesting for me to hear how well such an exploratory stance works alike in "doing chemistry and art" and "in performing and writing for the public." Please feel free to add your own thoughts about any of these--or related--processes, in the forums for the brown bag series or for stories of teaching and learning. And let me, Paul or Jody know what thoughts you might have for continuing some version of either series in the fall.


Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: 2006-11-28 14:37:33
Link to this Comment: 21210

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